Can We Continue to Trust Ray Shero?

Ray Shero won the 2013 General Manager of the Year Award. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)
Ray Shero won the 2013 General Manager of the Year Award. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

When reflecting upon the Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff short-comings, we’ve blamed Dan Bylsma, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and anyone else we could think of besides Ray Shero. Why hasn’t Shero taken more heat for the Pens’ Eastern Conference Finals debacle against the Boston Bruins? Despite Shero engineering the Pens’ 2013 roster, Bylsma was seen most at fault.

Learning from the Past

At Shero’s end of season press conference, he was hammered with questions about the organization’s future. Shero is the first to admit that the Pens failed to meet everyone’s expectations after their disappointing defeat to the Bruins. Despite the public outcry for immediate changes, Shero is basically returning the same roster for the 2013-2014 season.

“Now as a manager, I believe, when you look back its part of learning and getting better. [It’s] learning from that loss in that third round, learning from that experience for our players, and applying that going forward.” -Ray Shero

We all want Shero to make the right decisions for the franchise moving forward, but the Pens are still lacking in many of the same areas as they were after their embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 post-season. This is three straight playoff seasons with a three game losing streak. This is two straight post-seasons where the Pens failed to compete against the team they were ousted by in the playoffs.

“My goal and focus is moving forward. Learning from the past, trying to apply that moving forward, to make sure we’re a team that our city is proud of, and a competitive, entertaining hockey team that can compete for the Stanley Cup and put ourselves in that position every year. That’s going to be our goal moving forward.” -Ray Shero

Jarome Iginla
Jarome Iginla shakes hands with series winner Zdeno Chara. (Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports)

The Pens have shown some improvement, but still have a lot to learn from the playoffs moving forward. When the team has been struck by adversity in the playoffs, all hell breaks loose. This adversity is going to continue to return until the Pens can prove they can overcome it. They’ve proven the last two post-seasons, with the same core of players and same coaching staff, they’re unable to comeback once they trail in a playoff series. Yet Shero, the man behind it all, is going to take another stab at things with the same group of coaches and players in the upcoming season.

Penguins’ Coach

“My vision moving forward and evaluating our team, our coaches, [and] the direction I want to go with this franchise, I really believe we have a great head coach in Dan Bylsma. I believe he is the coach to lead us forward. I have faith in his ability, and faith in his ability to lead us forward.” -Ray Shero

Bylsma, the coach who Shero puts all of his belief in, hasn’t been able to accomplish acceptable playoff success since he coached an entire season behind the Pens’ bench from start to finish. Examining the Pens’ playoff exits since their 2009 Cup, I believe Michel Therrien had just as much to do with the Pens winning that Cup as did Bylsma. By the players disliking Therrien and his ruthless coaching style, bringing in Bylsma did wonders for the team. The players were able to have fun and enjoy hockey. Bylsma opened up the offensive flood gates, lit a fire under the Pens, and his difference in coaching philosophy carried the team to glory. Presently, the team needs some of that Therrien discipline instilled back in them because Bylsma is having a difficult time getting his message across when changes need to be made.

“It’s not a buddy, buddy system. I have a responsibility to ownership, our fans, my family to do what I think is right for the team. I really believe in my evaluation of this team moving forward that I have a very good coach.” -Ray Shero

Dan Bylsma, along with his assistant coaches, will be returning behind the Pittsburgh Penguins bench next season. (Pensryourdaddy / Picasa)
Dan Bylsma, along with his assistant coaches, will be returning behind the Pittsburgh Penguins bench next season. (Pensryourdaddy / Picasa)

Bylsma coaches an innovative system, but it is no secret that his adjustments, or lack thereof, have been questioned. This is the second straight playoff season that Bylsma has been slow to adjust. When I see that Shero is questioning his own coach’s adjustments, I can’t help but wonder why Shero didn’t make a point to resolve this issue before the off-season was upon us.

“In terms of the adjustments, I’ve talked to our coaches about this, and somewhat importantly too,  I’ve talked to our players about this in terms of adjustments: what did they see, what did they feel, because realistically they’re the ones [who] have got to go out and have belief in what they’re doing.” -Ray Shero

Shero reasonably pointed out at his press conference that the team played great in Game 1 but couldn’t score. This is the reason why they stuck with the same game plan in Game 2. After Game 2 was chalked up as a complete disaster, the Pens adjusted and turned in their best performance of the series in Game 3.

