The Pittsburgh Penguins spent the summer getting better on the ice.
On Tuesday, they improved off it as well.
Executive Vice President and General Manager Ray Shero added two former NHL players to his front office staff – Tom Fitzgerald (Director of Player Development) and Jason Botterill (Director of Hockey Administration).
Fitzgerald, who retired from the NHL in 2006 after a 17-year playing career, will oversee and evaluate Penguins draft picks playing in college, junior hockey, and Europe. In addition, he will work with prospects playing for the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
|Tom FItzgerald |
“It’s going to be working closely with the coaches and players at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. My job is to get those players to Pittsburgh,” he said. “I will also work with the draftees and the ones in juniors and stay in touch with them, watch them, file reports – help them with their progress in any way, be a mentor and work closely with their coaches and their managers. I’ll also keep tabs on our kids in college and just to help them progress and get their development moving in the right direction.”
Experience is a strength Fitzgerald, who played in 1,097 NHL games, plans to use when visiting the Penguins’ prospects.
“I don’t think there is a price you can put on experience and I have that. I played in the AHL; I played over 150 games there, so I know what it’s like to be down there and the grind it is being young and a new professional,” he said. “I went to college for a couple of years, so I can identify with those kids. There’s a lot of value in that and I think it can help in a player’s development.”
Fitzgerald will be based in Boston, where lives with his wife, Kerry, and their four sons, and travel all over to work with Penguins prospects. He is thrilled to help shape the organization’s future.
“I am excited and nervous about it. I feel like I signed as a free agent and am still playing,” he said. “I am quite honored to be working for the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the rich tradition they have here and how bright the future is going to be. To be part of it is exciting. It’s going to be a coaching/management role, which is nice, too, because I always thought I’d be a coach; I felt I had that mentality. Now, I am coaching individuals one-on-one and trying to help them reach their goal, which is to be an NHL player here in Pittsburgh.
“When Ray called me, it was quite overwhelming, especially when you look at the Penguins on paper and say, ‘Wow.’ This is going to be a future Stanley Cup team. To become a part of it and then, even dig deeper and be the roots of the success here in Pittsburgh with the development of all their draftees and the kids on the farm, it is exciting. It’s a big task and I am up for the challenge. I am going to give this job every ounce of effort I did when I was playing – that’s just how I am.”
Likewise, Botterill will help craft the Penguins’ future. He will monitor the salary cap, including cap forecasting, contract research and negotiations, and work with salary arbitration and preparation as well as scouting.
|Jason Botterill |
“Since the implementation of the new salary cap, every time a guy signs, it’s not only what kind of money he is going to get, but what type of cap hit he’s going to have and how that’s going to affect players moving forward,” he said. “You look at some of the successful teams, like Anaheim. There’s always issues about they’re doing against the cap or who they can add. Nowadays, you can’t just go out there and buy all the players that you want. It’s no longer the days where the New York Rangers are going to be above and beyond and some teams don’t have the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. The playing field is leveled and my job is to do a lot of research on the negotiations and try to find the proper comparables and then talk a lot with the scouting and coaching staffs to get their thoughts on players and what the numbers on the players are to put the best team on the ice and hopefully bring the Stanley Cup here to Pittsburgh.”
And, one of his responsibilities is to predict the future.
“Part of my job is to work on negotiations and contract research, but a lot of my job has to do with forecasting. The contracts you sign right now – and you saw it this summer with Sidney Crosby and Ryan Whitney – the terms the players are getting are going to affect an organization a lot down the road,” he said. “So, as much as you maybe want to go into the free-agent market and sign a couple more top players, you have to realize who is coming up for a contract next year within our organization as well as who all is going to be eligible for free agency around the league and you want to have that flexibility.”
Botterill starred at the University of Michigan and helped the Wolverines win the 1996 NCAA championship. He played eight seasons of professional hockey, including parts of six campaigns in the NHL. Following his playing career, he worked with the NHL Offices and the NHL Central Registry and spent the past season as a scout for the Dallas Stars. He believes his well-rounded hockey experience will pay off in this role.
“Hopefully, my ability to understand the game and the players will just add another dimension to the front office here,” he said. “Not only do I feel there is a team atmosphere in the locker room, but there is a team atmosphere on the managerial side as well. Ray and Chuck have done a great job here, but they are looking to add different elements. You see that with the hiring of Tom Fitzgerald to work with the younger players for development reasons. In the world of the salary cap, you always have to have younger players coming through the ranks because you just can’t go out and buy free agents year in and year out. Ray and Chuck aren’t going to agree with all my decisions, but I think they will hear them. The more viewpoints you throw out there and get going around in a room, the better chance you make the correct one moving forward.”