Ray Shero’s Secret Evil Plan

Because I’m a lifelong, Pittsburgh-born disciple of “The Most Arrogant Organization in the League“, there’s obviously a fair amount of bias in my stance that Ray Shero is the Best General Manager in the NHL.

Bear in mind, Shero’s career as Penguins’ GM comes on the heels of one of the most comically-bad runs in the history of Sports Management, that being Craig Patrick’s House of Grand Marnier and Pain. While CP operated at the whims of Mario Lemieux (and Lord knows Mario is prone to whimsy) and with one hand tied behind his back for the latter portion of his Penguins’ career, he still consummated some of the worst trades in NHL History and oversaw a litany of ineffectual drafts. There is a fun rumor in Pittsburgh that CP did not have the internet in his office as recently as 2006, which as his former Bartender/enabler I completely believe to be true. Even a chimpanzee in a tuxedo would have looked like the epitome of calculation and measure directly following CP:

(Note: Is that Chimp’s name “Consol”? And did Mario get a pet chimp, put him in a stately tuxedo with a cane and a top hat, and not tell me about it? You know what, never mind. Question asked, question answered.)

The point is, Craig Patrick’s gross incompetence from 1998-2006 (with a peppering of inattentive negligence before that) makes Ray Shero’s competence and poise shine even more brightly. As far as NHL managers go, it was like going from rubbing two sticks together in the rain to a Consol Energy-powered Laser Light Show. It’s a dizzying ascent from “terrible” to “outstanding”.

So maybe I overrate Rejean a bit when I lavish praise on him for being the Best Manager in the NHL. I mean, I already claim the Penguins have The Best Player in the World, and his partner, The Best Player in the World, just like I think the Pens have the Best Coach in the NHL and the Best Two-Way Defenseman in the NHL. Did I mention the team is owned by the Best…Ever? Does my Arrogance, just like that of the the team I support, know no bounds?

1) Of course my arrogance knows no bounds, and 2) I work from positions of fact rather than informed opinion. As you know I adore science, and I like beating points into the ground until no reasonable counter-argument can be made. I like proving points to an academic degree, just like I can drop a cat into a full bathtub and prove Archimedes’ Principle of Displacement. I want people to admit Ray Shero is the Best Manager in the NHL based on his excellent work in relation to his peers, not based on my opinion.

The latest example of Showtime proving he’s the Best There is at What He Does came at the 2012 NHL Draft, when he used leverage to sell-high on beloved ex-Penguin Jordan Staal. Lord knows I’m a Jordan Staal fan, but Shero used the fact that Jordan really only wanted to play for one other team against that team’s manager, “Pimp Hand” Jim Rutherford. Pimp Hand is no joke as a Manager, and for Showtime to extract the haul he did in exchange for Jordan was both evil-sneaky and a major coup.

This is Business 101: Create a Market, then Sell at the Top of it. Showtime traded Jordan when he was the most-coveted asset in the League, possibly excluding soon-to-be Free Agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter (more on them in a minute). Again, not to in any way disparage Jordan, but Brandon Sutter is going to immediately provide 85-95% of what Jordan gave the Penguins as the third-line center/Penalty Kill specialist. Jordan may but up 70 points for Carolina next year, but he wasn’t going to do it in Pittsburgh with checking-line minutes and garbage time on the Power Play. The Penguins will barely skip a beat with Brandon Sutter in Jordan’s former role.

Showtime got back 90 cents-on-the-dollar in just Brandon Sutter. That doesn’t include collegiate defenseman Brian Dumoulin (Nickname: Dumoulin Rouge), who Hockey’s Future and I agree is a prospect on par with Simon Despres, i.e. a future top-four defenseman with upside. Nor does this include Derrick Pouliot, seen here trying not to start cheering and prancing like a little girl getting a pony at the thought of playing under Mario and Disco:

(Note: Mario looks particularly smug; it was Friday night in Pittsburgh and his buddy Marc Bergevin was in town, which in Mario-Talk means funneling bottles of Chateau-Margaux at Blush with Bergie and making his 18-year old first-round draft pick do Brutal Hammers while two lady-dancers grind on him for their rent money.)