The explanation all makes sense, but why did the Pens have to wait until after Game 2 and before Game 3 to make adjustments? There should’ve been “in-game” adjustments made in Game 2. Rather than making adjustments after or before a game, does Shero employ a head coach who can’t make in-game adjustments during crunch time? I’m puzzled that Shero questioned the adjustments after the series, but still kept Bylsma as his bench manager.

Penguins’ Trades

“The players we brought in I believe at the trade deadline, I really believe added what we thought they were going to add in terms of on ice, off ice.” -Ray Shero

The two acquired players who were supposed to have the biggest impact on the Pens were also the two who were the most in question at season’s end. Shero wanted Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow. For a team that likes to play a north and south, speed game, these aren’t players who add speed to your roster. I realize that Shero was trying to add grit and leadership to the team with these two veterans, but their services were not beneficial.

Jarome Iginla did produce for the Penguins when he was needed most. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
Jarome Iginla did not produce for the Penguins when he was needed to most. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Shero may believe his acquisitions added something to the Pens, but I know the media and fans expected much more from these players. The crying about Iginla playing left wing is so misguided. To nicely put it, Iginla was ineffective. Losing one-on-one battles in the corner, back-checking poorly, and being slow has nothing to do with Iginla playing left wing.

Morrow had a very hot finish to the regular season, but was invisible at times in the playoffs. Morrow wasn’t expected to score as much as Iginla, and did provide a physical checking game, but not on a consistent basis throughout the playoffs. He needed to have a bigger impact.

Both players were expected to be leaders in the Pens’ locker-room but neither player was viewed as such according to Penguins’ insider and Tribune Review Columnist, Rob Rossi. According to Rossi in a Pittsburgh Magazine article written by Sean Conboy, Iginla and Morrow resisted leadership roles and were playing for another contract more than trying to lead the Pens to a Stanley Cup. Rossi calls this, Shero’s “great miscalculation.”

Change in Philosophy

The Pens needed shutdown defenseman at the deadline. They need shutdown defensemen as of today. For the past few seasons, Shero has been trying to add more offensive scoring talent. When the Pens are the highest scoring hockey club in the league and have defensive liabilities, why is Shero seeking offensive players? He should be trying to find shutdown defensemen.

I realize that the Pens only scored two goals against the Bruins, and you may think they need more scoring. Their lack of scoring was due to the coaching staff not changing the Pens’ offensive strategy and the fact that the Pens’ roster wasn’t constructed for the type of hard-nosed play needed to defeat the Bruins. The Pens needed to crash the Bruins’ net, screen Tuukka Rask, and simplify their offensive strategy. When a team can’t score, they must get as many bodies and pucks to the net. Instead, the Pens searched for the perfect play to register a goal because Shero constructed a team with this mindset.

The Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't find a way to beat Tuukka Rask. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
The Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t find a way to beat Tuukka Rask. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

In Shero We Trust

Shero has been a great general manager. I couldn’t even come close to doing the job that he performs on a daily basis. He arrived in Pittsburgh seven years ago and turned this team into a Stanley Cup contending organization in three years. However, I believe he needs to closely investigate what is working and what is not, because I’m not convinced the Pens will have learned from their experiences this season when the playoffs hit next year. Next year the pressure will be even greater given the fact that Bylsma is returning with the same team for another season. Shero is the man behind all of these critical decisions. I hope he gets it right because the Pens’ fans expect more than regular season success.  As the saying goes in Pittsburgh, “In Shero We Trust.” Do you?

“You got to trust the fact that I probably have a little more information. Doesn’t mean every decision is right that I make. We go through this and over the last seven years, I’d like some do-overs.” -Ray Shero

14 thoughts on “Can We Continue to Trust Ray Shero?”

  1. This is a question I’m still not sure I can answer. He’s swung so many great deals on paper and on ice and is unarguably one of the best 10 GMs in the league (which may not be saying much, because at least half of them are abhorrent), as well as deserving of praise for building around centerpieces set by the previous regime. But then there were the Morrow and Murray deals that I just can’t see as anything but losses, even if they had contributed to a Cup; the inexplicable heralding and TWO-year extension of a coach who continues to hold this team back from its ultimate goal, good though he may be; and to top it off, giving a second-line wing a $7.25 million hit for maximum term to pose as a defenseman.

