Ray Shero

Penguins GM Ray Shero defends his team’s play; Don Cherry rips Mario Lemieux


It’s a story with so many legs it’s hockey’s version of a millipede. The fallout from the Islanders-Penguins brawl last Friday that got Penguins owner Mario Lemieux to come out and deride the NHL for not hammering the Islanders harder for their role in sparking numerous fights in a virtual on-ice riot.

Lemieux’s statement on the matter has bothered many around the league and fans as well for his seemingly willful ignorance of who he employs on his own team in noted troublemaker and dirty player Matt Cooke. We discussed here the other night about how if Lemieux’s comments included the guys on his own team that his condemnation of the league would hold more water. Lemieux’s words had a side effect that he likely didn’t intend: Drawing attention to how his own team plays.

Penguins GM Ray Shero spoke with Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about his thoughts on what Lemieux had to say and the questions that have come up about how the Penguins carry themselves on the ice. Shero was very direct in how he spoke about things.

I want to be a blue-collar, hard-working hockey team. We’re not a dirty team. OK, Matt Cooke – everybody is saying, “How can you say this and have Matt Cooke?” He gets fined, suspended. In the (Columbus defenseman Fedor) Tyutin case, (Cooke) was talked to by me and the coach. I talked to him after the Savard hit.

Hard-working and aggressive (play) go into the same thing. From our hockey team’s standpoint, I think we play with honor. I really do.

Matt Cooke wasn’t about Friday night. Friday night was something different.

Shero is right about Friday night but he’s doing his best here to put as positive a spin on things as he can when it comes to deflecting talk away from Matt Cooke. The results and lack of change in Cooke’s game speak for itself, however.

As for playing with honor, you can debate that if you’d like to but with the Penguins leading the NHL in fighting majors so far this year, you can make the argument that they’re either really busy standing up for themselves against everyone or a wild pack of goons. Given what shook loose against the Islanders, you’d be hard pressed to argue against them standing up for themselves.

With Lemieux’s statements though, it’s not a full-blown media blitz  until Don Cherry gives his take on things, and after his appearance on the Fan590 in Toronto today, you can put Grapes fully on board with the Lemieux-bashing bandwagon.

“Anybody that has Matt Cooke on his payroll and doesn’t say anything (about) the action he does, is a hypocrite.”

Tell us how you really feel, Don.

Cherry isn’t alone in his stance, of course, but coming right out and putting it like that when he’s always been a proponent of tough, physical play shouldn’t be too shocking. After all this talk and sniping from executives and players alike isn’t solving anything and if nothing else, Lemieux’s public reaction to everything have served to do something he didn’t intend to. He’s unwillingly made the story about him as it is about the on-ice melee that erupted in Long Island.

Lemieux wanted this to be about making changes in the game for the better. Instead we’re busy talking about Matt Cooke and whether or not he’s self-aware. It’s unfortunate because what Mario said does have some merit, but being so drawn in by the elephant in the room in Cooke we can’t help but question Lemieux’s thoughts. It’s a sad cycle to have to go around when it’s all very clear what the Islanders did was wrong. Perhaps they’re getting by easy one more time.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”