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July 22, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: SATISFACTION.

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Change happens. Sometimes it happens without warning.

I’m no longer the Penguins beat reporter for the Tribune-Review. This change came my way Monday morning, and if it is for the better it is not without mixed emotions.

I have never let anybody knows how much this beat meant to me. Here goes.

It’s meant EVERYTHING.

It’s meant opportunity.

It’s meant challenge.

It’s meant commitment.

It’s meant growth.

It’s meant disappointment.

It’s meant tolerance.

It’s meant friendship.

It’s meant wonder.

It’s meant fear.

It’s meant faith.

It’s meant life.

I don’t want to get too specific, for fear of not recognizing something or somebody important. There are people that I’ve worked with – and against – daily for the past eight years, and so many of those people have changed me for the better in ways they probably will never know.

I was a beaten beat boy when Tribune-Review executive sports editor Kevin Smith assigned me to the Penguins beat in October 2006. I had just spent a season covering the Pirates, and most of those nights ended with me knowing I could have done that job better.

I did not cover many games that first season with the Penguins. I wrote about an arena deal I was not sure would happen. Tribune-Review investigative reporter Andrew Conte allowed me to be his partner on that story, and it was so fun that upon its completion I offered our bosses to become a “sort of sports-news hybrid guy.”

I was told I’d be covering the Penguins, and that I better be as good as my bosses thought.

The readers can judge how I did. I think I held my own at the very least.

You’re not a fan when you cover a team, and I was never a Penguins fan during my time on the beat. Readers can’t understand that, but it’s the only way I knew how to operate. I didn’t care about their wins or losses, only the short- and long-term narrative that those wins and losses contributed to telling.

You’re also not a friend to the players, coaches and management. Readers probably think that isn’t true, but it’s something to behold how quickly you’re forgotten by and how quickly you forget the people to whom you spend so much time talking.

This is the job.

It’s a damn great job, too.

I’m a sports columnist now. I don’t know what that means. I’ll find out.

I can’t imagine liking anything more than covering the Penguins, being there for their remarkably quick rise to and fall from grace, chronicling a franchise go from possible relocation to so popular that games are always sold out.

They will win another Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby, and somebody else at the Tribune-Review will write that game story and it will be amazing; but I’ll always have my moment, from June 12, 2009, and the lede I love so much: Kids, they grow up so fast.

I was 27 when this journey with the local hockey club started. I had energy to burn, but I had lessons to learn professionally and personally.

Now I’m scared and I’m thinking that maybe I ain’t that young anymore.

This beat was my life. It defined me. It crushed me and wrecked me and ripped my heart out, and I’ll miss all of that about it the most. I’ll miss the pressure to be on top of developments at the trade deadline and during free agency. I’ll miss the third-period comebacks that ruined game stories. I’ll miss the moments the readers never see between beat reporters and the athletes they cover. I’ll miss the jokes that only road-weary travelers can understand.

This beat changed my life, too. I made friends that will last a lifetime, stepped on lands I could only have otherwise imagined and saw things I may never believe.

Again, I don’t want to single out people because that isn’t fair. There are people within the Penguins organization who I’ve come to value as friends as much as professional colleagues. They know who they are.

At the Tribune-Review there are so many people that have supported, nurtured and worked with me on the beat – from editors to fellow reporters to photographers to designers to the world’s greatest night desk. I don’t know if anybody is as lucky as I am to work at a place where it feels like family, but I hope that is the case for everybody once.

One person must be named, however.

I met Josh Yohe in August 2009, and I’ll let him tell the story of how that went. Five years later we are as close as any beat partner I’ve known, and his friendship, patience and support has only helped me in ways that I really want to keep to myself.

Josh is the Keef to my Mick, the Animal to my Hawk, the Crosby to my Malkin – and, truthfully, I’ll take our chances against any one of those all-time tag teams.

Josh is the best young hockey reporter I know, and I’ll let that settle that.

Now, look, something else needs addressed before I sign off. That’s all of you.

It’s never been so easy between us has it, dear readers?

The only thing I’ve ever promised is that I wouldn’t pander. I never have, and I am proudest of that during my time on this beat. You deserved sincerity, even if it risked not being popular – and, boy, were there times I wasn’t popular.

I don’t know how we’ll get along in this new role of mine, but I’ll always hold the most special place in my heart for the Penguins. I always felt it was a fair fight with us, and I will miss it terribly.

Thanks for reading, everybody.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

Penguins beat reporter (2006-14)

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July 20, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Mackey: Billy G and a Recchin’ Ball.

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Bill Guerin and Mark Recchi don’t have much in common — on paper, anyway.

One’s a 6-foot-3 American, the other a 5-10 Canadian.

Though they combined to play 2,915 NHL games, Guerin and Recchi never once played together.

This week, however, the Penguins hired Recchi to succeed Guerin as player development coach, and the two — who presumably talked a time or two during their lengthy careers — took turns generating laughs following Saturday’s development camp-ending scrimmage at Consol Energy Center.

“He’s going to be my mentor,” Recchi said of Guerin, who was promoted to assistant general manager last month. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”

Speaking five minutes later in the same spot inside the Penguins’ locker room, Guerin cracked, “He’s a good friend, and he has so much to offer. I think he played 40 years in the league.”

Seriously, though, Guerin thinks Recchi will be perfect for the role.

Recchi is a three-time Stanley Cup winner and mentored several younger players while playing for the Boston Bruins’ Cup-winning squad in 2011.

“I think he’s going to be great,” Guerin said. “Mark’s fantastic with younger players. Obviously what he did later in his career with the Bruins … he was invaluable with that team teaching that group how to win. I think Mark is going to do a terrific job. We’re excited to have him on board. I know I am.”

Recchi insisted that Saturday was the first time he could truly do much evaluating, spending the afternoon behind the bench.

He expects to become much more familiar with the players within the Penguins’ system between now and training camp in late September.
Part of that involves “getting on the computer and getting in contact with all these young guys.”

More will come at the 2014 Rookie Tournament in London, Ontario from Sept. 13-16.

“I know they’re excited about some young prospects,” Recchi said. “We’ll keep working with them and make them into better ones. That’s the important thing.”

Part of Recchi’s new job will require him to teach hockey skills, but he views it as something more. Mental preparation is important. So is consistency. All parts of adjusting to life as a pro.

“There’s stuff on the ice that you can teach them, but a lot of it is going to be teaching them how to be a pro, on and off the ice,” Recchi said. “That’s something of the stuff that Billy’s been talking about.”

