Penguins GM Ray Shero discusses team building, salary cap strategies

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fleurychampagne.jpg(Note: This probably won’t be the last time I discuss team building on PHT. Just a fair warning.)

Just like there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s and no easy way to dump a significant other, my opinion is that there really isn’t a “blueprint” for building a Stanley Cup-winning team.

Just look at the last few seasons: the Chicago Blackhawks were a deep team with a green goalie, the Pittsburgh Penguins were a top-heavy club* with a hot-and-cold No.1 overall pick in net and the Detroit Red Wings made it work with Chris Osgood.

* – Though I think that’s been exaggerated just a bit at times.

Stretching back further, you only need to look at how different the Anaheim Ducks were compared to the Carolina Hurricanes (one employed two Norris Trophy defensemen, the other sent out five forwards on the powerplay) to see that putting together a winning team isn’t like filling in a Mad Libs roster.

While I don’t agree with every move he makes, Penguins GM Ray Shero has often been deft in filling in open roster spots with savvy veterans and picking the right players to keep (Kris Letang, Jordan Staal) and which ones to let go (Ryan Malone, Rob Scuderi – who is still effective but was overpriced).

Shero spoke with Ryan Getz of NHL Fanhouse about the Penguins’ team building process. I thought I’d point to some of the more interesting comments after the jump.


staalandmalkin.jpgLast summer, there were two contracts that lingered on my mind as possible mistakes: Jordan Staal’s and Marc-Andre Fleury’s. Over the last year, I’ve studied trends in contracts – and seen some really bad ones handed out – and now those deals went from “tough to stomach” to “easily justifiable, if not a little problematic.”

Staal’s hockey sense and defensive commitment are rare for a player his age and his lanky frame helps him to cover a lot of ground as a penalty killer. Still, the younger brother of Eric Staal hasn’t shown much finishing ability since putting up 29 goals as a rookie. My main question last summer was: “Why pay $4 million for a role that could be filled by a Todd Marchant/Manny Malhotra type guy?”

Now, Staal has two things over those guys: a) youth and the potential that comes with it and b) pedigree. Still, the most promising idea is that the team might try to pair him with Evgeni Malkin again. The classic argument is that Malkin and Crosby lack consistent threats on the wing, so if Staal could provide that for Malkin it might help him “bounce back” from a 73-point lull last year. Here’s more from Shero.

One such idea that’s been kicked around in Pittsburgh is the possibility of teaming Malkin and Staal together on a line. It’s been done before (during their rookie seasons) and resulted in Staal scoring a career-high 29 goals (he also had an abnormally high 22 percent shooing percentage). I asked Shero if he was at all concerned about the possibility of taking one of his prized centers and “limiting” them (my wording) to one side of the ice as a winger.

“Not really,” he said. “Depending on what Dan (Bylsma) is going to do with our lineup, these guys, Evgeni Malkin in particular, he’s all over the ice no matter what position he’s playing, whether it’s center or wing. Four years ago they played together — Jordan played wing — and obviously it worked out well for both of them as they both had great years.”

“Whatever we do here the idea is to give these guys as much ice time as possible,” he added. “Good players like to play with good players. I think it’s important that we look at all options to make our team better and give these guys an opportunity to grow as players and give them more responsibility.”

sprawlingfleury.jpg(For the record, I think that Malkin’s abysmal faceoff percentages and lackluster interest in defense would make him the ideal candidate to be on Staal’s wing, but that’s another discussion for another day.)

Closing things out, Shero discussed the changing viewpoints in the league regarding spending on goalies. While I have my reservations about Marc-Andre Fleury being a true top-10 goalie (or perhaps more specifically, I wonder if he’s “elite” since the crop of goalies might be weak in general), Shero’s argument is logical.

I think it really depends on your current set up in terms of what you have. If we didn’t have Marc-Andre Fleury we’d probably look in a different direction,” said Shero. “But we happen to have a top-10 goalie, we paid him accordingly, and it certainly paid off when we won the Cup. He was obviously a big difference-maker for us in the playoffs.”

“I think it really just depends on how your team is going to be built. Detroit has never really had a ton of money in goaltending, they choose to spend it elsewhere. A team like Philadelphia now, that’s kind of what they’re doing, going heavy in defense and not as much in goal. Every team is a little bit different. If you have it, you want to keep it. If you don’t, there’s other avenues you can go to to hopefully have success on a year-to-year basis. I think it just really depends what you have for assets in goal.

(Now, if Fleury could just stop allowing so many boneheaded, back-breaking goals during the playoffs …)

Overall, the Penguins have a nice foundation built around young players now that Sergei Gonchar is gone. Will gambling on defense – signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michael to big deals this summer – instead of forwards pay off this year? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Update: Coyotes sign Connor Murphy to six-year extension

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 18:  Connor Murphy #5 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Washington Capitals at Gila River Arena on November 18, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. The Capitals defeated the Coyotes 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Coyotes GM John Chayka is putting the finishing touches on a productive off-season. Chayka was able to acquire Alex Goligoski, re-sign Shane Doan, sign Jamie McGinn, he improved his position in the draft by acquiring Pavel Datsyuk and also signed former King Luke Schenn.

Now, it sounds like he’s close to locking up another piece of the puzzle. Connor Murphy‘s agent, Brian Bartlett, believes that his client will have a new deal with the Coyotes by the end of the week, according to Arizona Sports 98.7. 