    Moreover, the drafting under this regime has been just awful. If he ever has to rebuild this team without the surefire superstars he had to start with, I will shudder to think of how dark it might get.

  2. While I agree that Iginla was nearly invisible during his run with the Pens, I think you are underestimating the impact of a change or role and position can have. Going from a number 1 winger to number 3 – he just isn’t involved in the game in the same way and his role changes as a result. Switching wings… the MVP of the league (Ovechkin) came out of the gates extremely slowly in part because of his and his coaches admission of having to understand how to play on the other side of the ice.

    For this, you can point the fingers at Shero or Bylsma – either Shero misjudged what his team needed, or Bylsma didn’t find a way to use the talent at his disposal in the proper way. The only fault of Iginla is not realizing that coming to Pittsburgh meant being on the same team as Crosby and Malkin, but not actually playing with them.

    • Sid, Thanks for reading and I get your Iginla & Ovi point. However, Iginla played the majority of his minutes on the Malkin/Neal line. I am just tired of the excuses for Iginla. The man has been in the league for years. He failed to take on any role from the looks of it. He didn’t have an impact on or off the ice to change this team in a positive manner. In terms of handing out blame, I believe Bylsma and Shero both are at fault when it comes to using Iginla. Thanks for reading and commenting. I always appreciate it.-Cheers

  3. Good article and I’d say fresh thinking, as you don’t hear much questioning of Shero. You made some valid points. Perhaps mostly on the speed/style the Pens play and how Iginla and Morrow don’t fit that.

    That said, I still lean towards more blame on Bylsma. I wouldn’t have minded seeing him fired instead of extended. The lack of adjustments drive me batty. The constant focus on north, north, north has this team jumpy and making costly turnovers. Sloppy, rushed plays. A good dash of Therrien added in is what this team needs.

    Okay, so about Shero. You have this 2013 Pens team rolling along and a chance to add Morrow…gritty, veteran leader with experience. Who wouldn’t? Then you add a rugged, stay at home D-man in Murray. Just what they needed right? Jokinen helped fill some void and a bit insurance with Crosby’s jaw injury.

    Now, after all that…you apparently still have a chance at Jarome Iginla? This guy is hockey royalty and a future hall of famer. I can’t imagine any contending team NOT wanting Iginla given the chance. I remember thinking “By the beard of Zeus! We got frickin’ Iginla!”

    Hindsight is always 20/20. Now we know Morrow probably has more mileage than we thought. And Iginla just doesn’t have the legs anymore…and had likely toiled away on a weak Flames team for too many years. My point is, other GMs would’ve made the same trade. Heck, the Bruins were offering more than Pens for him.

    And that’s all I got to say about that…kind of.

    • Luke, Thanks for the kind words and for reading my article. Your points are very valid. We all would’ve probably made the same moves. However, if I had a sub article, I would blame the individuals or scouts responsible for reporting back to Shero on Iginla. He was slow and just didn’t look to have any fight. I know that GM’s are always trying to improve their teams. At least in my opinion, you do not always have to make a trade every year at the deadline. Plus, I tend to think Iginla may have fit much better with the Bruins than the Pens. The Bruins don’t try to play with as much speed and quickness as the Pens. Thanks for reading. I hope you come back again. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  4. Well written and thoughtful. I think that Shero should’ve gone after more guys like Rob Scuderi, shutdown defensemen like that. When Dan Bylsma took over Pittsburgh He inherited the more defensive style of hockey team, the kind that Michel Therrien wins with, and I completely agree that it lit a fire under them. Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi were instrumental in that Cup run.

    I think also that acquiring Iginla was unnecessary. The Pens already had Morrow. I think some of the chemistry was disrupted with all these new guys coming in. Beau Bennett deserved more ice time, he was playing great, Jussi Jokinen was probably the only other guy I think did well, and he should’ve played WAY more in the Boston series. Bylsma is more at fault than Shero however. In game adjustments, line juggling, etc. we needed.