 

>> MORE ON GUERIN

He shined in his meeting with reporters.

Asked about right wing Adam Payerl, Guerin responded: “His nickname is ‘Beast’ and for good reason. He’s a mountain of a man. The more he can be in front of the net, the less goalies can see. He’s got a good skill level. We push him to have a good mix between physical game and being able to make plays. Adam’s a very capable guy.”

Besides Payerl, Guerin praised right wing Kasperi Kapanen and defenseman Jeff Taylor — while the latter was getting dressed a few feet away.

“He really stuck out,” Guerin said. “And, oh, there he is right there. Didn’t even see him.”

Guerin paused.

“He’s got terrible fashion sense, but he plays a good, smart game.”

We all crack up.

“That sucks that you’re right there,” Guerin continued. “Edit that out.”

 

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July 4, 2014
by Rob Rossi


12 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: The Right Words.

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There was a year without the newspapers. It was the worst. There were no magic numbers for the pennant-chasing Pirates. There was no Calvin or Hobbes.

Back in the year without the newspapers all I really wanted was those magic numbers and the kid and his tiger.

Somebody tried to explain to me what was going on in Pittsburgh. It was probably one of the grandparents. After all, they were the reason I read the newspapers. I had always watched them read – in the morning then the afternoon – and so when they were done their newspapers became mine. For many years I had known the newspapers were important, but it was that year without the newspapers that I started to understand why.

The newspapers had a little bit of everything for anybody, from whatever the mayor had said to the horoscopes to the pictures of Barry Bonds’ home runs.

All of that was gone, though, in the year without the newspapers. There was a strike, and for whatever reason it had wiped out the newspapers. Sure, the television still showed the news, but those shows weren’t the same. I could not fold those shows. I could not circle words on those shows. I could not skip the advertisements on those shows.

The year without newspapers was the worst – mostly because without the newspapers it was impossible to believe I would ever know if the newspapers would return. Where would I find that story? There was somebody designated to scream the news somewhere downtown. Video of that person was shown on the TV news, and it was then that I realized how badly we needed the newspapers.

One day there was some actual news. Somebody wanted to buy one of the newspapers. If he did, at least we would have a newspaper. All I knew about this somebody was that my grandfather said he was rich. When I asked how rich I was told, “Rich enough to buy a newspaper.”

He actually had his own newspaper in Greensburg.

The thing I remember most about the year without the newspapers is that somebody tried to end it.

I am thinking about that somebody right now.

I am thinking about how he eventually brought his Tribune-Review to Pittsburgh and lived to see it become the rare newspaper that did not force layoffs or cut costs, but rather a champion of investigative journalism and – most important – a choice for regional readers that are better served for living in a two-newspaper town.

Pittsburgh is one, which is rare for a city of its size, and that is entirely because of one man.

In the coming days there will be a lot of words said about Richard Scaife. I choose to remember the ones he said at the end of each of our handful of brief conversations over the last 12 years.

“Thank you for being here,” Mr. Scaife said.

I never found the words that seemed an appropriate response because there was no place else I would rather have been.

The year without the newspapers ended for a teenage boy when he spotted his grandfather’s copy of a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review then spent the next 15 minutes simply looking at it. Eventually, that boy would read; but upon first seeing that newspaper he could only stare while surely thinking, Thank you for being here.

 

Rest peacefully, Mr. Scaife.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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June 29, 2014
by Rob Rossi


28 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: One last thing about James Neal.

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The “real deal” is that James Neal is an easy target, and that is understandable. Neal is unapologetically himself, and that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way – especially in a city such as Pittsburgh, where the star athletes are too often too important to people that want them to be something they simply are not, which is a finished product.

Neal, 26, is not finished growing into the man he will become. In fact, the guess here is that he has only really just started. This past season, ultimately his last with the Penguins, provided him painful moments that called for reflection – and this last one, a trade that shocked him, should provide him an opportunity for growth.

People can think what they want of Neal. A lot of people think they probably know him.

I am not one of those people. As Neal compelled me to write only a few months ago, I do not believe journalists ever really know the athletes we cover. As journalists, we feel important by insisting we know these athletes, but we do not – at least not as people. Neal, perhaps more than any athlete, helped me realize that truth.

See, I enjoyed covering Neal. I appreciated the attributes that I suspect others found distasteful. Maybe I find an advantage in building a professional relationship with somebody that seems difficult to everybody else? Maybe I subconsciously relate to something about that somebody? Maybe I’m a mark for a challenge?

I really don’t know why I enjoyed covering Neal, but I did. He always made time to answer a question, and in my business that is one of the few things that is fair for a reporter to ask of somebody he or she covers.

Trading Neal was the absolute right call by the Penguins, though – even though he was never one of the biggest reasons they failed to win the Cup during his four postseason runs with the club.

Neal will be better off in Nashville, where he will have to continue growing because now he has the responsibility of being “The Man” offensively for a team that has long needed “That Guy.”

Neal was the best player in the trade the Penguins made on Friday night, and teams that give up the best player usually lose a trade. Still, the Penguins had to make this one. Something about them is broken, and though that something is far from being fixed, the reality is that Neal was the easiest member of this nucleus for GM Jim Rutherford to move because of contract clauses for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

There are more than two sides to every story, and that is especially true with the story about people that have a public profile. Now that Neal is no longer a Penguin, I feel this story can be shared:

The day after the Penguins’ Game 7 loss to the Rangers in May, a group of players hit the city to blow off some steam. This is not an uncommon practice when an NHL season ends for a club.

This night, at one establishment, the Penguins players lined across and around a bar. A bartender at this establishment, as the best bartenders do, treated them as regular customers, not pro athletes. He gave them space and served them drinks.

At one point during the evening, one of the players called the bartender over and said, “Are you a big fan?”
The bartender, who happened to be wearing a Penguins ball cap, answered with a nod.

“I’m really sorry, bud,” the player said. “We should have won that series. We let everybody down. I should have played better, so I’m sorry. I wish we could have don better for you.”

This story was relayed to me a week later.

“Obviously, you don’t know,” the bartender said. “But that guy didn’t have to say any of that to me. He brought it up. He just seemed to be taking it very hard. It seemed real.”

The bartender said that player was James Neal.

 

>> Josh Yohe will be leading the coverage of free agency from this point going forward. You’d do well to follow him on Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib. (To every season turn, turn, turn…)

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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June 27, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Pens taking calls on Neal.

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PHILADELPHIA – Jim Rutherford is seemingly busy.