UPDATE: The Coyotes announced that they’ve re-signed Murphy to a new six-year contract.

“We are extremely pleased to sign Connor to a long-term contract,” said Chayka, in a team release. “At only 23, Connor has established himself as a very good NHL defenseman. He’s a great skater, a fierce competitor and he has an excellent work ethic. We look forward to him taking the next step and having him on our blue line for many years to come.”

Financial details of the new agreement have yet to be disclosed.

Murphy is coming off his entry-level deal. He scored six goals and 17 points in 78 games with Arizona last season. The 23-year-old was the Coyotes’ first round pick, 20th overall, back in 2011.

The Coyotes now have two restricted free agents to sign before the start of the season, as defenseman Michael Stone and forward Tobias Rieder also need new deals.

Stone and the Coyotes are scheduled to go to arbitration on Aug. 4, while negotiations between the club and Tobias Rieder don’t seem to be going very well.

Marchand might be ‘obnoxious,’ but he helped convince Backes to sign in Boston

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Brad Marchand is one of those players that you hate to play against, but you love him if he’s on your team. That much is fairly obvious.

But last month, Marchand (as well as teammate Patrice Bergeron) proved to be effective recruiters for at least one free agent. David Backes admitted that the phone calls he received from the two veterans definitely helped him settle on the idea of joining the Bruins.

“Talking to [Marchand] a little bit during the interview process before July 1, I hung up the phone and kind of had to take a deep breath and say, ‘Is that the little disturber, pain-in-the-butt? He’s actually a pretty good guy,” joked Backes, per the Bruins’ website.

In an exclusive interview with CSN’s Joe Haggerty, Backes reiterated that both Bergeron and Marchand are a “pain-in-the-butt” to play against, but he quickly added (with a smirk) that Marchand is more ‘obnoxious’ (click the video at the top of the page for the full interview).

So what exactly did Marchand and Bergeron say to Backes during the phone calls?

“Those guys are the best teammates when you get them on your team,” Backes said of Marchand and Bergeron. “When they talk about sharing critical ice, and hard ice, and hard minutes with a couple of lines, to me that’s what you need in this league.”

Backes has always been known for his physical style of play, but at 32-years-old he may not be able to do all the dirty work for much longer. It sounds like both Marchand and Bergeron convinced Backes that the heavy lifting will be a team-effort, as opposed to a one-man or one-line thing.

Of course, the five-year, $30 million contract the Bruins gave Backes was also an effective recruiting tool.

Flames say there’s still ‘no real update’ on contract talks with RFA forwards Monahan, Gaudreau

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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NHL training camps open in September and although most teams have done the bulk of their off-season tweaking, there’s still at least one team that has some serious work to do.

The Calgary Flames are still working on signing forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to contract extensions. Both players are currently restricted free agents.

“No real update there,” said general manager Brad Treliving, per the Calgary Herald.  “We’ll continue to work away at it.”

The Flames have just under $15 million in cap space remaining, according to General Fanager. There’s a good chance both RFA forwards will take a deep bite into those remaining dollars.

Monahan already said he’d be willing to take less money to get a deal done, but that doesn’t mean he’ll come cheap. The 21-year-old scored 58 goals and 125 points in 162 games over the last two seasons.

As for Gaudreau, he’ll cost a pretty penny as well. The 22-year-old is coming off a season in which he scored 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games.

Here’s an excerpt from the Herald regarding these two players:

With 11 weeks until the regular season begins, here is what we know:

• Both players are restricted free agents and received qualifying offers from the Flames earlier this month. Talks are ongoing.

• Both are expected to receive whopping raises.

• Both are seeking long-term contracts, expressing that they’d like to play together for the foreseeable future.

• Both could be getting paid in the neighbourhood of between $6-million and $7.5-million for between six and eight years (if you use the com parables of Vladimir Tarasenko, Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones, Aleksander Barkov, and Nathan MacKinnon).

Thankfully for Calgary, they’ve done a decent job of managing their roster and the cap. Gaudreau and Monahan are the only two players on the roster that still need new contracts. The rest of the team is locked up for at least one more year.

Edmonton will have a captain by opening night, says McLellan

Todd McLellan
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After going without a captain last season, the Oilers will have someone wearing the “C” in 2016-17.

“Will we have a captain? Yeah, we will,” head coach Todd McLellan said on Wednesday, per the Oilers’ website. “We will have a captain.”

The last player to serve as captain in Edmonton was Andrew Ference, who inherited the position from Shawn Horcoff in ’13 and held it for two seasons.

Last year, the veteran blueliner appeared in just six games, and underwent season-ending hip surgery. He was in no position to serve in the club’s leadership group and, ergo, the Oilers opted to play without a captain.

So… who will be next to wear the “C?”

Most are thinking about Connor McDavid. Though he’s not publicly campaigning for the role, the 19-year-old did say it would “be one of the greatest honors. ” Though he missed significant time to injury last year, McDavid still enthralled Oilers fans with a rookie campaign that saw him rack up 48 points in 45 games, finishing as a Calder Trophy finalist.

Of course, there will be others in the mix.

Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Matt Hendricks have all served as alternates in Edmonton, and Hendricks captained the U.S. at this year’s world championships. There’s definitely some leadership to choose from, and it’s worth noting Eberle is one of the most vested veterans in Edmonton, having appeared in 425 games over the last six seasons.