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.

Tinordi on waivers as his 20-game suspension for PEDs comes to an end

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 03:  Jarred Tinordi #28 of the Arizona Coyotes fights with Nick Ritchie #37 of the Anaheim Ducks during the third period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on March 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 5-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With his 20-game suspension finally set to end, Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jarred Tinordi has reportedly been placed on waivers.

Tinordi, 24, was suspended late last season for violating terms of the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances agreement. He said he “did not knowingly take a banned substance,” but accepted the ban and vowed to “work hard towards my return to the ice.” After he misses tonight’s game in Brooklyn, he’ll have served 20 games.

A former first-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, Tinordi has spent most of his pro career in the AHL, though he does have 54 games of NHL experience. The big blue-liner was traded to Arizona in January, part of a controversial three-team swap that saw John Scott, the All-Star, sent to the Habs.

Tinordi played seven unremarkable games for the Coyotes before he was suspended. He’ll presumably be assigned to their AHL affiliate in Tucson should he clear waivers.

Related: NHL has ‘no reason to believe…the Canadiens acted inappropriately’ in Tinordi trade

Rookie d-man Carlo has ‘impressed the heck’ out of Bruins

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 15:  Brandon Carlo #25 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game on October 15, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Bruins 4-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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It’s fair to say optimism about Boston’s blueline was tempered heading into this season.

Really tempered.

GM Don Sweeney’s search for a ‘transitional’ defenseman never panned out. Neither did the PTO for veteran rearguard Christian Ehrhoff. So the B’s went into this year with nearly the exact same defense they had last year — a defense that Sweeney admitted was a “work in progress.”

Which is why Brandon Carlo’s emergence is a big deal.

Carlo, the 19-year-old rookie, has been a revelation. He’s scored two points through four games, and done so while shouldering a pretty significant workload — 21:54 TOI per night, second on the team to Zdeno Chara.

“He’s impressed the heck out of us,” head coach Claude Julien said on Friday, per the Bruins’ Twitter account.

Julien’s faith in Carlo goes beyond words. In last night’s 2-1 win over New Jersey, Carlo was put out in the final minutes with Cory Schneider pulled for an extra attacker.

“He gave me no reason not to put him out there,” Julien said.

There’s plenty to like about Carlo. He’s got terrific size — 6-foot-5, 200 pounds — and shown maturity well beyond his years and professional experience, having played just seven AHL games prior to making his NHL debut.

Boston has to be thrilled.

Remember, the club is pretty old on defense. Chara is 39, John-Michael Liles is 36, Adam McQuaid is 30 and Kevan Miller turns 29 in November.

Though the team does have some intriguing young d-man prospects in the system — including first-rounders Charlie McAvoy and Jakub Zboril — they’re not expected to make an impact at the big-league level for a while.

Of course, neither was Carlo.

Injuries to McQuaid and Miller fast-tracked the former WHL Tri-City standout, and he’s made the most of the opportunity. His teammates have certainly been impressed.

“He’s a great defenseman,” goalie Tuukk Rask said, per the Boston Herald. “Very poised out there, and he positions himself well.”

“He’s been playing phenomenal right now,” added Brad Marchand. “He’s stepped up.”

The Coyotes are in a tough spot

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 20:  Goaltender Louis Domingue #35 of the Arizona Coyotes allows a goal while Alexander Radulov #47 of the Montreal Canadiens watches during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 20, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes started their season with a win at home, but two games into a six-game road trip and things have taken a decided turn for the worse.

Last night in Montreal, the ‘Yotes got thumped, 5-2, and outshot, 43-29. That came on the heels of a 7-4 loss in Ottawa, one that saw starting goalie Mike Smith leave with a lower-body injury.

Smith is no longer with the team. He’s been flown back to Phoenix to consult with doctors, leaving Louis Domingue and emergency call-up Justin Peters to take care of the Coyotes’ crease. Domingue was yanked halfway through the Montreal game, after surrendering four goals on just 19 shots.

“Change momentum for us and recognize we have to play tomorrow night again,” head coach Dave Tippett explained following the loss, per the Arizona Republic. “We’ll put Louis back in there tomorrow night and see if we can get a better start from him.”

The Coyotes play tonight in Brooklyn against the Islanders, with road games still remaining at the Rangers, Devils and Flyers before they get to return home.

Suffice to say, it’s going to be a challenge for this young team, with five rookies and a shaky goalie, to come together and survive the rest of the trip. The Islanders (1-3-0) will be hungry for a win tonight, and the Rangers (2-2-0) have been better than their record suggests. Get through those opponents and there’s still two games to go.

Pens’ Pouliot on IR, after getting hurt in season debut

Derrick Pouliot
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Pretty lousy start to the campaign for Derrick Pouliot.

Pouliot, a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh’s first four games of the year, made his season debut in Thursday’s 3-2 win over San Jose — but played just over 12 minutes before getting knocked out with an injury.

And on Friday, the Pens put Pouliot on IR.

David Warsofsky has been recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as a replacement, and could suit up on Saturday when the Penguins visit Nashville.

The bigger story, of course, is Pouliot.

The eighth overall pick in 2012 — taken ahead of defensemen like Jacob Trouba, Olli Maatta, Michael Matheson and Brady Skjei — Pouliot has struggled to make his mark at the NHL level.

After appearing in 34 games as a rookie, he dressed just 22 times last year, and only twice during the playoffs as the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup.

This year, he was unable to crack a six-man defensive unit comprised of Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz. Letang missed the San Jose game with an upper-body ailment, which paved the way for Pouliot to draw in.