As far as superstitions go, there’s none bigger among hockey people then when it’s appropriate to touch the Stanley Cup. Basically, unless you’re part of a championship organization, your paws never should touch Stanley’s pristine silver.
Sorry Pittsburgh fans, but your general manager is guilty of this hockey crime.
"I want to tell you no, but of course I did. I was 12," Penguins GM Ray Shero
, the son of former Philadelphia Flyers
Cup-winning coach Fred Shero
, told NHL.com. "You think I thought I’d ever have the chance to see that thing again?"
Forgive him, Pittsburgh, but nothing is guaranteed, which is why when one of the League’s most innovative coaches of all time brought the Cup to their Cherry Hill, N.J., home, young Ray wasn’t thinking about his future in the game, or in the Steel City.
But the legacy Shero is building as one of the League’s most innovative managers goes all the way back to the days he spent in the Flyers’ dressing room with Bernie Parent
and Bobby Clarke
, to those days he spent celebrating with Stanley.
The intimate knowledge he gained while his father was coaching in Philadelphia from 1971-78 allowed Shero to pick up some of the tricks to his trade, ones he has used to build a team stockpiled with young talent into a winner in just two years.
"Ray and his staff took the core and made it successful by making some moves to get it over the edge, and that may be the hardest thing to do," said Greg Malone, the Penguins’ former head scout, whose son, Ryan, is one of the team’s alternate captains. "You can build through the draft and give them time to mature and develop, but afterwards the hardest thing to do is to put the finishing touch on it."
Shero spent 20 years preparing for his challenge in Pittsburgh.
After giving up his playing career following his two-year tenure captaining the St. Lawrence University hockey team, Shero moved to Boston, met his wife, Karen, and became an NHL player agent. He held that title for seven years.
"The money wasn’t the same," Shero said. "The Players’ Association wasn’t the same, but it was a means to an end. Learning about contracts and doing contracts with players and families, it was good for my career at the start, but not what I wanted to do."
His job as an agent led to an opportunity to be the assistant general manager for the fledgling Ottawa Senators
in 1993. Shero spent six years in Ottawa, working as then-GM Randy Sexton’s right-hand man.
His claim to fame in Ottawa remains his perceived recommendation to management to draft Daniel Alfredsson
with the 133rd overall pick of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Shero, though, said the widely told story is not true.
"Daniel was John Ferguson, Sr. for sure," Shero said. "I did not recommend drafting Alexandre Daigle
, either. That was also John Ferguson, Sr. Hey, you can’t bat 1.000, but Alfie was definitely not me."
Nevertheless, the ever modest Shero was part of the Senators’ emergence from expansion team to playoff team, which they became in 1997. In 1998, Nashville GM David Poile offered Shero the same title for the expansion Predators, and he took it.
Their hand-in-hand relationship lasted eight years, and their friendship is ongoing. Shero said earlier this week he invited Poile and his wife to be his guest at Game 3 against the Red Wings at Mellon Arena.
"They’ll be out of town, but that’s how much he and his wife have meant to us," Shero said. "I wouldn’t be here without him. I went from Ottawa to Nashville for a reason – it was the opportunity to work with David Poile. He had been in the League a long time and he never had an assistant general manager before. For him to ask me, that was, wow, it was unreal.
"He’s a good people person. He’d always challenge you in the fact that any decision he’d make he wouldn’t just make it. He’d ask, ‘What would you do?’ even though he knew the answer already. I find that goes a long way with your staff, empowering them to make decisions. He was my boss, but he became my friend. Right away my wife knew this guy was special. She really loves David."
Shero said he kept Michel Therrien
as coach of the Penguins when he was hired because of Poile’s advice. It didn’t matter that he and Therrien had no prior relationship.
"When (Poile) first went to Washington in ’82 (to become GM of the Capitals), he had a coach there in Bryan Murray and they did not know each other," Shero said. "He elected to give it a try and they lasted seven or eight years together. That’s another good piece of advice that David has given me. That worked out well for both me and Michel."
Shero’s challenge in Pittsburgh wasn’t getting the right coach. It was getting the right veterans to fit in with a young core, including Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
and Marc-Andre Fleury
, that ultimately would become the backbone of this team.
Putting together the right staff to handle the mixture was essential, so Shero revamped a lot of Pittsburgh’s organization. He hired Chuck Fletcher, son of longtime NHL GM Cliff Fletcher, to be his assistant GM. He revamped the pro and amateur scouting department, and hired a team services director to handle players’ needs.
"There were good pieces here, but you want to do things a certain way," Shero said. "Unfortunately I had to make some changes with off-ice personnel, which was difficult to do. New people were brought in. Some I knew, some I didn’t. There were a lot of fresh perspectives. Looking back a couple of years later, the group we brought in has done a good job of establishing a tradition that we’ll move forward with."
On the player side, Shero started small by adding hulking defenseman Mark Eaton
on July 3, 2006. A day later he signed agitating winger Jarkko Ruutu
. Mark Recchi
also returned to Pittsburgh, where he started his career and won a Cup in 1991.
"You think I thought I’d ever have the chance to see that thing again?" -- Ray Shero on getting to touch the Stanley Cup at age 12
"We were trying to get some good role players here and start our team that way," Shero said. "We knew we had a superstar coming back (Crosby), and Malkin was going to be added. Mark Recchi
came back and he was really good for us both on and off the ice."
With Pittsburgh headed for its first playoff berth since 2001, Shero traded for enforcer Georges Laraque
and veteran Gary Roberts
at the deadline. Minor moves to some, but major to these Penguins, who needed veteran leadership and spark.
Prior to this season, he signed Petr Sykora
, Darryl Sydor
and Ty Conklin
. Sensing his team was on the verge of something special, Shero also made a major splash at the deadline.
Just before the 3 p.m. trade deadline on Feb. 26, he dealt away some young talent, a future prospect and a couple of draft picks to get Marian Hossa
, Pascal Dupuis
and Hal Gill
in separate deals with Atlanta and Toronto.
"As of that morning nothing was on our table as I didn’t know where we stood with Atlanta or Toronto," Shero said. "We wanted to solidify our team and these are the deals that were there. In retrospect I’m happy we did them, but I told our coaching staff that at the end of the day we might not have an addition and we have to feel comfortable with the group we had to move forward with. We liked our group. We were comfortable, but we were fortunate to get the guys we needed."
And that brings us to today, to just hours before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, to Ray Shero
standing on the precipice of his own greatness.
Thirty-three years ago, he touched the Stanley Cup because his innovative father brought it home for the second straight season. Shero now is four wins away from sharing it with his own boys, Christopher and Kyle.
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.