Buzz on Day 1 of the NHL Entry Draft had Rutherford taking calls – taking more often than making – from fellow GMs looking to see which Penguins’ players are available in a trade.

The name Rutherford has discussed most often: James Neal.

Rutherford is not looking to move Neal, but from the day he took over the Penguins he has fielded calls from teams looking to acquire the former 40-goal winger. Neal, 26, has four years remaining on a cap-friendly contract that has an annual $5 million hit.

Of course, at that price, it is going to cost a team to get Neal.

Though Rutherford said he is open to making a trade that includes a player on his roster to open some salary-cap space for the strapped Penguins, it is believed he will only move Neal if the return is an NHL player or players that could fill immediate holes.

Keep in mind, too – Neal leaving would create an immediate hole on the second line, which already will be without Jussi Jokinen, who Rutherford said the Penguins are unlikely to prevent from hitting free agency on July 1.

Those with ties to center Evgeni Malkin are closely watching the Penguins right now. Moving Neal could leave him without a winger, and word is Malkin would not be happy to face breaking in two new wingers next season.

 

>> Cap space is almost as important to Rutherford as a player or players in terms of an asset received in any trade. Though the Penguins are not shopping defenseman Kris Letang, that has not stopped Rutherford from listening to offers. However, it is said that Rutherford is leaning heavily to keeping Letang – unless a move would include a package that allow the Penguins to free cap space to address needs elsewhere.

 

>> Another name Rutherford is said to be taking calls on is Paul Martin, who is set to enter the final year of his current contract. Martin has given the Penguins no indication he is ready to sign an extension this summer.

 

>> Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is not said to be on the trade block. He would like to work out an extension this summer, though Rutherford has not decided if that will be among his priorities.

 

>> New coach Mike Johnston is said to favor adding Travis Green, his former assistant coach with Portland in the WHL, to a Penguins staff that includes Rick Tocchet.

 

 

More later. Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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June 24, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: My NHL Awards ballot

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How about a brief break from the Penguins’ coaching search?

OK, glad we agree on that.

Sidney Crosby is in Las Vegas for the NHL Award Show. There, he is expected to collect the Hart Trophy (MVP), Lindsay Award (Players’ player) and be named as an NHL first-team All-Star.

However, on Monday Crosby was in Vancouver to collect his Olympic championship ring – and he kind of opened up in an interview with good friend Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com.

The standout quote from Crosby concerned the Penguins’ identity:

“We have to find a way in the playoffs to elevate our game,” Crosby said. “It doesn’t mean change our identity, but we have to elevate it. We haven’t done quite as good a job at doing that. Me, personally, I’m not taking myself out of that mix either – going pointless against Boston (2013 conference final) and not really doing a whole lot in the New York series. It’s not easy to deal with that in the offseason. You don’t like having memories like that.”

Crosby has said the proper thing so often during his NHL career. His seeming inability to publicly acknowledge his part in Penguins’ recent playoff disappointments has at times – especially during the 2014 postseason – appeared to be a character flaw regarding his leadership.

In the interview with LeBrun, Crosby came as close as he has to taking on his shoulders the load a captain is expected to carry when his team underachieves.

Of course, Crosby achieved as much as any player could during the regular season. He should be rewarded at the NHL Awards on Tuesday night. Select members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association vote on some of the NHL Awards. My full ballot:

 

>> HART TROPHY

  1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
  2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim
  3. Tyler Seguin, Dallas
  4. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia
  5. Patrick Marleau, San Jose

 

>> NORRIS TROPHY

  1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles
  2. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis
  3. Shea Weber, Nashville
  4. Ryan Suter, Minnesota
  5. Zdeno Chara, Boston

 

>> CALDER TROPHY

  1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado
  2. Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh
  3. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim
  4. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay
  5. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay

 

>> LADY BYNG

  1. Phil Kessel, Toronto
  2. Jordan Eberle, Edmonton
  3. Tyler Seguin, Dallas
  4. Patrick Marleau, San Jose
  5. Matt Duchene, Colorado

 

>> SELKE TROPHY

  1. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
  2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
  3. David Backes, St. Louis
  4. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
  5. Marian Hossa, Chicago

 

>>NHL ALL-STARS

CENTER:

  • Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
  • Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim
  • Tyler Seguin, Dallas

LEFT WING:

  • Jamie Benn, Dallas
  • Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh
  • Patrick Sharp, Chicago

RIGHT WING:

  • Corey Perry, Anaheim
  • Phil Kessel, Toronto
  • Alex Ovechkin, Washington

DEFENSE:

  • Drew Doughty, Los Angeles
  • Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis
  • Shea Weber, Nashville
  • Ryan Suter, Minnesota
  • Zdeno Chara, Boston
  • Erik Karlsson, Ottawa

GOALTENDER:

  • Tuukka Rask, Boston
  • Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay
  • Semyon Varlamov, Colorado

 

>> ALL-ROOKIE

FORWARD:

  • Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado
  • Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay
  • Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay

DEFENSE:

  • Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh
  • Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim

GOALTENDER:

  • Eddie Lack, Vancouver

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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June 12, 2014
by Josh Yohe


74 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: The rise and fall of Dan Bylsma

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Dan Bylsma entered the Penguins spotlight like a lion, but exited like a lamb. No coach in NHL history has made that kind of debut, I’m fairly certain. There was the 18-3-4 conclusion to the regular season in 2009 after he was named coach, the Stanley Cup run later that spring, then the 9-1 start to begin the next campaign. At that point, his record was 43-12-4. (That’s a 125-point pace over 82 games, and 24 of those games were against playoff competition. Wow.)

 

It wasn’t all downhill from there, but it’s fair to say that the Disco Dan Magic was never again captured by the team that felt like a dynasty, and looked like a dynasty, but really wasn’t a dynasty.

 

I learned a lot about Bylsma on my first road trip covering the Penguins. It was Oct. 10, 2009, and the Penguins were in Toronto on a Saturday night. Hockey Night in Canada at ACC. Showtime. And man, did those Penguins play the part. They beat the Leafs 5-2 that night to improve their record to 4-1.

 

Following the game, I had finished my article and stood outside of the Penguins locker room while the players made their way through the arena and to the team bus. The setup in Toronto is an interesting one, as fans from the luxury suite area are permitted to stand beside the locker rooms, giving them unparalleled access to the players. As you might imagine, the Penguins were receiving rock star treatment. Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury, Gonchar and Guerin were among the big names to walk by the fans. The players were all friendly, of course, offering smiles and acknowledgment. But they were in a hurry to reach the bus, so stopping for pictures and autographs wasn’t an option. It was, however, an option for their coach.

