The Penguins have put together the blueprint for success in the National Hockey League. That blueprint is built on a few core principles: build your team through the draft; develop your players to compete at the highest level of hockey; lock up the core of your team for long-term stability; avoid the burden of a potential player’s salary-cap killing salary; and use assembled assets to fill out the roster.
General manager Ray Shero, along with assistant general manager Jason Botterill, has adhered to these principles since taking control of the franchise at the outset of the 2006 season.
It is true that Shero inherited a deeply talented team with superstars like Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
and Marc-Andre Fleury
. But the key to the Penguins’ long-term success has been Shero’s ability to lock up the core foundation of superstars into multi-year contracts, while finding the proper pieces to fill out the team.
Penguins already under contract for the next few seasons include Crosby and Jordan Staal
(signed through 2012-13), Malkin and Brooks Orpik
(2013-14) and Fleury (2014-15). Pittsburgh added another valuable young talent to that list, and strengthened their defense, with the signing of 22-year-old defenseman Kris Letang
to a four-year contract extension (through 2013-14) on Tuesday.
It’s important because these are really good young assets for us. They’re part of a group that’s had success in the past. Now we basically have these guys signed and it gives us some certainty moving forward planning-wise. We’re not guessing and it helps solidify what we’re doing going forward - Ray Shero
“It’s important because these are really good young assets for us,” Shero said. “They’re part of a group that’s had success in the past. Now we basically have these guys signed and it gives us some certainty moving forward planning-wise. We’re not guessing and it helps solidify what we’re doing going forward."
“They want to be a part of our organization moving forward,” Botterill said. “It’s great if you don’t have to sell them too hard on Pittsburgh. They know from ownership down what the organization is about, the stability that we have, the excitement of moving into the new building. They want to be here. Both parties want to continue in this relationship. That’s why these deals have been able to get done.”
And with the multiple deals complete, the Penguins have solidified key positions with a diverse group of talents.
“I think we have a good balance with a lot of our young players that are signed,” Botterill said. “They’re not all the same player. Orpik is a physical stay-at-home defenseman. Kris Letang
is a good two-way defenseman. He can play, as he is now, with Brooks Orpik
against teams’ top lines. Or he can contribute offensively like he did last year in the playoffs and in his junior career. Our three centermen make us really strong down the middle. Marc-Andre Fleury
is a rock in the net. It makes us a strong team because we have important positions – center, defensemen, goalie – locked up moving forward.”
In the salary cap era of the NHL, every team in the league sees turnover in its roster – and some times drastic turnover. Having the foundation of players under contract allows for that group to play together and grow together, while giving the organization stability.
“Every year you do lose players but it is nice to know that you have a core group of players that into the future you are going to have here to grow with, especially on defense, down the middle and in goal,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Those are the three key spots on your team. We have good depth there going into the future. Now it’s about growing and having that ability to be a good team for a long time with those parts.”
“We know there will be turnover with the team,” Botterill said. “You’re always going to have to make difficult decisions. Did we want to lose a guy like Hal Gill or Rob Scuderi go? No, but those are some decisions you have to make in the salary cap world. A lot of our young players are going to be a part of our group moving forward. That’s what we’re excited about. This team’s best hockey is still in front of them. They’re pushing each other and growing together.”
Signing Letang also helps clear up the uncertainty of the Penguins’ defensive group moving forward. Prior to Letang’s signing, only Orpik and Alex Goligoski were under contract for next season. Now, Letang will join that group to clear up some of the uncertainty moving forward. Shero and Botterill can turn their attention to solidifying the rest of the unit – whether its through re-signing a player on the current roster, signing a free agent, or the emergence of a young blueliner in the system.
“We have guys in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, as well, with guys like Robert Bortuzzo
, Ben Lovejoy
and Brian Strait
,” Shero said. “We've had some depth with the guys that we have drafted on defense, and I think that we have some pretty young ones coming.”
Everyone knows about the Penguins’ high-end talent. But it’s the players the team has drafted the past few years, including Letang in the third round (62nd overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, that have taken the Penguins from a team with gaudy potential to Stanley Cup champions.
Every year you do lose players but it is nice to know that you have a core group of players that into the future you are going to have here to grow with, especially on defense, down the middle and in goal. Those are the three key spots on your team. We have good depth there going into the future. Now it’s about growing and having that ability to be a good team for a long time with those parts - Dan Bylsma
The Penguins scouting and development staff have done a tremendous job of building a strong depth pool for the team. The development of these young talents have helped the team, either directly (Letang, Tyler Kennedy
, Goligoski, Max Talbot) or have been assets in acquiring players that have helped the team (Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis
, Gary Roberts).
“Our amateur staff has done has done a very good job in identifying players the last couple of years that are good to draft,” Botterill said. “ Maybe they’re players on our team right now, or players like Angelo Esposito or Luca Caputi, who aren’t with the Pittsburgh Penguins now but are important. They were drafted by us and were in demand by other teams. We were able to get pieces of the puzzle, whether it was Hossa or (Alexei) Ponikarovsky because we had these assets to play with.
“What (director of amateur scouting) Jay Heinbuck and our amateur staff have done is very good. In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (head coach) Todd Reirden, (assistant coach) John Hynes and (assistant to the general manager) Tom Fitzgerald, they’re developing players down there. That’s going to be extremely important for us moving forward. We have locked up our young players and that’s important. But we don’t have an abundance of salary cap left over. We can get veteran NHL players to fill roles. But it’s important for our young players to come up through the system and fill some of those roles. Guys like Tyler Kennedy
, Goligoski, Max Talbot, built and developed in Wilkes-Barre and moved up the ranks. Now the next wave, it’s time for some of those guys to make the next step up here.”
With the Penguins core staying in Pittsburgh for a while, Shero and Botterill can concentrate on finding those other pieces to the puzzle to make the Penguins a Stanley Cup champion once again.
But one thing is for sure, with guys like Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Orpik, Staal and Letang staying around Pittsburgh for a while, the Penguins will be Cup contenders for years to come.