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.

The Buzzer: Sharks dominate at MSG; Leafs edge Kings

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Player of the Night: Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

The Sharks netminder stood tall Monday night during a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers. Jones stopped 33 shots as San Jose won their fourth consecutive game. Logan Couture recorded two points, which included his 200th career NHL assist. He now has six goals and nine points in four games.

Highlight of the Night:

Lovely shorthanded finish here by Trevor Lewis to help the Los Angeles Kings cut the Toronto Maple Leafs lead to 3-2 late in their game:

MISC:

• Congrats to Tim Heed for scoring his first NHL goal.

• New York’s power play failed on all six opportunities.

• The Rangers have won only twice in eight home games this season.

Frederik Andersen stopped 36 shots and Patrick Marleau recorded his fourth of the year as the Maple Leafs edged the Kings 3-2.

• Marleau’s goal stood as the game-winner and was the 99th of his career, good for eighth all-time.

• A weird sequence in the first period saw Jonathan Quick take an elbow to the head and be briefly forced from the game due to a concussion spotter’s call. Oddly, it took several minutes for Quick to be removed from the game, and then he was only off the ice for whistle.

Factoid of the Night: 

Monday’s scores:

San Jose 4, New York Rangers 1

Toronto 3, Los Angeles 2

Ducks’ Patrick Eaves diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome

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Patrick Eaves has only played two games for the Anaheim Ducks this season, and the team updated his situation on Monday.

Eaves, who hasn’t played since Oct. 13, spent the weekend at a local hospital after being diagnosed with what medical personnel believe to be Guillain-Barré syndrome which, according to the Ducks, is “a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.”

The Ducks say the 33-year-old Eaves was feeling weak last week and after seeing specialists, was admitted to the intensive care unit at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California. Over the weekend he was stabilized and moved out of ICU. He’s expected to make a full recovery, though no timetable for a return has been given.

“I want to thank Dr. Robert Watkins Sr. and Dr. Danny Benmoshe for their early diagnosis of my condition, along with the proactive Ducks medical team,” Eaves said in a statement. “Thanks to them and the incredible nurses at Hoag Hospital, I’m on the road to recovery. I’ve received tremendous amount of support over the last few days, most importantly from my family, friends and teammates. I’m determined to fully overcome this and return to the ice as soon as possible.”

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website, Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect someone at any age and is diagnosed in “only about one person in 100,000.” It’s still unknown how the disease manifests in those affected. William “Refrigerator” Perry and Danny Wuerffel are among those who battled it.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Tale of 2 brothers: 1 victim, 1 rescuer in Vegas shooting

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nicholas and Anthony Robone are about as close as two brothers can be.

They are the only two kids in their family, born and raised in Las Vegas. Nick and Tony share a passion for ice hockey, and as boys used their tape-wrapped hockey sticks to knock a puck around the street.

Tony followed Nick in becoming a defenseman, and joined him as a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A year ago, they pooled their money to buy the three-bedroom house they share.

So it wasn’t unusual that they were together at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Oct. 1 when a gunman opened fire on the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, striking Nick, 28, in the upper chest and forcing firefighter and paramedic Tony, 25, into the role of his big brother’s rescuer.

Nick was at the country music festival with a three-day pass his parents gave him for his September birthday. ”It was going to be a fun night to hang out,” he said.

Tony, with the Henderson County Fire Department, couldn’t join his brother the first two days, but arrived at the festival grounds at about 8:30 p.m. on the final night after attending the Vegas Golden Knights professional hockey game. The brothers were with a few friends in the middle of the main stage area.

County music singer Jason Aldean was just a few songs into his set when the popping sounds started after 10 p.m. and Nick felt a piercing pain in his left side. A bullet had entered his chest right above his heart and lung, and traveled down to his side muscle, missing organs but badly bruising the lung.

Tony treated Nick’s wound as round after round of gunfire rained down on the panicked crowd. In the end, 58 people died. Hundreds were injured in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Tony told a news conference two days after the shooting that he and their friend Billy Tufano, an emergency medical technician, helped get Nick to the east side of the stage where they hid behind a police car. They later continued farther east, and eventually got Nick into an ambulance.

Critically injured, Nick was in surgery for four hours, in intensive care at Sunrise Hospital for five days, and released after 10 days.

Three weeks after the shooting, Nick is home recovering. He gets around pretty well on his own, he said in a telephone interview last week. He’s expected to make a full recovery.

”There won’t be any real rehab to speak off,” he said. ”Just walk around a few times a day,” do some regular breathing exercises and eat a good diet.

Nick has credited quick attention by his brother and friends at the concert for saving his life. Tony ”NEVER left my side,” he said in a tweet.

Doctors have estimated it will be six to eight weeks before he can return to work, he said.

Nick said he’s received unconditional support from Topgolf, an entertainment property with a driving range and restaurants where he’s employed in marketing. He also is an assistant ice hockey coach at his alma mater, where the Rebels hockey team and its fans have rallied around him.

With the VegasStrong hashtag scrawled on signs throughout the City National Arena, the ”Skatin’ Rebels” won their home game 8-0 in Nick’s honor the Friday after the massacre. A few days later, he felt well enough to visit the team and promise, ”I’ll be back.”

”My brother is the toughest guy I know,” Tony said. ”And I think the amount of support from the community, from the hockey community, from the firefighter community, it just represents and reflects the kind of guy he is.”

The feeling is mutual. ”My brother is a really great guy,” Nick said.

Report: Wild’s Parise considering back surgery

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The Minnesota Wild host the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, which could be the same day forward Zach Parise undergoes surgery, according to Michael Russo of The Athletic.

Per that report, Parise is contemplating back surgery that would sideline the 33-year-old forward — who still hasn’t played a game this season — for up to two months.

Parise missed the beginning of training camp with a back injury, but had started to skate with the team before suffering a setback and leaving the ice during a session last week. At the time, general manager Chuck Fletcher was hopeful that this setback was only a short-term issue.

“We’ll see what it means. I don’t want to speculate, but it would have been better if he could have finished the practice, but he didn’t, so we’ll see how he feels,” said Fletcher last week.

“I try not to get too up or down and things like that. You feel badly for Zach, he’s working hard and he’s in great shape, and hopefully this is just a short-term setback, if it even is a setback. We’ll find out more later on, but I’m sure it’s very frustrating for him.”

This also surfaced out of Minnesota this afternoon, following the initial report:

The Wild are about to begin a six-game home stand, which gets underway Tuesday when they host the Canucks.

With a 2-2-2 record through six games to begin the season, Minnesota has experienced a disastrous list of injuries so far. Not only has Parise not yet made his debut, but Charlie Coyle (right fibula fracture) and Nino Niederreiter are still listed on injured reserve, and Mikael Granlund hasn’t played since the season opener back on Oct. 5.

The news surrounding Granlund is certainly more positive. He skated again on Monday and coach Bruce Boudreau was hopeful that the 25-year-old winger, who had a breakout 2016-17 season, could be ready to go versus the Canucks.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.