After decade with Penguins, Bill Guerin wants to make mark with Wild
“What’s it like outside?”
Bill Guerin had a simple query for a pair of reporters in the Civic Arena’s cramped, stuffy home dressing room after a rare Sunday morning practice.
“How cold is it? Do I need to dress in layers?”
“I’m going to the Steelers game.”
Guerin bundled up and hustled across town to Heinz Field to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers bumble their way to a sloppy 27-24 loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders on Dec. 6, 2009.
He, like most of the other 61,819 souls in attendance that day, went home unsatisfied with the defeat. After all, he had become one of them.
Nine months prior, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded for Guerin, an aging power forward with the New York Islanders. At 38, he was at the end of the line of his all-star career and was added as a rental to boost the Penguins’ playoff hopes.
Placed alongside Sidney Crosby, Guerin found nearly instant chemistry with the Penguins captain and played a significant role in helping the franchise claim its third Stanley Cup title against the despised Marian Hossa and the Detroit Red Wings.
That success, along with an engaging, affable demeanor, turned Guerin into a cult hero with Penguins fans. Guerin became the standard go-to subject of fun Penguins-centric memes six years before Phil Kessel arrived in Pittsburgh.
Routinely wearing a “Fighting Fifth” T-shirt around the team’s facilities in recognition of Eric Kelly, Paul Sciullo II and Paul Mayhle, the Zone 5 Pittsburgh Police officers who were killed in the line of duty in April of 2009, Guerin connected with the region with an uncommon haste.
“He definitely embraced everything about the city and the people here,” Crosby said. “And they did him back. He’s a great guy. For his time here, he had a big impact.”
For the better part of a decade, Guerin, who made also stops in New Jersey, Edmonton, Boston, Dallas, St. Louis and San Jose as a player, had something he rarely enjoyed during his NHL career.
A permanent residence.
That changed this past summer when the Minnesota Wild surprisingly fired Paul Fenton as general manager in August and hired Guerin.
Not even on the job for two months, Guerin still is feeling his way around the organization and the Twin Cities. Having been hired Aug. 21, well after the NHL Draft in June and the start of the unrestricted free agent signing period in July, Guerin’s signature transaction to this point has been signing defenseman Jared Spurgeon to a massive seven-year, $53 million contract extension Sept. 14.
When the Wild face the Penguins on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., it could be argued Guerin has had a much larger impact on the visitors than the hosts.
On Wednesday, he spoke by phone with the Tribune-Review about being hired so late in the summer, his connection with Pittsburgh and the demands of being a general manager.
Was it strange getting this job in late August? Training camp was just weeks away.
I guess it was a bit unorthodox. But you know what? When a job like this opens up … I didn’t care when I got it. I was excited to get it.
Do you have a hard mandate from ownership or even from yourself? Like making the playoffs, winning a division, getting to the second round, etc.?
No. No hard mandate. All 32 teams are after the same thing. It’s just a matter of getting to that level where you can compete consistently.
You signed Jared Spurgeon to a seven-year extension. You’ve been around the Penguins enough as an executive to see how those long deals unfold, but is it more daunting when you have the final say on offering that type of contract? That can impact a franchise, positively or negatively, for many years.
You said it. That’s my deal. I’m attached to that. That’s my decision. That’s the biggest thing. As an assistant GM, you can help, you can give your opinion, you can help with the contract, you can do all that stuff. But it’s tied to the general manager.
Minnesota has marketed itself as the “state of hockey.” People love hockey in Boston and Pittsburgh and lots of other places in the United States, but Minnesota seems different.
Yeah, oh big time, man. I’ve spent enough time out here to know that, to see that. It’s not that they just like hockey out here. It’s in the fabric of the state. It’s what people do. It’s not baseball, basketball, football. It’s hockey and everything else.
Did you harbor any hopes of becoming the Penguins’ general manager? Either when Ray Shero was fired or after Jim Rutherford was hired? Initially, he suggested he might only be on the job for a few years and give way to a lieutenant such as yourself.
Yeah, that’s a job anybody would love to have. But listen, I’m also very honest with what’s going on and the situation around. I just wanted to do my job as well as I could. If that worked out, then that would be great. When Ray left, there was no way I was ready. And I knew that. And I didn’t want it then. Then, with Jim, he’s got a hall-of-fame career going. Jim’s not going anywhere. And he shouldn’t. And that’s the reality of it. An opportunity like this (with Minnesota) came about, and it’s fantastic. Of course, in the back of your head, you think (becoming the Penguins general manager is possible). But I also thought I would also play in one place forever. It just doesn’t go like that.
Will Saturday’s game be weird? You were with the Penguins less than two months ago. You’ve hugged Sidney Crosby on the ice after scoring goals and winning the Stanley Cup. You’ve recruited players like Zach Aston-Reese to sign with the club. Your imprint is still with this franchise in a big way.
Yeah, it’ll be weird. But it will be nice to see everybody. I’m very proud of my time with Pittsburgh. I’ve made so many good friends, had so many great experiences there. I can look at that team and feel like I’ve had an impact. I have pride in that. And I always will.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .