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.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

Video: Brouwer was big for Blues

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Troy Brouwer made quite an impression in his first year with the St. Louis Blues. After being acquired from the Capitals for T.J. Oshie, the 30-year-old scored 18 goals and 39 points in 82 games during the 2015-16 season. His eight goals and 13 points during the playoffs weren’t too shabby either.

Brouwer took on more of a signficant role in the postseason. His points-per-game increased, his ice time increased and he was more productive on the man-advantage (3 goals in 20 games). While the Blues were fighting for their playoff lives in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Final, Brouwer contributed three goals.

Now, the Blues will have to find a way to keep him around. His playoff success likely means that he’ll be expecting a substantial raise between now and the end of the league year on July 1st. Brouwer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on that day.

Brouwer came with a cap hit of $3.66 million and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number climb higher, especially if he hits the open market.

The Blues also need to work out deals with other pending free agents like captain David Backes and Jaden Schwartz (RFA). There isn’t a ton of money left under the cap in St. Louis, which means that GM Doug Armstrong will have to get creative this summer.

One of the things Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock liked about Brouwer was the way he seemed to fit in right away.

“He was on the team for a month,” Hitchcock explained earlier this week, per the Vancouver Sun. “I think my meetings were a little bit too long.  He told me it would be best if I kept them a little briefer.  So I knew he had a bite on the team right away. It didn’t take him long to get comfortable with us, which is great.”  

How much will comfort count for in the off-season negotiations between club and player? We’ll find out soon enough.

PHT Morning Skate: Jim Craig doesn’t regret selling ‘Miracle on Ice’ memorabilia

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–These parents named their baby girl after Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. (ABC News)

–The  hockey card that helped inspire a Tragically Hip song. (Puck Junk)

–The fan who promised to get a tattoo of Gary Bettman if LA and Chicago were eliminated in the first round kept his word. (Bardown)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues. (Top)

–Jim Craig doesn’t regret auctioning off most of his “Miracle on Ice” memorabilia. (Yahoo)

–A Q & A with former Quebec Nordiques forward Peter Stastny. (ESPN)

–Former Flyers coach Craig Berube breaks down Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (NHL)

Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”