Pouliot spent last season playing on defense with Joe Morrow, who smart readers will recognize as the Penguins’ top defense prospect. Morrow is so polished that he could have made the Penguins out of training camp as an 18-year old ala Paul Bissonnette, While it was intelligent of Evil Genius Shero to send Morrow back to Junior either way, Morrow was blocked last year by the team’s Whipping Boy/Salary Albatross. That may not be the case in 2012-13, although my money is on Simon Despres taking advantage of any openings in the lineup.

The Final Word on Jordan Staal

Rather than do a full article over-viewing Jordan Staal’s time with the Penguins, it seems my thoughts on the matter nicely slot into this article on Shero.

Here is a brief video presentation on what Ray Shero actually acquired for Jordan Staal:

I think the world of Jordan. I think he is a character player with an extremely-unique skill-set, and I would have him on my team 8-Days-a-Week. But he was never going to be as crucial to the Penguins’ fortunes as Sid, Geno, Tanger, and of course Flower (although Flower needs to put up a Vezina-type season in 2012-13 to shut up his critics, once and for all). 29 NHL teams would have loved to added Jordan Staal, but 29 NHL teams would trade any five players on their roster in order to employ Sid or Geno.

As for Tanger, a small sample shows that the Penguins’ defense (as currently constructed) completely implodes when he is not available. The Pensblog went over this in January 2012, and the eyeball test confirms that Letang is absolutely critical to what the Penguins try to do on both sides of the puck. Until the next generation of Penguins-groomed D-Men arrive in their entirety (Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Scott Harrington, and now Dumoulin and Pouliot), Tanger’s two-way excellence is as vital to the Penguins’ function as a battery is to a car.

Sacrificing Staal (and reaping a bounty in the process) greatly ups the odds of keeping Sid-Geno-Tanger-Flower together long-term in Pittsburgh. Even if Jordan goes on to put up a 70-80 point season, drag the Hurricanes kicking-and-screaming into the Playoffs, and win the 2012-13 Selke Trophy, Shero made the hard-but-right choice by not letting his contract situation fester all season long. Now he can focus on getting Sid signed to a team-friendly deal, followed in the next three summers by extensions to Geno, Tanger, and Flower.

Lastly, and this is not meant to kick dirt on the newly Departed, but I do have to wonder about Jordan Staal’s ability to play with top-line NHL players on a consistent basis. While I whole-heartedly agree that he is an NHL No. 1 Center based on his two-way ability alone, I also remember very vividly his inability to mesh with my guy Alex Kovalev in Sid and Geno’s absence in 2010-11. No argument that Kovy struggled in Coach Disco’s system after being acquired from Ottawa, but Kovy had to be put on a line with Mark Letestu because his tape-to-tape passes kept clanging off Jordan’s stick-blade. If I had footage I would include it, but take my word that I was watching very closely; due to some combination deficiency in offensive acumen and touch, Jordan Staal was not able to play with Alex Kovalev.

(Note: In complete fairness to Kovy, he was playing with chronic knee pain following an ACL Reconstruction. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but I can personally testify that it’s extremely difficult to skate with a knee injury, presumably even more so at the NHL level in a skating-intensive system like the Disco Forecheck. To those who think that Kovy dogged it in 2010-11 or cannot be a major contributor in the NHL should go Hockey Night in Canada and rap with Don Cherry about the Evils of Russian Hockey. I’d love to see what Kovy looks like on two good legs and see him get some NHL closure, as long as it’s not in a Flyers’ jersey.)

Beyond that, this depicts the coaching staff’s unwillingness to give Jordan extended time with Sid or Geno in a much different light. I completely understand that Jordan plays picture-perfect Center, but if you’re sky-high on a player’s offensive ability, don’t you at least give him an extended look with one of your two All-World playmakers? It was very telling that the coaching staff would rather have Steve Sullivan skate with Sid than Jordan for the 2012 stretch-run.

