-- It didn't take long for Billy Guerin to make an impact with the Pittsburgh Penguins
In fact, it happened before he even took the ice for his new team after the late-February trade from the New York Islanders
"Well, you know, Billy Guerin is the type of guy that walked in on the first day and immediately cracked a joke at our captain," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
said, talking about superstar Sidney Crosby
. "That's the type of guy he is. It was a good-humored joke, it was funny, and everyone laughed, including Sidney. He does that pretty much every day."
Veteran defenseman Philippe Boucher
says that if you want to laugh, you better make sure you get a seat in the back of the bus or the plane. It seems that is where Guerin and defenseman Hal Gill
hold court, taking turns issuing one-liners and having some good-natured fun at the expense of teammates.
Guerin always has had a sense of humor, ever since joining the NHL in 1992 with a New Jersey team that was just reaching its pinnacle. But he has learned the other nuances of being a dressing-room presence as he has moved around throughout his career, a process that begin with legendary leader Scott Stevens
serving as his first mentor in Jersey.
Today, his humor is balanced by outbursts that carry far more gravitas. Guerin says he has learned how to say the important things that need to be said and his sense of timing has improved each year.
"Sometimes, you wonder, 'Should I have said that right then and there?" Guerin says. "You might run it by another guy in the room and clear it with another guy first. You say what's on your mind and we have an open group of guys and everybody says something at one time or another. You just have to feel comfortable.
"I've been on enough teams where I feel comfortable going into a new room and saying whatever I want."
Guerin shouldn't wonder too much because it appears that he has struck all the right notes since stepping into a very young Penguins dressing room.
"He knows when to say the serious thing, and he's probably said that five or six times at any given point in the playoffs and the regular season where he thought it was important he say the right thing and a serious thing," Bylsma said.
Bylsma points to the Eastern Conference Finals against Carolina as an example. Guerin made a point before the series even started to warn his team about the battle level that the Hurricanes bring to the rink every night. He made sure his teammates knew there would be an immense physical price to be paid to beat a Carolina team short on star power, but long on will power.
The Penguins, by the way, swept the series, rarely taking a shift off.
Young center Jordan Staal
has certainly learned a thing or two from Guerin in the three months the veteran winger has been on hand.
"The way he holds everybody accountable is the biggest thing," Staal told NHL.com. "He really drives us forward and makes each person take a personal account of the way they are playing. It's always a good thing at the right time."
It's easier to be the conscience of a team when you are delivering on the ice. And Guerin has done that better than many expected since arriving in the Steel City from the Islanders, where he was foundering on a team struggling for wins and already playing out the string.
"Well, you know, Billy Guerin is the type of guy that walked in on the first day and immediately cracked a joke at our captain. That's the type of guy he is. It was a good-humored joke, it was funny, and everyone laughed, including Sidney. He does that pretty much every day." -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
But Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero
and his scouts saw something else there and played a hunch that Guerin would be a different player in a new situation.
"He certainly was not at the top of his game," Shero said. "He was in a situation where they were more or less going with youth and he's a veteran guy. But we just felt that given the cost to acquire him and with the hole that we had, could he rekindle the magic and enthusiasm for the game, because we thought he could still skate.
"And obviously, he's answered that question and he's done a great job. He's always had a winning background."
Guerin has delivered on Shero's faith, calling his move to the Penguins a rebirth of sorts. The infectious energy of a dressing room anchored by young players just entering their prime -- Crosby, Evgeni Malkin
, Kris Letang
and Marc-Andre Fleury
-- has reinvigorated him.
He had 12 points in the final 17 points of Pittsburgh's mad dash to the playoffs and he has 7 goals and 7 assists in the team's 17 postseason games.
Of course it helps Guerin's offensive output to be playing on the same line as Crosby. But Guerin has gone a long way in making that partnership work.
"To his credit, he's worked hard at figuring out the right things to do to be on that line," Bylsma said. "He's a smart player, I'm not so sure about his fresh legs, but he's certainly got a fresh brain."
A goal in Game 3 of the Carolina series perfectly executes Bylsma's point. Guerin was carrying the puck on a 2-on-2 rush when he decided to feather a backhanded saucer pass, over the stick of a defensemen, to the doorstep of the Carolina goal, where a hard-charging Crosby one-timed it home.
"He brings a lot," Crosby said after that game. "He wins a lot of battles. He's dangerous in the slot. He makes a lot of smart, quick plays; whether it be through the neutral zone or his pass toward the net there. That backhand pass is a tough pass to make and he put it right on my stick.
"He brings a lot of different things. He's able to adapt to anything. He's a big, strong guy, and he's able to create a lot out there."
Almost as much as it seems he is able to create off the ice, cracking up the Penguins' dressing room on a daily basis.