Penguins CEO/President David Morehouse addressed the media at CONSOL Energy Center Friday afternoon after the team announced that general manager Ray Shero was relieved of his duties. Below is a transcript of that media conference…
I want to thank everyone for coming on such short notice. We’re announcing today that Ray Shero has been relieved of his duties as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The search for a new GM has already begun. Ray Shero is a good person who has run the Penguins with class and dignity and made many positive contributions to the Pittsburgh community. Ray led us to the Stanley Cup in 2009 and will always be a part of the Penguins’ history and the Penguins family because of that achievement. We thank Ray for his work and we wish him and his family nothing but the best.
Our ownership group, led by Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, felt that it was time to move the franchise in a new direction. Like our fans, they’ve been very disappointed with our early exits in the playoffs. They made this decision because we believe new leadership can help us get back on track and achieve our goal of winning the Stanley Cup. The new GM will be charged with overseeing and revamping our hockey operations with the goal of returning the team to championship form.Part of his initial duties will be to evaluate our entire hockey operationsdepartment, including the coaching staff, and make decisions in the best interest of the franchise moving forward. Jason Botterill, who’s been our assistant general manager, will serve as interim general manager during this time period and oversee our scouting staff as they prepare for the NHL Draft. Jason will also be a candidate for the general manager position.
Before I take your questions, I want to say a few things to our fans. We believe we have the greatest fans in hockey. Your support and passion for the Penguins is part of the very fabric of the organization. Your support at Game 7 was phenomenal,both inside CONSOL Energy Center and outside for the big screen. We want tomake sure you know we appreciate your support and we’re determined to do everything we can to make this a championship organization.
Now I’ll take some questions.
Can you give a timeline of how long this was in the works? How the decision was made?
We’re constantly evaluating our organization both on the hockey side and the business side. We’re always looking for ways to improve. At the end of each season we get together and talk about ways that we can improve. This has been a process that has been ongoing for a long time. After the season was over we had some meetings. The ownership group got together and made the decision.
The decision to retain the coaching staff as opposed to a complete overhaul, could you clarify that?
The decision is to have a new GM come in and do a complete evaluation (of) the entire hockey operations department, including the coaching staff.
What specifically about the way this season ended or developed led to ownership’s dismissal of Ray?
It’s not just about this season. We’ve had five consecutive years of underachievement in the playoffs. However, this isn’t a complete overhaul. We’ve had success during the regular season. We have a good team. This is a lot different than a team that needs to have a complete overhaul and revamping, that missed the playoffs for consecutive years. We’re a team that’s a good team. We just have high expectations and we want to get better. The ownership group thought that change was necessary at this point.
At what point do you look at the players? What culpability do they have?
We look at the players, too. That’s part of the evaluation process. We look at everything. There is not one answer to getting us to the next level. We think that there was a lot of different things that need to be looked at. We’re starting with the leader of the hockey operations department. From there we will start makingother decisions based on the new general manager, who will be part of the decision-making process, his input.
How disappointed is the organization is Sidney Crosby’s performance? Are you concerned with the physical abuse that he took? Was he protected enough by the league and his teammates?
We’re disappointed in our performance in losing in the second round of the playoffs. I’m not going to single out anyone’s performance or any individual thing that happened. It’s not just about this year’s performance. This is about a team that we want to achieve higher, and we think can achieve higher with some changes. This is something that we’ve been talking about not just as a result of one game; not just because of the way players are playing or certain players are not playing. This is a decision that’s been in the works for a long time, since we won the Cup. We wanted to get back to the Stanley Cup Final and we haven’t. So we’re going to try to make some changes to make sure we can at least give it a shot to make it happen.
To what extent did Ray have a free hand? Were there ever cases where a move or moves that he wanted to make were vetoed by upper management?
There was never a case where moves that Ray wanted to make were vetoed by upper management. And never did upper management or ownership tell Ray what players to go after. Ray will tell you the same thing. Ray had complete autonomy. We have a very good ownership group here. We’re very lucky. He was given free reign.
Do you have a specific timeframe? Do you feel it’s important to have a new GM before the draft?
We have a specific timeframe. We want to do it as quickly as possible, to have the GM come in and do the evaluation process as fast as we can. We’re not going to rush it because of the draft. We think with Jason Botterill and our scouting staff, (assistant to the general manager) Tom Fitzgerald, we have a group in place that can take care of us for the draft.
Which players on the roster would you say are untouchable in this organization right now?
I’m not going to talk at all about players or individual moves. We’re going to leave that to the new general manager when they come in, and we’ll make those evaluations as we move forward. Right now, what we’re doing is we’re making a change at the top of the hockey department and we’re changing the general manager.
David, you said the search is already underway for a new GM. When you fire a guy like Ray who’s been around for so long and as respected as he is, do you have anybody in mind? In other words, before you let somebody go, you must have an idea that you are going to be able to replace him with somebody.
First of all, Ray Shero is a great guy. I said that in the remarks earlier. We all have relationships with him and he’s done some really good things here. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get to the level we want to get to and that ownership wants us to get to. So we think bringing someone in can help make that happen. We don’t have anyone particular in mind. We have a large group of people in mind and we think that we’ll get more people interested now that we’ve announced that we have an opening. But we think we’ll have a lot of interest. But we have no one in particular that we’re looking at, other than Jason Botterill, who’s a candidate, as you all know.
In terms of the philosophical approach with the NHL and maybe the rule changes or how things have changed since 2005 in terms of hockey, do you think there’s a whole different philosophy, whole different kind of change in direction (needed) when it comes to the style of play you want out of your team and personnel?
I’m going to leave that up to Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle and the general manager. But I don’t think that the rule changes necessarily have changed the way we want to play. I think we want to have a team that’s hard to play against. We want to have a fast team. We want to have a tough team. We want to have a team with character. That hasn’t changed.
Was there any one specific aspect of Ray’s job, whether it was drafting, salary cap management, talent evaluation, which maybe weighed heavier in this decision than others?
No, there wasn’t one specific thing. This is just over time, not getting to the level that we think we need to get to.
Just to be 100 percent clear, you have not fired Dan Bylsma?
That’s correct. We have not fired Dan Bylsma.
Is there an element of weirdness to that? Not just on your end, but also on those coaches’ end, because they could in theory be looking for other jobs that are available right now?
I don’t think there’s an element of weirdness. I think what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to do it systematically. What we wanted to do was first address the situation at the top and the leader of the organization is the general manager. Once that’s done, then we want to evaluate whether or not (the coaches stay). And another thing, this is not a complete rebuild. This is a team that has had a level of success. What we’re trying to do is get from good to great. We’re in the top quartile of the league in everything we do. A lot of teams would like to be where we are. However, we do have high expectations and we want to get to it. So we don’t need to just come in and clean complete house right away. We think we can do this systematically and we can make adjustments and we can get to where we need to get.
Will the new GM be hired with any input from the ownership from any determinations you made internally about the coach? Will any discussions made among the ownership about Dan Bylsma be passed on to the new GM?
No, I think that the new GM is going to have, along with ownership, they’re going to evaluate the situation and make a determination as it regards to Dan Bylsma and the coaching staff. And as it relates to the person we hire, it has no relation whatsoever.
Dan’s still under contract. If another team would show interest in him, is he free to entertain that or is he on hold until it’s decided here?
Well, he’s under contract. Another team’s not allowed to entertain thoughts. But I have complete confidence that if Dan is indeed not the coach here, that he’ll be quickly picked up somewhere else. He’s a great coach.