 

Bylsma not only acknowledged the fans, but stopped for 10 minutes to pose for pictures. I had two reactions while observing the scene. My first thought was, “This guy is cool. How many coaches would actually stop to hang out with fans like this?” My second reaction? “Man, this guy likes being famous.” I’m pretty sure I was right both times.

 

I like Bylsma. He was always friendly, always accommodating. And really, what wasn’t to like? He quickly became a star, just like the players he coached. At the time, it seemed he was the perfect coach for that team. From the second he arrived on the scene, he turned a good team into a great one. He showed the way. He was the answer. He was a coaching savant, always providing a unique philosophy and doing so in a likeable manner. So, it was quite impressive to see someone stop and take time to speak with fans, pose for pictures and appear so down to earth.

 

But maybe that team – and the ones that would follow – didn’t need a rock star as head coach. Maybe they needed someone who didn’t like the spotlight quite as much. Maybe someone who wasn’t distracted by the Olympics, and someone who was so loyal to a system that clearly possessed flaws.

 

Bylsma never really changed over the years. I ran into him during a tailgate party in the hours before the Pirates beat Cincinnati in the National League Wild Card game. He was posing for pictures with fans, socializing with anyone who wanted to meet the coach. Pretty cool. Not everyone in the public eye is so willing to interact with fans. There is, however, a problem with wanting to be liked, especially when you’re a head coach. His personality with fans mirrored his personality with his players. Eventually, I believe, hockey players will take advantage of such things. They’re generally good guys, but they’re human. Accountability begins to fade. And it did.

 

I don’t blame Bylsma for any of this, really. Imagine having the success he did in those first few months. You never would have changed a thing, either. No one would have. But that early success became a roadblock, ultimately creating bad habits. The 2009 team was special. Maybe the next few years could have produced special Penguins teams, also, but every team is different and requires adaptation. Bylsma never really changed, and his team never grew up.

 

If the Florida Panthers are smart, they will hire Dan Bylsma. Seriously. He is a good coach and he is particularly adept at taking a team with an adequate roster (think 2011 Penguins, with Crosby and Malkin injured) and making it a playoff team. That’s exactly what he’ll do in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s what would be best for Bylsma. He could grow as a coach there.  In Florida, the community isn’t so interested in hockey. The Panthers don’t boast a galaxy of superstars. They aren’t looking to become a dynasty. They aren’t looking to paint the Mona Lisa, which always seemed to be Bylsma’s desire. In Florida, they’re just trying to win hockey games. Dan Bylsma know how to do that.

 

He just wasn’t the coach to produce that dynasty.

 

It’s funny. I still think about that night in Toronto a lot. It was my first ever night on the road covering the Penguins, so of course it will always be fresh in my mind. I remember watching Bylsma after the game that night, thinking he could never lose, that he really was a hockey genius, that he had it all figured out, that his Penguins would be the team of this generation.

 

Problem is, maybe he thought the same. It wasn’t really all downhill for Bylsma. He’s been wildly successful. His record speaks for itself. But it was time for a change, and the Sunshine State might be the perfect place for him to land.

 

- Yohe

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June 10, 2014
by Josh Yohe


40 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: 25 questions facing the Penguins

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Greetings, hockey fans. My mom is in the hospital, and she’s receiving pain medication, which is making her sleep a lot. So, this is giving me a lot of free time while sitting here at AGH. Instead of taking a nap or watching another episode of Judge Judy – thought about visiting Neil Walker after his appendectomy, but figured I wouldn’t be welcome – I figured I’d write something about the hockey team. I was going to write a list of 10 questions facing the Penguins this summer. Then, it occurred to me, there are far more than 10 questions. So, here are the first 25 questions I mustered. Just for fun, we’ll explore for answers as well.

1. Would the Penguins take John Hynes seriously as their head coach?

My partner in crime on the Penguins beat, Rob Rossi, reported on Monday that Hynes is being interviewed for the gig. Nothing wrong with this. The man is clearly a terrific coach, annually taking ordinary rosters and making playoff runs in the AHL. I’ve yet to speak with anyone who thought Hynes was anything but a terrific coach. A well liked but disciplined coach, Hynes is a can’t-miss NHL prospect. So, the Penguins would be foolish to ignore him. That said, do we wonder if Hynes would work with this collection of Penguins? Will the galaxy of superstars listen to a guy who has never coached in the NHL? And would Hynes’ preference for defense first, while something that the Penguins could probably use, mesh with the Penguins’ array of talent? Remember, new general manager Jim Rutherford said last week that any new coach will need to adapt to the reality that the Penguins are more talented than most teams. In other words, Rutherford sounds interested in more of an offensive mind to coach his stars. That probably isn’t Hynes. And yet, the guy is such a good coach. Perhaps he gets promoted to an assistant at the NHL level? Just a thought.

 

2. So, what really is going on with Tony Granato and Todd Reirden?

One must assume that the new coach, whoever that may be, will have full control in naming his assistant coaches. So, Granato and Reirden are very much in limbo. This is unfortunate, because you’ll never meet two finer men than Granato and Reirden, who might be the two most popular people in the Penguins organization. They aren’t bad coaches, either. In fact, they’re pretty good. Granato is in charge of the penalty killing unit, which always ranks in the top 10, sometimes higher. He works with the forwards a good bit. The Penguins have really productive forwards, so it’s hard to find anything Granato has done wrong. Reirden has been just as impressive. He worked extensively with Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin during the past few years. How did that turn out? Pretty darn well, I’d say. He also has done wonderful work with 19-year-old Olli Maatta. He’s developed Robert Bortuzzi into a strong NHL defenseman. It’s difficult to find fault with anything these two have done, which will make decisions about them later this summer quite interesting.

 

3. Will Mike Bales be back?

It would seem borderline crazy for the Penguins to let goaltender coach Mike Bales depart the organization. One must understand that, while Gilles Meloche is a wonderful human being and was always a fine confidant for Marc-Andre Fleury, he was never really a coach. He didn’t watch much video, didn’t work much on Fleury’s technique. The Penguins took too long in finding someone like Bales for Fleury, who is a marvelous athlete but who badly needed a coach to help him with positioning, technique and other fine parts of the game. Bales is dynamite. Just a real professional who made a legitimate difference this season. Fleury loves him. Jeff Zatkoff does, too. I can’t think of one reason why the Penguins wouldn’t bring this guy back.

