Due apologies for the late post on this first Monday of hockey season, but I’ve been trying to piece together a package for Tuesday’s print editions regarding GM RAY SHERO’s five-year extension. If you’re not aware – perhaps still wowed by either A) the vicious effort by the football club’s defense at Tennessee, or B) (like me) dizzy over the battle between C MARK LETESTU and LW BRETT STERLING for hockey camp MVP – the news from today is that Shero has been extended through 2015-16.
The deal kicks in next season, and I’m told it will bring Shero, 48, among the 10 highest paid managers in hockey. Pretty tough to argue that he is deserving, and if his next six seasons go like his first four (all playoff campaigns, three 100 point regular-seasons, a considerable move at each deadline, locking up the nucleus at long-term, two Final trips and, oh yeah, the Stanley Cup) – well, I’m confident in saying that he’ll be among the top three managers in terms of salary for his next contract.
By the way, if Shero makes the duration of his next deal, the Penguins will have gone Steelers-like with their managers. The legend he followed, CRAIG PATRICK, served from 1989-2006. That would mean two managers in about 25 seasons in a league for which coaches last just under four years.
Anyway, so the print product will have thoughts on Shero from a couple of players, a member of his stuff and an NHL agent. Here all the words not fit to print:
= ASST GM JASON BOTTERILL
“The best thing about his style is he’s open to listening to his staff. In a situation where he does begin to trust you, you can find yourself doing all kinds of things. Take a look at (assistant to GM) TOM FITZGERALD and myself. We were both hired on the same day. His main focus was to be the player development and prospects. Now, in addition to those aspects, he has more responsibility on pro scouting and amateur scouting – and obviously he found himself on the bench for a Stanley Cup run. For me it was the say way. I came in to focus on salary-cap issue, and my role has been expanded to scouting and other aspects of the organization.
“He’s detailed in the fact that he wants everything set up perfectly, whether it’s scouting for the draft or going into free agency, whatever – he wants coverage to be take care of, so puts people in position and allows them to do their roles.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from him is how to stay calm. Look at this July 1 or the Hossa deal. Those could have been very chaotic situations. There is a lot of pressure to make a decision. In the situation like Hossa – you’re bringing in a player and giving assets back – and on July 1 – you’re contributing a lot of cap-space money to two players – and Ray always has things under control. He understand what’s going on, what other teams are doing, and within our office he’s under control, calm, keeping the staff updated how the situation is changing. He’s always under control, always calm. Pressure doesn’t get to him.”
= DEFENSMAN BROOKS ORPIK
“He’s done a really good job of getting guys to come here and to take less money. He has guys buying into what we have going on here. The big thing is that he’s brought in guys who are good people. We’ve had a lot of turnover, but he always finds guys who blend into this room well.”
= FORWARD CRAIG ADAMS
“It starts with him. The atmosphere usually trickles down from the top. It’s just professional and friendly and fun, and it feels like everybody is working together not against each other. That’s not always the case. It’s a good environment to be in.
“We don’t see him every day, but when we do – on the rink, on the plane, on the road – he’s very personable, and that’s the atmosphere he’s created. Keeping us in the loop isn’t his job, but I think you can talk to him about anything. He’s a very straight shooter. Obviously in this business sometimes you hear good things and sometimes you hear bad things, but you just want somebody to tell it to you straight. He does that.”
= DIR PLAYER DEVELOPMENT DAN MACKINNON
“Early on when we first got here I saw the things he brought from Nashville, from (Predators GM) DAVID POILE – treating people with respect, creating a family atmosphere, detail. But I think it’s evolved beyond that with Ray being able to spread his wings as a manager, and I think it’s become its own thing. We have a few more horse, a few more star players. We have unbelievable ownership here. We had good ownership in Nashville, but it’s not the same as we had here – and now we have this unbelievable facility. Those things have taken what Ray believes in and elevated it to a new level.
“He’s always been really sharp. He’s always known what he wanted to do, but with the success his confidence level in doing things like he feels they should be done is as high as I’ve ever seen it.”
= FORWARD PASCAL DUPUIS
“It’s good news for Ray and even better news for us. I think it’s pretty obvious by now that he’s one of the best in the business. He turned things around here. He’s got his core players and he knows which elements to add.”
Thanks to the McKeesport Daily News’ Josh Yohe for helping me gather some of those quotes. And now a personal note on Shero:
He doesn’t lie. I cannot place enough emphasis on how important that is to a beat reporter. The jaded among my journalism brothers and sisters go into beats expecting lies. Sadly, too often we are not disappointed. However, I’ve yet to catch Shero in a lie. In fact, a few times he has surprised me with his candor.
Last season upon his acquisition of D JORDAN LEOPOLD, I wrote an analysis piece making the case that Leopold’s arrival sealed the departure of D SERGEI GONCHAR. Shero was a bit taken aback, and we discussed the piece in his office. I’ll spare the details of our chat, but I left it with his permission to run anything I suspected by him. He said he wouldn’t always tell me if I was right, but he would tell me if I was wrong. “I don’t want you looking bad,” he said.
The next night the Penguins were working on a trade for RW ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY. I’d been working a different angle about the team pursuing another forward. I asked Shero a question about that forward and he told me it was fair to write he was having conversations about that player. When I was tipped by a fellow scribe about the Ponikarovsky it was at the worst possible time – second period, and my deadline for the game story was to file upon completion. If the Ponikarovksy deal was going to happen I needed to let my desk and editors know ASAP. I tried to reach Shero in the press box, but a team official told me he couldn’t speak. I asked that official to ask specifically about Ponikarovsky. He did, and came out of Shero’s box with word that Ray had no comment. “But,” he said, “Ray said you should probably ask your editors for more time because the story is changing.”
In my business something like that goes a very long way, earns a guy a ton of credit. I’ve said before a guy in my position doesn’t need to like the people he covers, but he must respect them. It’s a two-way street in that regard.
I thought of this scene over the summer when word leaked the Pirates had not told the media about extension given to their general manager and manager. The night that story broke I chatted about that with a media colleague, who was despondent that the ballclub lied to him for months when he asked about contract extensions. I tried to feel his pain – certainly I felt for him – but the truth was I couldn’t put myself in that position. I kept coming back to that conversation I had with Shero in his office.