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.

Red Wings rally by Bruins in another game that evokes the Eighties

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Things looked pretty grim for the Detroit Red Wings after the Boston Bruins chased Jared Coreau from the net with a quick 3-0 lead. Maybe the Red Wings took note that this has been a weird, high-scoring week in the NHL, because they rallied back and eventually won 6-5 via a shootout.

To recap the zaniest games of each day from this odd few days of hockey:

Monday: The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 8-7 in an overtime thriller.

Tuesday: The Dallas Stars managed to hold off the New York Rangers in a 7-6 victory. Plenty of weird things happened beyond all of those goals.

Wednesday: Red Wings storm back from that 3-0 deficit to eventually win.

Games like these can be a nightmare for coaches and goalies on both sides, yet Claude Julien was probably especially steamed by this one.

The Bruins were up 3-0, 4-1 and 5-4 but the Red Wings kept fighting back. As a defensive-minded coach, Julien couldn’t have been happy with his team’s play.

(That’s the coach’s answer to slamming a video game controller in a frustrating loss.)

Fitting in with this week’s other wilder contests, there were flurries of goals even beyond the trio that quickly gave Coreau the boot. The Red Wings warped a 4-1 Bruins lead to a 4-4 tie with three goals in a little more than 10 minutes of time.

Adam McQuaid then regained Boston’s lead 21 seconds after it was tied, but the Red Wings didn’t give up. Instead, they applied a ton of pressure in the third period until Gustav Nyquist tied it up with about three minutes left.

Detroit still has a long way to go to protect its remarkable playoff streak, especially when teams like the Bruins can at least salvage “charity points” with losses. If the Red Wings want to make an unlikely push, they’ll need to show the kind of resolve that was on display on yet another wild night in the NHL.

Pavelec makes highlight reel save, gets win in return to Jets’ net

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 28:  Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets dives across to make a first period save against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Jets 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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With an expiring contract, Ondrej Pavelec’s time with the Winnipeg Jets is nearing an end. Plenty of Jets fans would say, mercifully.

Still, he did return to the Winnipeg Jets net on Wednesday for his first NHL appearance since April 9, 2016, to mostly successful results. The Jets beat the Arizona Coyotes 6-3, for one thing.

Beyond that, it probably felt like a typical Pavelec start for many Jets fans, though some would contest that it would also need to involve a loss.

There were those regrettable moments, like giving up a goal right away:

Even his critics would probably agree that Pavelec does have a knack for making breathtaking saves:

It’s unclear how many more times we’ll see Pavelec play for the Jets (or an NHL team in general). His performance – if given more chances – in the near future may determine that answer.

If nothing else, his 2016-17 debut felt pretty fitting.

Connor McDavid hits the 100-point mark, scores OT-winner (or did he?)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 08: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period at Wells Fargo Center on December 8, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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PHT brings you the hard-hitting math, as you know, so here’s the latest burst: Connor McDavid is more than a point-per-game player.

You see, he scored the 100th point of his promising NHL career, and he did so in just his 92nd career game on Wednesday. Let us remind you that he’s just 20 years old (and he turned 20 on Jan. 13). Yeah.

Point 100 came on via an assist on a Zack Kassian goal as the Edmonton Oilers went up 1-0 against the Florida Panthers.

Here’s the clip:

Update: There’s debate regarding whether McDavid’s overtime-winner should have counted or not, but either way, it’s impressive that he generated a goal and an assist after hitting the 100-point mark. So it’s now 102 points in 92 games.

Here’s that contested goal:

 

Video: This assist helps explain why Red Wings might not trade Vanek

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In the video above, you can see Bob McKenzie lay out the Detroit Red Wings’ status as the trade deadline begins to look like more of a consideration.

Considering their playoff streak, it’s not that shocking that they’re at least struggling with the idea of being sellers. More than a few people probably did a double-take (or spit-take?) when McKenzie noted that management might opt to re-sign forward/remarkable reclamation project Thomas Vanek instead of moving him for assets.

It’s reasonable to question that logic, but then you see what he’s doing lately, particularly the chemistry he seems to be building with Andreas Athanasiou.

Wednesday’s gorgeous assist to Athanasiou illustrates some of that brilliance, if stats bore you:

If stats tell some of the story, well, they’re impressive. Vanek now has a seven-game point streak with the assist; if he doesn’t score another point, he’ll have 10 points during that span. He also has at least a point in 11 of his last 12 contests.

Athanasiou’s really “feeling it” lately, too. If he stays at a goal tonight, he’ll have five goals and eight points in his last seven games, only failing to generate a point in two of those contests. His speed and skill really seem to be coming to the surface, a great sign for the 22-year-old.

Still, Vanek is 32, and the Red Wings would need a heck of a run to even make the playoffs. So that’s where the discussion gets a little sticky.

There’s still time to sort that out, though. In the meantime, fans should enjoy what those two have been accomplishing, even if many want the window to close on that combo soon.