 

4. Will a “bad cop” coach be hired?

This would seem like a good idea. Dan Bylsma? Nice guy. Tony Granato? Nice guy. Todd Reirden? Nice guy. Jacques Martin? Nice guy. Mike Bales? Nice guy. Do you notice a trend here? Every one of the Penguins’ coaches this season would very easily qualify as someone considered a “player’s coach.” This is dangerous. Players are players. They’re going to get away with whatever they can, because that is often the nature of athletes. Take a longer shift on the power play because no one will yell at you? Take a retaliatory penalty because no one will yell at you? Slack off playing defensively because no one will yell at you? Yeah, these are all things we’ve seen. With that in mind…

 

5. Will Rick Tocchet be in the mix?

Here’s what I can tell you: Tocchet badly wants to be a member of the Penguins coaching staff and thinks he can make a difference. He’d love to be the head coach, and he’d be fine with being an assistant. The guy wants to wear the black and gold again. He still lives in Pittsburgh, has a real affection for the organization and is quite familiar with the personnel. His stint as head coach in Tampa Bay wasn’t horribly successful, though he wasn’t in the easiest of situations, either. There is no question that Tocchet wants to be involved. On the surface, he would seem to make considerable sense. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. He played with Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, so he won’t have a problem telling Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin what to do. He won’t be intimidated by them. Plus, he owns a strong hockey mind. The guy was a great player and knows the offensive game very well. Keeps making more and more sense, right?

 

6. Why should Jim Rutherford care about the future?

So, follow along. You’re Jim Rutherford. You’re 65. You’ve already acknowledged at your introductory news conference that you’re only going to be in Pittsburgh for “two or three years.” You know Crosby will be 27 when the next season begins. You know Malkin will be 28. The window on their prime years isn’t shut, but it’s beginning to close. And you know it. You weren’t brought here to lose in the second round next season, by the way. All that mentoring stuff sounds good, but come on: You’re here to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup, first and foremost. So, why do you care about the future? What stops you from moving a first-round pick in this or future drafts for someone who can help now? Maybe this is what the Penguins need anyway. Maybe they shouldn’t concern themselves horribly with the future. But it is worth noting that the general manager will be able to completely wash his hands of any future mess the second he leaves Pittsburgh. And his departure isn’t that far away. He said so.

 

7. Will the Penguins make a splash at the NHL Entry Draft?

Certainly seems plausible, right? The Penguins have become remarkably stale. You could feel it in the regular season, and most certainly in the playoffs. Something about this lineup just doesn’t work. There is talent but no chemistry. There are hard-working players but not hard work as a collective group. Plus, make no mistake, the Penguins organization enjoys some attention every now and then. Don’t you just think the Penguins would like to make a move at the draft? I do, and I think they very well may make such a splash. The Penguins need help at forward, bottom line.

 

8. Does Rutherford really believe “sweeping changes” aren’t necessary?

The new GM said at his news conference that sweeping changes weren’t necessary. He has to say that, of course. No one takes over a franchise and says sweeping changes are necessary, especially when the organization has been relatively successful despite not winning a championship in the past five seasons. I wonder what he really thinks of this team, and if ownership has made it clear that significant moves are required to make this a Stanley Cup caliber squad once again. We’ll find out soon enough. I sense the Penguins could look dramatically different in October.

 

9. How do the Penguins make their third and fourth lines better?

Rutherford identified this as a problem for the Penguins last week, and this is a difficult notion to dismiss. It’s a big, big problem. And there isn’t a quick fix. So, you want to improve things via the free agency route? Well, that’s fine. But know that the 2014 NHL free agency class is relatively awful. Would Brian Boyle look good in a Penguins uniform? Steve Ott? Sure, guys like that would look good on the Penguins’ third line. But how much money will they cost? Given the current free agent class, and given that the salary cap is going to increase to around $70 million this summer, teams are going to be making stupid offers to average players. You never want to fall into that trap. There are internal answers, perhaps. Zach Sill won’t score much in the NHL but could be an adequate fourth-line center. I’m the unofficial president of the Harry Zolnierczyk fan club. I think Harry Z. is a good NHL player just waiting to happen. We’ll see.

 

10. So, honestly, what was wrong with Sid?

It’s the question that won’t go away. It shouldn’t go away, either. Sidney Crosby is a future Hockey Hall of Famer, the greatest player of his generation, one of the great players of any generation, and a person with an almost transcendent and well-deserved reputation for being a good person. This is all well and good. But he wasn’t himself this spring. He wasn’t even close. Defend all you want – Corsi this, Corsi that – but he was a shadow of himself for most of this spring. The goals weren’t there. The points weren’t there. The battles on the boards that he always wins were often lost. The passion that has become a given wasn’t evident. Something was wrong. I wish I could provide answers for you, but I can’t. Maybe he was hurt, maybe he simply hit a slump. But something wasn’t right. Will it be fixed this summer? Probably. But until we see him in October, we won’t know.

 

11. Do you trade James Neal?

There are plenty of reasons to refuse trading Neal. His talent, contract and age come to mind. No one is questioning what kind of hockey player Neal is. A wonderful goal-scorer, Neal is also a fairly complete two-way player. He’s 26. He makes $5 million per season and, given that the salary cap is about to skyrocket, what already was a reasonable contract for a player of Neal’s talent will look positively golden in a year or two. Of course, there are two sides to this story. Neal embarrassed the Penguins with more dirty play this season. He wasn’t a presence in the postseason. He can often be surly and difficult with everyone from the media to team employees. Some teammates like him. Some don’t. His contract is easy to trade. You know you could get good value in return for Neal. So, do you do it? The depth in return would be nice. But man, he’s a heck of a hockey player. Tough call.

 

12. If you trade Neal, will Malkin go nuts?

There is something to be said for letting stars know that they aren’t the bosses. Still, there is also something to be said for keeping them happy. Malkin likes Neal on and off the ice. They’re like peas and carrots. They clearly have a great chemistry on the ice, and though it worked for two games against Columbus, Bylsma’s decision to separate the two for the remainder of the postseason was asinine. If you want to trade Neal, fine. There are reasons for trading Neal that make sense. But if you trade Neal, then who plays with Malkin? And really, what’s the point in having two of the game’s great centers if you don’t have the wingers to play with them? Then again, Malkin usually plays better with ordinary linemates. See Fedotenko, Ruslan and Talbot, Max, circa 2009. That worked out alright. But still, Malkin with Neal is a winning combination. Tough call.

