Rejean Shero always seemed like a really good man.
That is a dangerous presumption to make in this business, because reporters only get to see so much. There is always a lot more that we don’t know than we do about the people and situations we cover.
However, something happened four years ago that provided pretty compelling evidence that Shero was made of the good stuff.
The Penguins’ Stanley Cup defense season had just ended, and Shero’s mother had just passed. Disappointment met tragedy, and it was a lousy match.
At the funeral home, Shero was shown support by a small group of friends, family and colleagues – but it was a couple of Penguins players who stood out. Actually, they were soon-to-be former Penguins, and Shero had explained that to these men only a few weeks prior.
The players were Ruslan Fedotenko and Mark Eaton. They were veterans, family men themselves, but also impending free agents. After the season, Shero had told both men they were not in the Penguins’ plan going forward.
That must always be a tough conversation to have, probably tougher when having it with guys for whom a person is forever linked. Eaton was the first free-agent Shero had signed with the Penguins. Fedotenko was one of a couple he brought to Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup run in 2009.
Eaton and Fedotenko’s time with the Penguins was over by the summer of July 2010; but there would be other summers, ones with title team reunions – and those summers would offer a brief reminder to everybody associated with that 2009 Cup team that history was theirs.
Or, to put it another way, everybody associated with that Cup team was forever a family, as Rejean Shero’s late father, Fred, probably would agree.
Still, hockey is a business, and Rejean Shero had to move on from Eaton and Fedotenko to move the Penguins forward. So he did.
Maybe it says more about those two men that they showed up at Shero’s mother’s viewing only a few weeks after he told them their time with the Penguins was over. Probably, though, it says everything about Shero as a boss and a man. Respect is earned, and it was shown to Shero on that day four years ago.
Ray Shero was fired Friday.
There is a lot of spin regarding his tenure coming from the Penguins organization, which is owned by men a lot more ruthless than a fan base cares to acknowledge. That is a good thing for the fan base, because cold, unemotional and ruthless assessments by owners are what distinguish the great franchises from ones that are just around.
The Steelers have won more than any NFL team in the Super Bowl era. For the most part, when it came to personnel moves, Dan Rooney was ruthless.
Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle want to win. They have spent a lot of money on players and for players, and their careful assessment is that the Penguins need different types of players, maybe some better players, to win again.
It has been five years since the Cup, and clearly Penguins ownership has pegged that silver chalice as the definition of winning. So Shero lost his job, even if he is a good man.
Keep this in mind, though.
Lemieux and Burkle have owned the Penguins since September 1999. Their only tangible on-ice success came with Shero running the hockey side of the franchise. Sidney Crosby is in Pittsburgh because a lottery ball bounced the Penguins way in 2005. The other stars of the Crosby era – specifically Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury – arrived because ownership had allowed the franchise to bottom out completely.
That was a smart business decision, by the way. It was cold, unemotional and ruthless.
It was very corporate, and so are the Penguins in many, many ways. That is why they will probably win again with a new general manager. The game of hockey is a business, and the Lemieux and Burkle, for all their riches, really want to win.
Still, they won with the general manager they just fired – and that is something everybody should remember a day after a seemingly good man lost his job because his teams did not win everything enough.
Shero brought the Penguins into the modern era at a time when their records were kept on legal pads in filing cabinets. He created the hockey operations department from scratch and turned it into something that, until this season, Penguins brass boasted about being best in the league.
Shero’s first order of business upon signing Eaton in 2006 was to order flowers sent to Eaton’s wife. He wanted the Penguins to be the organization that treated players like family. It was not a novel concept, and Shero never sold it as one.
It was Shero who repeatedly said he cared only about Crosby the person during the captain’s concussion saga. There were a lot of agendas, within and outside of the Penguins, during that period of time from January 2011-March 2012, but Shero had only one – doing right by Crosby.
Shero was gracious, respectful and never lied.
That last part is especially impressive, but hockey is a business full with liars. Hockey, as somebody within it once perfectly explained, is a dirty, disgusting, disgraceful business, and we all sacrifice part of our soul to be a part of it.
There will be a lot of stories about Shero over the next few weeks, many assessing the work he did with the Penguins.
The read here is that he was a really good general manager.
The view here is that he was a lot better man for the Penguins – certainly, the type of person who will not easily be replaced.
>> LINKS TO #TribHKY COVERAGE
WHO’S THE BOSS? A look at the Penguins’ power structure: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6124069-74/morehouse-penguins-general#axzz31yoU6zCi
WHO’S NEXT? Possible candidates for the next GM: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6126256-74/job-penguins-current#axzz31yoU6zCi
WHO SAYS? Columnist Dejan Kovacevic’s Q&A with Penguins ownership: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6129439-74/lemieux-burkle-team#axzz31yoU6zCi
WHO STAYS? Josh Yohe on the in-limbo coaching staff: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6124075-74/bylsma-morehouse-staff#axzz31yoU6zCi
WHO UNDERSTOOD? Jason Mackey finds a puzzled public after the events of Friday: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6124073-74/bylsma-shero-cushing#axzz31yoU6zCi
WHO THINKS? Dan Bylsma is coming back. Not Kovacevic. His column: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/6101769-74/lemieux-burkle-coach#axzz31yoU6zCi
WHO-A? An A-1 story written with Kovacevic on where the Penguins are headed: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6126219-74/shero-general-penguins#axzz31yoU6zCi
Be EXCELLENT to each other,