As I’ve said repeatedly: Jordan Staal is a very unique player. He is a Bull-in-a-China-Shop. He almost defies classification. But he is not a prototypical Power Forward, and he does not appear to be a Playmaking Center at the NHL level. It’s very possible he and his brother have the insane, almost telepathic chemistry that only brothers can have (and I would know), but it’s also possible that the Hurricanes struggle to find line-mates to accommodate Jordan if they wish to play Eric and him on separate lines.

Rejean Shero’s Secret Evil Plan

Draft Day 2012, lauded by most to be a tremendous success for the Penguins, was just the tip of the Iceburgh as far as Showtime’s resume as Best Manager in the NHL. More importantly, it was a glimpse into his nefarious mind and Steps 1-3 of his Secret Evil Plan.

I can only see gossamer threads of what Showtime’s Secret Evil Plan entails, but from what I gather, here’s a rough overview:

0) Bring in a quality backup goaltender to challenge Flower and rest him sufficiently. No more of this “Brad Thiessen Eight-Goals-by-Ottawa-OLEY-Bulshit” and no more playing Flower 70 games only to have him break down in the Playoffs. Wait, a starting-caliber net-minder like Tomas Vokoun is available? Sign him up for a relative pittance and count on him putting up a .935 Save Percentage in limited work and causing a mild goalie controversy. Also count on the Penguins being referred to as a “Juggernaut” and potentially winning a Jennings Trophy. Prepare to explain to Mario what a Jennings Trophy is, as that’s the only one he’s never won. Check.

1) Settle the Jordan Staal situation: In or Out. If Staal is in, sign him to long-term deal and continue with Three-Headed Cock Monster model. If Staal is out, immediately trade him to Carolina for Brandon Sutter and parts, because Pimp Hand Rutherford is prone to overpay and will do whatever it takes to make Eric Staal happy. Check.

2) Try not to burst into maniacal laughter on-stage when Gary Bettman announces the Goodie-Bag (“Welcome to the Goody-Room!”) acquired in exchange for Jordan Staal. Thank Staal for the Cup Finals runs and send fruit basket to his wedding, but not before taking the good chocolates out of the fruit basket. Check. (Note to Evil Self: the chocolates were those Andes mints. Someone came in and ate all of them but left the wrappers. 95% percent chance it was Mario, but it could have been Eddie Olcyzk, as last I heard he was begging for work on the street.)

3) Disappear the salaries of the Gruesome Twosome, Snake Martin and Big Z Michalek. Offer Martin to anyone for a 2nd round pick. Offer Michalek to anyone for a 2nd round pick. When no one will take Martin, offer Michalek to Phoenix for a 3rd round pick and two guys who will never sniff the NHL. Use canned Craig Patrick line “We like his upside” when discussing either or both of the “prospects” acquired from Phoenix. If Martin cannot be moved at the draft, wait until July, when teams need top-four defensemen or need to reach Cap Floor. Half-Check.

4) Send “feelers” out to various U.S. Olympians in attempt to turn Pittsburgh Penguins into a Heel Stable. Sid knows Zach Parise, so let him do the recruiting there. Have “friend of a friend” indicate the team’s interest to Ryan Suter. Hint at possibility of signing both he and Parise. Have Candyman drive to Suter’s in his “Candy-van” and “chat” with him about all the American defenseman on the roster and how great Suter would fit in. Have Candyman casually reinforce potential Parise signing and play Hulk Hogan theme song while driving away in Candy-van. Check.

(UPDATE 07.05.11: Parise and Suter obviously signed with the Minnesota Wild. While a big portion of the Secret Evil Plan was creating enough Cap Space to accommodate one or both players, there are still trade avenues to pursue. Having said that, both Shero and Dan Bylsma have been on record via PittsburghPenguins.com as “liking the team as is”, and Shero would be fine with going into Training Camp with the team as currently constructed. Coach Disco specifically mentioned Eric Tangradi, Tyler Kennedy, or even Beau Bennett as being potential fits in the Top-6 if an external option is not brought in.)