 

13. What to do with Paul Martin?

Paul Martin was one of the Penguins’ best players last season, playing at something close to Norris Trophy level in the playoffs. He was flat-out awesome, brilliant in both zones without ever showing signs of fatigue. He’s 33 and entering the final season of his contract. Is it time for an extension? Well, that would be logical, I suppose. But one must remember that Martin will be 34 at the end of this contract, that he will command a lot of money and a long term, and that a boatload of talented young defensemen – guys like Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin – should all be in the NHL by then. Extend him? Let him walk in 2015? Worry about signing him then? Trade him? Not an easy decision.

 

14. What to do with Kris Letang?

His no-trade agreement is triggered on July 1. It becomes difficult to trade him after that, and really, are there teams that are willing to give a guy $58 million over eight years only a few months after he sustained a stroke? I’m not sure, to be honest. Letang was terrific in the playoffs, playing his best hockey of the season. He’s only 27. The physical talent is there for all to see. The real question: What does Jim Rutherford think of Letang?

 

15. What to do with Fleury?

The questions just don’t stop with this roster. So, next up is Fleury. Realistically speaking, he’s the only proven NHL goalie in the organization. Jeff Zatkoff was good in a backup role last season, but I don’t see him leading the Penguins to a Stanley Cup, should Fleury leave or sustain an injury. Tristan Jarry just won the Memorial Cup, but he’s at least a couple of years away from being ready for NHL work. Fleury, who is coming off a terrific season, is entering the final year of his contract. He is the most difficult of the Penguins to analyze. A monumental decision is looming this summer. My prediction: His contract gets extended. But then, I don’t know what Rutherford thinks about him, either.

 

16. How will the Penguins’ system change?

This all depends on the coach, of course. Are the days of the stretch pass gone? Will five delicate passes in the Penguins’ defensive zone still be required to clear the puck? I’d imagine some of the quirkiness from Dan Byslma’s system will be removed, even if Hynes takes over as coach. I can tell you this: Many Penguins defensemen did not like Bylsma’s system. At all. In fact, some couldn’t stand it. The young guys, in particular, weren’t big fans. Pouliot and Harrington are nice kids and would never come out and say it, but it was pretty obvious that they were never comfortable with the system. They don’t have to worry about it any longer, I wouldn’t think.

 

17. How much longer are Dupuis and Kunitz first-line players?

It’s not too early start thinking about this. Both will be 35 when next season begins. Kunitz slowed down a bit in the second half of the season. Dupuis is coming off major knee surgery. Both are terrific players and great leaders. But will they be better served in third line roles in a couple of years? If the Penguins determine this to be the case, and if a top-line player becomes available this summer – Evander Kane is the name you’ll keep hearing – will the Penguins pull the trigger?

 

18. Do the Penguins need to get tougher?

OK, stupid question. Of course they do. But getting tougher isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s an attitude thing. A team thing. To some extent, it’s a coaching thing. Rutherford doesn’t have a reputation for putting together tough teams. The Hurricanes were certainly never as scary as their name. In fact, I can tell you some of the Penguins found the Hurricanes to be rather soft over the years. So, how do they get tougher? It won’t happen in the draft. No one drafted later this month will play for at least a couple of years.

 

19. Are there any buyout candidates on this roster?

Not really. Before you go nuts, Rob Scuderi can’t be bought out because his last contract was signed following the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. Of the guys who make a lot of money – Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Fleury, Martin, Kunitz, Dupuis – none are sensible buyout candidates. So, I wouldn’t bet on this happening.

 

20. Is Beau Bennett established as a top-six guy?

Good question, right? He’s got top-six hands, and he sees the ice the way a top-six guy sees the ice. But there remains great inconsistency in his game. Obviously he is inexperienced and has endured horrible luck with injuries. (That doesn’t make him soft or fragile, by the way. It just means that he’s had bad luck. It happens.) I’d like to see more of Bennett in a top-six role next season, and I believe we will. The jury remains out, though flashes of excellence have been on display.

 

21. Is Robert Bortuzzo a top-six defenseman?

Let me answer this one: Yes. Yes. Yes. He isn’t horribly gifted with the puck, but he’s so big, so strong, and so tough. He makes good decisions with the puck, even if he isn’t offensively gifted. He’s also got the look of becoming a fine leader someday. That said, will the Penguins make sure he is cemented into the lineup? This wasn’t the case in the playoffs. I suspect it will be this season.

 

22. How will Pouliot’s surgery change his timeline?

Derrick Pouliot, the No. 8 pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, recently had shoulder surgery and might not be ready for the beginning of next season. It was doubtful that he would have made the team out of training camp, but it certainly wasn’t impossible. This is a big-time talent, a player who took a big jump forward last season. If you saw him play in the World Junior Tournament, you know. Now, you have to wonder if he sees the NHL next season.

 

23. Are Harrington and Dumoulin ready?

This could certainly play a role in the team’s summer plans. Brian Dumoulin saw some work in Pittsburgh last season and was quite impressive. Big kid, good skater, pretty good offensively, pretty good defensively. There is a lot to like about his game. Harrington has the look of a defensive shutdown guy, maybe a young Rob Scuderi but better offensively. I really like this kid. More importantly, so do the Penguins. If at least one of them can be ready for steady NHL action this season, that’s a big deal. The Penguins would be wise to have money cleared to spend on forwards while letting their young defensemen play cheap at the NHL level for a few years.

 

24. Um, why wasn’t Dan Bylsma fired on May 16?

The Penguins will never answer this question. Manufacturing an answer wouldn’t be easy. Firing Bylsma was the right decision, so I’m not being critical of the Penguins for coming to that conclusion. But why they decided to leave Bylsma hanging for weeks when everyone knew he would be fired eventually has never been answered, and everything about the situation made the Penguins look bad. I’ve spoken with many people around the NHL, and they are simply baffled as to how poorly the Penguins butchered Bylsma’s firing.

 

25. Just how far away are the Penguins from being a Stanley Cup team?

Have you seen the Kings play? How about the Blackhawks? The Penguins aren’t on their level right now. Let’s give the Kings the Cup, because that’s going to happen tomorrow, in all probability. That will give the Western Conference six of the past eight Stanley Cup titles. The only two Eastern teams to win in that stretch – the 2009 Penguins and 2011 Bruins – were forced to win a Game 7 on the road. The West is WAY better than the East. It’s not even close. The Penguins aren’t necessarily as far away as you might think – they’ve got Crosby and Malkin, a gifted blue line and a talented, revived goalie – but much work remains. That work begins this summer.