    I would follow Ray Shero to the ends of the earth. I trust that man fully with my hockey team. He is a wizard with trades, I can’t name one big one (besides Iginla’s) that didn’t work out. We needed a more defensive minded approach to beat Boston, and ultimately that is the coaches fault. I love Danny but sometimes I wonder what he is thinking

    • I definitely agree about Gil and Scuderi. During the Stanley Cup Finals, Scuderi single handedly prevented several goals during crazy flourishes down in front of Fleury. I remember after that season that we let him go to FA and really being confused about why we’d let that happen. I still don’t understand it to this day – especially since he’s got two Stanley Cup rings now.

      I guess he may be too expensive now, but he is a FA again – I wonder if there’s any cap room to bring him in if we unload Letang like we’ll have to at some point. Either way, Scuderi’s exactly the type of player that was present during the cup run that’s not present any more. We either have to find some more on the market or through the minor league system. [Wish I knew more about the prospects there. I hear a lot of names but am not clear on what type of d-men they are.]

      • We have a plethora of defenseman like Letang. Read up on these guys: Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington, and you probably already know Simon Despres. We have lots of smooth skating, puck moving defensemen. Pouliot is the real stud though. The Pens are head over heals for this kid. He is going to be a real good player in this league for a long time

  5. Really well-written article and I really appreciate the reasonable conclusions and overall thoughtfulness. I agree that Shero should take a bit of the blame – but there certainly are issues from all parties involved. I understand the frustration that all Pens fans have at the moment, but I wonder sometimes if it’s just overblown a bit. I get that we want to win a cup every year and there have been some let downs, but it just doesn’t happen that easy in a league with so much parity. We were, the 3rd best team in the league this year, that’s really not bad and we also have problems that 25 other teams would kill to have.

    I’d like to think also that this team is just hitting it’s prime. Crosby and Malkin will be great players for at least another 8 years and I think we’ll take home a couple of cups in that time, realistically, and be a playoff team for at least the next decade. Overall, I think fielding a team that can do that over the long haul is a feat worth mentioning and Shero deserves credit for that.

    I agree wholeheartedly about getting shutdown D and I hope that we can find one when we have to deal Letang or build some through the minor league system. Bylsma strikes me as an intelligent guy who knows his job is on the line and hopefully can make the types of changes to his system that will allow them to play better D going forward.

    • Arun, Thank you kindly for the compliment. I’m glad we are on the same page. I do think Shero is a good GM. We expect him to get everything right all the time and that is an unfair expectation. He isn’t perfect. I do think the Pens are in great hands under his control, but I would like to see him change his philosophy in the types of players he brings in, like more shutdown D. Glad you agree with that as well. I also think he deserves some of the blame for what has transpired while he has seemed to escape most of it. I agree with your comment about finishing third in the league. As I said in another comment, the outcome could’ve been much worse, but some fail to realize that. I just worry about playoff time next year and how Bylsma and Fleury will react to the pressure. Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to read and comment.

  6. Thank you so much for pointing the finger at Shero. I’m sick of the coaches and players being blamed for our inability to the cup. Before Shero tried to stack the deck we had a Stanley Cup winning team. The team was playing like a well oiled machine. Shero actually believed that when Crosby, Malkin, Neal played that didn’t need to know who was going to be on their line at any given time. Of course, the team doesn’t have to have any experience with their other team members, how could that help. What could possibly be wrong with players playing with new players and forcing our winning players to sit on the bench. What was Bylsma suppose to do with all these late arriving players. We should not lose a single player from the original team. I admire the new players, but they offered little in the end.

    • Hey Sue, Thanks for agreeing and taking the time to read my article. That’s how I see it as well. I do think Shero is a very good general manager as he turned this team from pretender to a contender. I just think he does deserve a bit more of the blame. He has some very tough decisions to make for sure. There are going to be those who disagree no matter what he chooses. Things could always be worse as well. If the Pens totally rebuilt, they may not make it this far next year so I do think they need to build with what the already have, just in a different way than they have the past four years. Thanks again for your comment.

  7. The Pittsburgh Penguins—-The only place failure is rewarded more than at the White House!
    Dan Bylsma is a lot like Barack Obama. Came in with no experience. Much acclaimed. Followed by four years of disappointment and failure. Then rehired.
    Ray Shero on Crack: “I believe he’s the coach to take us forward. I have faith in his ability.”

    • Bo, I’m not one to talk politics in public but I do catch your drift. I’m still undecided on the Bylsma decision due to so many factors. Thanks for your comment and taking the time to read my article.

Comments are closed.