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Penguins new GM says all the right things

| Friday, May 26, 2006

The Penguins did it right this time.

That doesn't automatically mean Ray Shero will thrive as the team's general manager.

He made a fine first impression at his introductory news conference Thursday, 15 years, to the day, after the Penguins' first Stanley Cup title. But a lot of new hires do that.

It's kind of hard to make a bad impression at such events.

What we do know is that Penguins president and CEO Ken Sawyer performed a sensible and thorough search in picking Craig Patrick's successor, and that's a lot more than we can say for most of Patrick's "searches" over the past several years.

Before yesterday, the most recent major hiring announcement at the Igloo Club occurred June 12, 2003, when Eddie Olczyk was named head coach. It wasn't one of Patrick's finer moments, as he stood before assembled media and team employees and defiantly revealed that he hadn't interviewed any other candidates before settling on Olczyk, who had never coached a hockey game at any level.

This time, the Penguins found a man with significant experience in his field, a man who'd climbed the ladder step-by-step, instead of being whisked to the top.

The 43-year-old Shero, son of late and legendary Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero, started as an agent and spent 14 years as an assistant general manager, first with the Ottawa Senators, then with the Nashville Predators.

On that level, this hire makes all the sense in the world. The Senators and Predators are thriving in similarly challenging markets. With Shero as one of the main architects, those teams were methodically built from scratch, and neither had Sidney Crosby as a centerpiece.

To his credit, Sawyer approached the interview process as a chance to learn, to glean ideas from other organizations, to find out what's going on out there.

It's about time the Penguins opened the blinds.

"You get to meet a number of people, and you're getting different points of view on how they've run a team," Sawyer said. "And, after a while, you get a common thread."

At one point, Sawyer contacted Predators CEO Craig Leipold and asked him an excellent question.

"I said, if (Predators GM David Poile) resigned tomorrow, would you hire Ray?' " Sawyer said. "He said, 'In an instant.' "

The Penguins were competing with the Boston Bruins for Shero's services, and Shero proved his business acumen in parlaying the competition into a five-year deal believed to be worth $4 million.

In time, he'll bring in his own people. Don't be surprised if one of them is former Penguins assistant coach and current TSN/NBC/OLN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire, a close friend and longtime associate. The two worked together in Ottawa.

Shero scored some points with the local fan base when he mentioned that he grew up a Steelers fan, with a particular fondness for Jack Lambert.

It was good to hear that he already was conversant on lesser-known Penguins prospects such as Daniel Carcillo and Ryan Stone, and he flashed a competitive spark when he said of himself and coach Michel Therrien, "We're going to win a Stanley Cup together."

Speed's the name of the game in the new NHL. Shero knows that. Nashville has plenty of it, and Shero loves Anaheim's style.

"They play an up-tempo, passionate, hard-hitting game," Shero said. "They're hard to play against."

It has been way too long since anyone said such a thing about the Penguins, though they showed signs of life late in the season. Same goes for the organization at-large, despite its uncertain status in Pittsburgh.

It's alive again.

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