 

I’m sure I could have produced some more questions, but really, this was far too long to begin with. Thanks for reading. And, as a reminder, Rossi and I will be providing you with steady updates regarding the Penguins’ coaching search and roster leading up to the draft in Philly on June 27. I’ll have an interesting nugget in tomorrow’s Trib. It’s going to be an interesting month. We’ll have you covered. As always, thanks for reading.

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June 9, 2014
by Rob Rossi


4 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: Bylsma takes talents to TV.

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Dan Bylsma did will not go long without work.

Bylsma, fired as the Penguins coach on Friday, has agreed to join NHL Network as a studio analyst for the Stanley Cup Final.

A new release from the NHL said that Bylsma will work series Game 3, which is slated for Monday night.

This is a great opportunity for Bylsma, who had two years remaining on his contract with the Penguins – one that paid him around $2 million annually. TV work, especially on a part-time basis, allows him to still collect checks from the Penguins.

Three NHL teams are without coaches, including the Penguins, so it is possible Bylsma could work again as a head coach next season. Florida and Vancouver are also are looking for new bench bosses.

Bylsma, the fourth fastest coach to 250 wins, would certainly be an attractive candidate for Florida. The Panthers are loaded with young, mostly unproven talent – the kind of players that Bylsma won so often with when Penguins stars were injured – and that market would benefit from a public ambassador for the team; Bylsma mastered that role while with the Penguins.

If neither Florida nor Vancouver turns in Bylsma’s favor, he could do worst than to wait for another job to open up during or after next season. Dabbling in TV would keep him involved in the NHL just enough while also affording him time to spend with his wife and son. He could probably stand to recharge after five-plus seasons with the Penguins.

He met daily with the media during his time with the Penguins, and mostly seemed to enjoy that interaction. His media sessions often lasted a minimum of 10 minutes, and there was no topic off-limits – with the exception of injury updates in the playoffs.

Affable, presentable and never short of an opinion, Bylsma could become something NHL television coverage needs in the United States: an analyst that is unabashedly American with an American view of the sport.

Bylsma, 43, has not been reachable for comment since his firing by the Penguins.

 

>> Speaking of American-born NHL television analysts, Pierre McGuire said Monday morning that the short term of the Penguins GM job was a problem for him.

“I have a situation that’s very long term,” McGuire said during a radio interview with SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.

“The situation that potentially was presented in Pittsburgh was not nearly as long term, especially early on. So, decisions were made. They chose a decision and I chose a decision, and I’m comfortable speaking that way.”

McGuire was one of nine candidate to interview in-person for the Penguins’ GM vacancy, which was filled last Friday when Jim Rutherford was introduced as Ray Shero’s replacement.

 

>> ICYMI, a look at the three faces of Penguins’ management future: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6241476-74/guerin-botterill-shero#axzz349RKKQHj

 

>> Also, Bill Vidonic’s touching obituary for Cy “Malkamania” Clark: http://triblive.com/obituaries/newsstories/6242698-74/clark-game-hartnell#axzz349RKKQHj

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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June 6, 2014
by Josh Yohe


27 comments so far - add yours!

Mackey: Rutherford, Morehouse news conference transcript

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Trib staffer Jason Mackey transcribed the news conference Friday when CEO David Morehouse announced Jim Rutherford as the Penguins’ 10th general manager.

Q: Your team had missed the playoffs the last five years in Carolina. What do you think the reasons were for that? Also you mentioned complete change with the GM and coach. You’ve promoted three people who are part of Ray Shero’s inner-circle to new positions. Why that decision if they wanted complete change?

 

JR: When I say complete change, it’s really the main decision-makers, OK? As you saw, I didn’t address the assistant coaching staff. One thing that I have done with them is given them permission to talk to other teams, if they wish. But if they wish to not move on until a head coach is announced, they’re more than welcome to do that. The head coach is going to make decision — who his assistants are.

 

As for the Hurricanes missing over the last five years, I have reasons and I know what they were. Certainly our goaltending issues with injuries over the past couple of years have been key. For the most part, we played right down to the stretch, right down to the last game in some seasons as far as not making it. We’ve had competitive teams there.

 

Clearly the business model between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins is different, OK? You’ve been around long enough, you can figure out what I’m saying. I have nothing but respect for the Hurricanes and the growth of hockey in Carolina. I think they’re on the right track. But for me to start picking out different players and whatnot doesn’t make sense at this point.

 

Q: What type of coach do you look for — style of play and all that? And to David: Do you regret the initial thought to keep Bylsma?

 

DM: Yeah, we talked about that when we talked about Ray. We wanted to systematically look at the whole organization from top to bottom. We didn’t want to make hasty decisions. We went through a process over the course of three weeks, and we came to a conclusion. I don’t regret anything; I think we actually had a very thorough process. As I said before, we talked to over 22 people, we looked at 30 different resumes, we talked to people about people. We talked to people internally, about what was going on within the organization. We talked to people about what they thought needed to happen to make the organization better. And I think through that process is how we got to where we are today. I think it’s a good place where we are today.

 

JR: Okay, I forgot your question. No I didn’t. No I didn’t. I have a short list of coaches in mind, OK? The coach is going to have to adjust to the style of players that we have. Because with the talent level of the Penguins, the Penguins can play whatever way you want. But certainly with the teams that we ultimately have to compete with, we’re going to have to have a coach who can make the proper adjustments during a game or a certain period of time in the regular season or during a playoff series. Obviously the Penguins can score and can score in bunches, but based on looking at the Penguins from a distance, because that’s where I was, I don’t think that they could make the proper adjustments against certain teams. So that’s going to be a key factor when I’m looking at a head coach.

 

Then it’s going to be important to the chemistry of the head coach. If the head coach is a certain way, we may need an X and Os guy as a head coach and a motivator as an assistant coach or vice-versa. But we have to get a good mix of guys.

 

Q: How important is the timeline of the coaching search? Would you like to have someone in place before the draft and free agency begins? Also, are you comfortable that you have complete control in every hockey decision that gets made?

 

JR: I’m very comfortable with my position and that I have complete control. I am a guy who likes to communicate, and I’ll have full communication with the executive committee, the board and Ron and Mario. It was one thing that I talked to Ron about. I know he’s not here a lot, but he says how do you deal with the owner? I deal with the owner the way he wants me to. If he wants to talk to me, he needs to call me. OK? So that’s not an issue. Very comfortable with the control that I have to make decisions. Did I miss part of your question?

 

Not necessarily by the draft but certainly by the time free agency comes. Free agency this year for the Penguins may not be as exciting because we’re up against, you know, if we’re signing the players we want and keeping some players, we’re up against the cap. But we’re still going to look at free agency to see if there’s ways to make some changes on the team.