5) Sign Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter. If both sign, disappear Paul Martin by any means necessary. If only Parise signs, work to move Martin for a potential upgrade/U.S. Oympian such as Keith Yandle. If only Suter signs, work to get Martin off the books while adding a legitimate top-line winger for Sid such as Bobby Ryan. Have Kevin Stevens and Bill Guerin smash Geno’s mail-box for stealing both James Neal and Chris Kunitz from Sid. Have Tom Fitzgerald go to Home Depot and get Geno a new, cheaper mail-box with a fake cardinal or some other embarrassing old-lady shit on it.

6) If neither Parise nor Suter sign, continue working to upgrade on Martin while pursuing more drastic options for Sid’s wing. Consider calling Scott Howson in Columbus about Rick Nash, but insist on Howson taking back Paul Martin. When Howson hangs up, call back and ask for Craig Patrick. Offer Martin, Eric Tangradi, our 1st-round pick next year, and two bottles of Robitussin in exchange for Nash. When Patrick giddily accepts, look at books and realize that net difference of $2.8 million on the Cap to basically swap Martin for Nash is a huge win. Start competition between Despres and Morrow for Martin’s spot, which either way is an immediate positional upgrade over the 2011-12 team that finished with 107 points.

(UPDATE 07.11.12: the Penguins are rumored to be one of the six teams Rick Nash will waive his No Trade Clause to come to. As of today, Columbus GM Scott Howson refuses to come down from unrealistic trade demands, but if he stops asking for the world, the Penguins would seem to be in good position to land Nash. Showtime is also in on Bobby Ryan as a trade-target.)

(UPDATE 07.11.12: Steve Sullivan signed with Phoenix for one-year/$1.85 Million.)

7) If Nash-for-Martin is impossible, wait until a Cap Floor team gets desperate then send Martin to them for a 3rd or 4th-round pick. Continue pursuing positional upgrades. Continuously refer to the “Evil Shero” X-Mas list of NHL Forwards Who Might be a Good Fit with Sid and/or Geno. Re-sign Steve Sullivan. Go into Training Camp with Sullivan-Crosby-Dupuis/Kunitz-Geno-Neal/Cooke-Sutter-Kennedy/Letang-Orpik/Despres-Niskanen/Lovejoy-Engellend-Strait-Morrow and wait for a better opportunity to use Cap Space. Sign players who would be good fits on the third and fourth lines to under-market contracts for excellent chance to Win Stanley Cup.

(Note: I have no idea who Shero has on his list of Cap-Manageable Wingers Who Could Potentially Play in Pittsburgh with Sid and/or Geno; James Neal presumably used to be at the top of this list. The trade of Jordan Staal expanded this list to include high-money tickets like Parise, Nash, Bobby Ryan, and even Jarome Iginla if the Flames go for a full rebuild, but prior to enacting his Secret Evil Plan, the list included the likes of Simon Gagne, David Jones, Curtis Glencross, Ryane Clowe, etc. These players were all affordable under the Three Center model, but due to age or skill-set were not “elite” wingers in the same mold as Parise or Nash. They were, however, cost-effective and good fits for the Disco Forecheck. Think Chris Kunitz or Billy Guerin.)

The most impressive thing about Ray Shero’s Secret Evil Plan is that he seemingly got off the phone after hearing that Jordan Staal rejected the team’s 10-year offer, had a Mentos, then thought to himsef, “OK, Evil Self, if I can’t have Jordan Staal on my roster, how can I best position the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the 2013 Stanley Cup?” He then looked at the framed picture he has on his desk next to his Secret Evil Crossword Puzzles:

And apparently thought, “Hey, there are currently several U.S. Olympians possibly looking for new teams – maybe I should find a way to entice them to my Evil roster?”

