Wheelin' and Dealin' with Ray Shero

Penguins general manager Ray Shero is the architect of a Stanley Cup championship, but one trade had him skating on thin ice at home.



Illustration courtesy of Stephen Bosela and ThePensblog.com

Ray Shero’s wife, Karen, still hasn’t gotten over something he did in 2002 while he was general manager of the Nashville Predators. He didn’t forget their anniversary or anything like that. Instead, he made a decision that every GM dreads: He sent a popular player packing.

“Tom Fitzgerald was our captain in Nashville, and we traded him at the deadline,” Shero says. “My wife really liked Tom, and she’s still mad at me for that one.”

Shero is able to laugh about the trade now, especially since he hired Fitzgerald as one of his assistants after coming to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006. But as the architect of the franchise’s meteoric rise to Stanley Cup glory, Shero has had to make life-altering decisions with the team’s $60-million salary cap budget.

“It’s hard as a manager, because I can’t exactly be buddy-buddy with these guys, but it’s hard not to grow to really like a person and his family. As soon as you make that phone call to a player that’s been moved, someone’s life has changed. And not only them—but their family, too,” Shero says.

Pittsburgh Magazine recently sat down with Shero to talk about tough phone calls, trade rumors and the never-ending question: wingers for Sidney Crosby.


First off, let’s tackle a rumor that refuses to die: Has Sid or any other player ever come to you and said, “You need to upgrade my linemates.”

Never once. And it’ll never happen. No. 1, Sidney’s not that type of person. I read and hear all the things about wingers and all that stuff, and you know, going out and getting a 40-goal winger would be great, but that’s going to cost you. With the salary-cap structure, you’re going to have a hole somewhere. No team has it all. It’s not possible.
 

You made a big decision in 2009: firing coach Michel Therrien mid-season and appointing a very green coach in Dan Bylsma to take the reigns ...

At that point, we were in dire straights, and it was quite a whirlwind for Dan. Funny story: In Dan’s first game behind the bench, we lost in a shootout on Long Island. On the plane home after the game—this is how much of an “interim” coach he was—Dan walked up and gave me a tug on my sleeve and said, “Umm, Ray … Am I coaching practice tomorrow?” I think we all know how that season turned out.

"I say this every year, 'This might be the year we don’t do anything [at the deadline].' But, really, this might be the year we don’t do anything."

Not all the players you bring to Pittsburgh are stars. What do you look for in grinders and role players?

There’s certain criteria we look for in Penguins players. Perfect example is Craig Adams, who was on waivers when we picked him up. He went 82 games last year without a goal, but not once was he taken out of the lineup, and that may be hard to believe. But then he scores two goals in the playoffs. What he brings every night is hard work and character and physical play. Every successful team needs a guy like that. Our identity to people outside of Pittsburgh might be the high-scoring Penguins, but to me we’re a blue-collar team. I want that to be our M.O.

We’ve got these two superstar players in Crosby and Malkin, and maybe if I managed another team I’d build it differently, but the way we’re set up here, we’re looking for character and leadership traits. There might even be better players out there, but maybe they’re not what we’re looking for in a Penguin.

ray shero

Photo ©2010 Pittsburgh Penguins/Gregory Shamus   

What’s the most difficult trade you’ve ever had to make?

When we traded [former defenseman] Ryan Whitney in 2009, that was a difficult one because I really liked Ryan as a person. His father is a really great guy, and I still keep in touch with him. When the trade happened, it was bad timing and Ryan’s mom was in the hospital, and I knew that. It was really, really difficult. But that’s the job.

Does the so-called "hometown discount" actually exist? Do players take less money to stay here?

I think in the end, it’s money. How much will a person leave on the table? How much is enough? I can’t answer that, but in Pittsburgh, what we have to offer is good ownership who spends to the salary cap limit, the players' families are treated first-class here, and our goal is to win Cups.

Take [defensemen] Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, who we signed this summer. They had numerous other places they could’ve gone and they chose Pittsburgh. It starts with guys like Crosby, who take less than they can get to stay here. Brooks Orpik did the same thing; Jordan Staal, Kris Letang. Every player that’s really wanted to stay here we’ve been able to retain, and it’s worked out pretty well for them and for us.