 

Q: Do you feel the decision on Dan Bylsma had been made when you took the job, and if not was it your recommendation that he be fired?

 

JR: I took the information from the people who were here. I didn’t have several meetings with Dan to get to know him and evaluate him or take his side of the story. The answer to your question is I took the information over the last week with the couple of meetings that I had, and we agreed that making a change was the right thing to do.

 

Q: You mentioned Sid and Geno. Can you talk about why, at this point in your career, this was the right opportunity for you?

 

JR: Well, five weeks ago I decided to step down with the Hurricanes. I did both jobs there. It became very difficult over the last two or three years. It really wore on me. When I stepped down, I stepped down willing to move further from the game but still be a little bit involved … but with an open mind that if somebody called me that I would consider going somewhere if I felt I had a chance to win a championship. I have one Stanley Cup. I have two Eastern Conference trophies. But there’s no feeling — as everybody in here knows — like winning the ultimate prize. I believe we can do it here. So, you have to have top players. You have to have key players. You have to have goaltending. You have to have coaching. You have to have all those things. And my job now is to come in and change some of those things that we need to strengthen in order to get to the end.

 

Q: Is the plan here to mentor the associate and assistant GMs? And concerning analytics, how did you use them in Carolina?

 

JR: Well, I feel that we have two or three guys here who are very close to becoming general managers. What I will is give them big roles, a lot to say and a lot of input into my final decisions. But at the same time, I know that I’m mentoring them. I would suspect — I mean, nobody knows what’s going to happen — but I would suspect that this term for me is probably two or three years here. It’s going to be up to ownership as to who replaces me, but certainly I will get to know these guys better, and I will recommend what goes on in the future. Especially Jason. He’s been here a long time. He’s a very bright guy. He knows the game. I know that he’s getting very close.

 

The analytics are very interesting. If you do it properly — it’s not like baseball; baseball is an individual sport, and you can either hit the ball or you can’t or you can pitch the ball a certain way or you can’t. In hockey, it’s a team sport. When you’re using those analytics, there are things that analytics are going to point out to you that your hockey people don’t see. So I take those points, whether it’s good or bad with a player, then I go back and start questioning the hockey people. Are we not seeing this? The analytics aren’t always right, and we’re not always right. It’s a great sounding board, really. Being a guy who has been around as long as I have, some people are probably surprised that I use analytics. But I’ve used them for a few years now, and I can tell you that they really do make a difference.

 

Q: Can you talk about how you’ve seen this city change as a hockey market? And what is your vision of what a team needs to be to win the Stanley Cup?

 

JR: One thing hasn’t changed from Pittsburgh, and I always see this when I visit Pittsburgh. That’s why I’m excited about being back is the people are great. The people are very friendly. That’s the thing I remembered from long ago when I played here.

 

As for the city, the downtown as changed, a lot of things have changed. As for the team, obviously the Penguins have changed dramatically when they drafted Mario, then Mario retired, and they got Sidney, then they got Malkin. To have the star power for a market like this, I think is great. It makes the team exciting. It makes people want to watch it. And it gives you a chance to win a championship.

 

One of the key things in my opinion to winning the Stanley Cup is you have to be really strong down the middle. We have a really good head start at that. OK? Do you play in a series that you roll four lines? It depends how many injuries you have. It depends what team you’re playing. It depends how good their fourth line is. I will say I think our supporting cast has to be improved. I look at our fourth-line players and some of those guys are double-digit minuses. You can’t have that. You have to have energy on your fourth line. You have to have penalty killers. And you certainly have guys who are capable of playing defensively and not costing you that much on goals against. Like I said, the key is down the middle. We have a great start.

 

Q: Can you elaborate on Bill Guerin’s role? Have you worked with a guy who has filled this role previously in your career?

 

JR: Yeah, Ronnie (Francis) did it with us for a few years. The communication a lot of times with the players, it wasn’t me going directly to a player; it would be Ronnie. They had a trust level with him. It’s the same with Bill. Not long ago he was a player. I would suspect here that the players like him. It becomes a trust level.

 

If you’re going to deal with issues — not that the players are going to make decisions or run the team — but they have to speak up. They may have a personal problem going on. They may not be feeling good. There are so many things that happen that we all forget about. We watch a player play for a month and say, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’ Well, there’s usually a reason. Having a guy who’s around the players a little bit more who’s not the boss, I think makes it easier for the players to communicate.

 

Q: David, did you at any point, you or Mario or Ron, offer the job or (have) a contract discussion or anything else to anybody other than the gentleman standing next to you?

 

DM: No, absolutely not.

 

Q: When you look at the Penguins’ top two lines or forwards as a whole, what do you see as far as grit and character and how will you address it as GM?

 

JR: Well, I see the top six guys are very talented players. But from a character point of view or a leadership point of view, I really don’t know until I get through training camp and get into the season a month or so and get up to Thanksgiving. Give it a little time. Looking at it from the outside, I suspect that we have good character in that room, but it’s quiet. It’s a quiet approach where you don’t have one or two guys who can stand up in the room and say, ‘This is what’s really going on.’ From a character point of view, I don’t think there’s an issue. But to have someone who’s a little more vocal, or a couple of guys, I suspect that’s probably needed.

 

Q: Your partnership/ownership in Carolina, what happens with that?

 

JR: I have a conflict right now because I have an ownership stake with the Hurricanes, which I invested my own money. (Hurricanes CEO) Pete Karmanos has a meeting with the league on Tuesday. He’s going to get a clarification on that. I would suspect the league is going to say you can’t do that. Which is fine with me. Get my money back.

 

Q: To Morehouse, if Jason Botteril and Tom Fitzgerald interviewed, how much of that process led to the decisions with their roles?

 

DM: We said we were going to talk to the internal candidates. We didn’t talk about the external candidates. So, yes, we did talk to them. Yes, they were very seriously considered. Their body of work speaks for itself. They’re both very good people. They’re going to make great general managers. We thought long and hard about it until a couple days ago. It was very well-thought out that someone of Jim’s credentials and reputation … we’ve seen him in Board of Governors meetings. We’ve watched him operate. Mario knows him. We’ve very fortunate to have someone like Jim Rutherford interested in coming to Pittsburgh and helping us. We’re even more fortunate that we have people like Tom Fitzgerald and Jason Botteril and Billy Guerin around him to help him. I think we put a really strong team together of the utmost character and capabilities.

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