Pro-active, Forward thinking like this, and being able to Make the Most of a Bad Situation, is why Rejean “Showtime” Shero is the Best General Manager in the NHL. Maybe in 2013, after his Secret Evil Plan has come to fruition, he’ll even be acknowledged for it.

BK

JF

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2 Responses to Ray Shero’s Secret Evil Plan

  1. Ken Acon says:

    w
    While I agree that Shero is one of the best GM’s in the league today. I’ld like to point out that it was Shero that brought in Michalych and Martin via free agency. So that’s at least 2 mistakes that he’s trying to fix. I agree completly that when Staal turned down the extension that Shero had no choice but to move him. And he did do a wonderful job of filling the position. My opinion is that you are leaving out alot of good that Craig Patrick did for the Pens. On the current roster Flower and Orpik were both Patrick picks. Who could forget Cullen and Zalapsky for Francis and Samuelsson. Or Johnson and Dalquist for Murphy and Taglianeti. Patrick was the architech for the back to back Stanley Cups in the 90′s. Jagr for the 3 guys that will never be remembered was the low water mark. But ownership was terrible at the time and what he could do was severly limited. One could argue that the current Pens have more talent than the teams of the 90′s yet this GM has only produced one Stanley Cup. Some food for thought when you evaluate someone is to look at their whole career. Not just a snap shot.

    • On Shero:

      I remind everyone that the year Martin and Michalek were signed, they were the relative cream of the free-agency crop. The prices for defensemen were rapidly sky-rocketing; just one year prior, Rob Scuderi got a four-year deal worth $3.4 million annually against the Cap. Shero was as proactive as he could be (locking up Kris Letang for $3.5 million a season, which alone should prove my point about him being Awesome), but here is what he was facing:

      A) Sergei Gonchar would, under no circumstances, sign a deal less than three years long. Shero at the time was very hesitant to give out deals longer than two years to non-core players, and I could see his point: Sarge was a 35-year old, somewhat injury-prone defenseman. If the team signed him, they would be responsible for his $5-$6 Million-Dollar Cap Hit even if he retired or left for the KHL. I love Sarge, but he put Shero in tough spot by insisting on that third year. Money was not the factor on that contract.

      B) Again, the thinking was the the team was set on the top pairing with Letang/Orpik and had good kids on the third pairing with Lovejoy/Goligoski. Shero wanted a lock-down unit on-par with Gill/Scuderi, but he needed on in which both guys could skate in Dan Bylsma’s puck-retrieval system (which Gill and Scuderi really couldn’t). Shero needed two top-four NHL defensemen who could properly run Coach Disco’s defensive scheme, and he did not really have assets to trade at forward. (This is why he continues to stock-pile D-Men: as potential Trade Assets)

      At the time, Martin and Michalek were the best two D-Men available (unless you prefer “A-Train” Anton Volchenkov). Shero went out and got them, paying their respective 2009-10 Free Agent Market Values. No one could have foreseen how ineffective Paul Martin would have been. Martin broke his forearm in early 2009-10, and while medical personnel have repeatedly cleared him, he has not been the same player since. The combination of his struggles in the Disco Puck-Retrieval system and the lingering arm issue two years later have led to the need to move him out, and those were not issues Shero could have predicted in Summer 2010.

      As for Michalek, he was “fine”. As the long article I just wrote pointed out, Michalek was moved out just for the chance to sign Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter; most would agree either of which would be a huge personnel upgrade on Big Z. One of the reasons Shero is so sharp is that he’s taking advantage of a unique opportunity that was not available even three weeks ago. Because Staal would not re-sign, that freed up significant Cap Space (Staal was going to re-sign for around $6 million, if Shero had his way) and forced Shero to re-think how he wanted to build his roster. Big Z was not a mistake, but simply a player who could be improved upon.