So, what's going to happen at the trade deadline this year?

A lot of the times it’s gone down to the final minute of the deadline to make a deal. I say this every year, “This might be the year we don’t do anything.” But, really, this might be the year we don’t do anything. And just because you make a move doesn’t mean it’s going to work out. Last year with [Alexei] Ponikarovski, it didn’t work out.

Why do you think Ponikarovski didn't work out?

He got off to a really good start with us, then he hit a rut and really started pressuring himself to score. He thought he had to score goals, which really wasn’t the case. He just had to be a second or third line player. At the end of the day, I can live with what we gave up for him. That’s sports.

Do other GMs ever take the Internet trade rumors seriously?

Not really. Before the 2008 draft, there was a story going around that we had a deal going with L.A. to trade Evgeni Malkin. And I’d never, ever talked with their GM, Dean Lombardi, about that. So it was funny because I got a call the day before the draft from Dean saying, “Ray, obviously, we’re supposed to be talking about Malkin. Should I be calling you?” [Laughing] I said, “Nope, you shouldn’t be calling me.” That’s exactly how far that went.

Seems as if someone always has you trading away Malkin.

Well if that ever happened, we’re not going to get the best player in the deal. We’ve already got the best player. This summer, when we were kicking around the idea of Geno playing winger, I texted him about it. He was somewhere in Europe at the time, but he texted me right back. I didn’t know what he was going to say, like, “Are you guys nuts? I want out of here. I’m a center!” But the first thing he replied was, “What does coach think?” He’s a great kid and a great teammate. When someone says something about Evgeni, I mean *points up to the rafters at CONSOL Energy Center*, there’s the Stanley Cup banner.”

"What are they gonna do, call their mom? This is hockey."

What are your thoughts on these disputed mega-long-term contacts that players like Kovalchuck have signed? Would you consider giving one to Crosby before his deal expires in two years?

If you sign a guy for 12 or 15 years and you think you have him forever, well let’s be honest, if he doesn’t like the way the team’s run or he doesn’t like the ownership and he’s not happy, in today’s game players will come to you and say, “Look, this isn’t working out like I thought,” and then you’re stuck. But if you sign a guy to a five-year contract like Crosby, or anybody else, and you make every attempt to win and you make a commitment with a brand new building like we have, then you’ll have a much better chance to retain that player. So I’m hopeful that Sidney will want to stay here his entire career and retire a Penguin like Mario did.

HBO's "24/7" series revealed that you and coach Bylsma meet to evaluate players' performances on a 1-5 scale. Do players ever get mad about their rating?

I think in that segment [on HBO], Matt Cooke got a two, and then he scored the next night. All I can say is, Cookey must've done a few things right in his career to get a contract from me. It's a reality series—and that's reality. Some guys have a really bad game and they get a one! Tough. What are they gonna do, call their mom? This is hockey. They'll get over it.


Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

For comic book fans, it's the equivalent of black Friday, only much more fun.
Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

The stunning photo of a star trail around Mt. Rainier took two hours to shoot.
Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald say the PUC went too far when it fined the ride-sharing company $11.3 million.
The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

Most people crawl deeper under the covers during a nighttime thunderstorm, photographer Dave DiCello does just the opposite.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

For comic book fans, it's the equivalent of black Friday, only much more fun.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

The Abbey on Butler — part coffeehouse, part restaurant, part bar — could prove to be a major Lawrenceville destination.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

The Bucs’ wild-card failures the last two seasons have cast a shadow of doubt if not impending doom over a season that otherwise ought to be ripe with promise.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Local fashion line Kelly Lane has the perfect dress to kick off your summer style.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Captain America: Civil War is the Best Marvel Flick Yet

Captain America: Civil War is the Best Marvel Flick Yet

The superhero throwdown caps a hot streak for the comic studio. Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

You don’t always need blue skies and sunshine to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. One couple shares their advice on making the most of a rainy wedding day and what to do when the forecast is less than ideal.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation hosts a one-of-a-kind house tour on May 7.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A Week of Education for Adults & Children Alike

A Week of Education for Adults & Children Alike

Remake Learning Days, a program offering new and future-forward educational experiences, is set for various spots throughout the area.

Comments