      Lastly on this topic, the Penguins have not done the lazy thing and buried Martin in the AHL, nor did they trade Michalek and Staal to undesirable locations; other players in the NHL notice this, especially compared to a guy like Paul Holmgren in Philadelphia. Holmgren buries guys left and right, then signs core players to long-term deals before sending them out of town one-year-in. Shero did the classy thing by accommodating Staal’s desire to skate with his brother, and by sending Big Z back to a place where he was comfortable both living and playing. As for Martin, Shero could give Simon Despres his spot today and improve the team, but I’m sure he’s working to trade him to a place that he will be effective and comfortable (and thus willing to waive his No-Trade Clause) rather than just asking Mario to eat his $5 Million-Dollar contract and send him to WB/S.

      On Craig Patrick:

      1) It should be noted that most of what I say about Craig Patrick is facetious. I have met Craig Patrick on numerous occasions, and he was drunk out of his mind on Grand Marnier during all of them. I combine that with his questionable run of personnel choices, plus his role as Mario’s lackey/baby-sitter, to make a very over-the-top caricature. I do not, for example, think he spends all day, every day drinking NyQuil and playing online poker in Mario’s pool house, as I’ve previously written.

      Having said that, as Ken just pointed out, CP lived off two years of competent managing for an entire 18 year-career. Yes, he acquired Ron Francis and Ulfie from Hartford, but do you know how traded those guys to Pittsburgh? Eddie Johnston, who I may remind you also artfully tanked for Mario and returned to the Penguins’ organization the following year. I will argue all day long EJ was a better Pens’ manager than Craig Patrick.

      I could name all of CP’s lazy, bone-headed personnel moves, but you can find those easily on the internet. While I don’t blame him for financially-driven things like selling Alex Kovalev to the Rangers for 30 Pieces of Silver, I do blame him for not extracting good value in 90% of those trades. For example, trading franchise player Jaromir Jagr for three guys who made zero impact (Sivek, Beech, Lupaschuk) is just unacceptable. I mean, just look at CP’s 2002-03 Trade Season.

      Patrick operated under the assumption that he could put anybody with Mario/Jagr/Ronnie Francis and turn him into a 40-goal scorer. He paid zero attention to team defense or getting a proper NHL goaltender (rather than just submitting a waiver claim for Johan Hedberg or trading for a 1B like Ron Tugnutt or Garth Snow). People love to cite the Francis/Samuelsson trade, but just two years later CP trades Bob Errey for Mike Ramsey; that deal doesn’t seem like much, but why would you disrupt a juggernaut like the 1992-93 Pens by trading a heart-and-soul guy? CP’s entire run was just poor personnel decisions that the team was able to somewhat overcome because of the insane offensive talent of Mario/Jagr/Francis/Nedved/Kovy/Straka/Lang.

      I noted that the Pens were cash-poor from about the time Mario originally retired (1997) until after the lockout (2005), but that does not excuse Patrick for lazy management and poor player personnel decisions. Some GMs, such as David Poile in Nashville and Don Mahoney in Phoenix, even keep their teams in the playoff races annually despite having no money and no prestige; they do this by being smarter than everyone else in the room. CP was the sort of guy those two would fleece. Does CP get credit for the Pens ’91 and ’92 Cups? Sure – just like Chris Osgood gets credit for the Red Wings 2008 Cup. I will argue all day that the Pens had success in-spite of CP, not because of him (the Francis deal excluded – and again, that was most EJ doing insider trading).

      Lastly, Ken, are you Craig Patrick’s cousin? Or are you Craig Patrick under a false internet name? I have never heard such an impassioned defense of Craig Patrick. Last I heard, Craig Patrick did not have the internet in his office, so I’m kind of ruling this out; however, it’s possible Craig Patrick and Eddie Olcyzk would have the time and venom to comment on my little blog. If Edzo, CP, or any members of their respective support groups would like to confront me about my very satirized characterizations of them, I remind you I am pretty transparent in who I am. I can be found regularly at the Wilmington Ice House in Wilmington, NC or any time on this blog.

      BK
      JF

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