Ray Shero may be in his first season as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But, he’s had plenty experience building a winning franchise.
Shero came to the Penguins in May with 14 years of NHL management experience – the previous eight as assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators.
Coincidentally, the Predators visit Mellon Arena on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. However, it’s no mistake Nashville owns the best record in the NHL at 37-14-3. According to Shero, the organization has formulated a solid building plan since the franchise’s on-ice inception in the 1998-99 season.
“No doubt. They had their plan there and they’ve stuck with it,” Shero said. “I am really happy for the organization and for the people there. I worked with them for a long time. So, for owner Craig Leipold and general manager David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz and the training staff, I am really happy for them and happy for the town. They have built it the right way and it’s nice to see them get the fruits of their labor.”
Nashville is one of only two clubs (along with Carolina) that has improved by 15 or more points in each of the last two seasons.
And, they’ve mainly achieved success through development of draft choices such as David Legwand, Martin Erat, Scott Hartnell, Dan Hamhuis, Jordin Tootoo, Scottie Upshall, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Shero had a chance to watch these prospects develop as he oversaw the organization’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee that captured the Calder Cup in 2004.
“It’s always nice that hopefully you’ve contributed in some way. They have drafted well. Paul Fenton, their director of player personnel has run the draft and done a great job,” Shero said. “It’s nice to see a lot of those guys who have went through the system in Milwaukee and so forth pay their dues, move up and have success, too.
“A lot of those guys won the Calder Cup in Milwaukee and are now playing in Nashville. Guys like Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoun (both acquired before the Predators hit the ice in 1998), they were there from Day One. So, we were together for a long time, through some good times and bad times,” he continued. “Now, they’re enjoying some good times and it’s really good to see. A guy like Paul Kariya came in and was a really huge signing for the franchise at the time and really gave the franchise credibility. He has done a great job there and really fit in. David Legwand has been there since I was there. It’s good to see him have the breakthrough he’s having this year. So, I am really happy for them on a lot of fronts.”
However, it hasn’t been an easy road to the top. Yet, it’s allowed Shero to help mold the young Penguins squad into a force on the ice.
“There were some trying times, but that’s part of a plan, though,” Shero said. “You’re going to have some bumps in the road, which they did, but they persevered. They had support of their ownership in Craig Leipold. We have the same thing here. So, what you take from that is the patience. Some of the losing streaks and things like that, for me, it wasn’t enjoyable but certainly, for where I am now, those experiences are just as valuable to me as making the playoffs or turning the corner. I think they make you a better player and a better manager. Going through those experiences, up and down, can apply here as well.”
While Shero played a part in shaping Nashville’s ascension to the NHL’s elite, he brings those lessons learned to Pittsburgh. And, even though the situations may be different, he will utilize a variety of ways to build the Penguins’ organization.
“They had a core of players there that they grew with. It’s a little bit different here because, with no disrespect to the players in Nashville, this organization has Sidney Crosby, who is a franchise player. And, Evgeni Malkin, who is close to a franchise player,” Shero said. “They didn’t have those assets there, but what they did is develop guys like Tomas Vokoun, who actually went through the farm team and became an NHL All-Star. A guy like David Legwand came through the system; they traded for a guy like Steve Sullivan and had a free agent signing in Paul Kariya. All these little things have helped them get to where they are.
“It’s just another way of building a team, whether it’s through free agency, waivers or trades. In that respect, that’s why on the day I was hired here, I said there were all different ways to build a team. That’s what happened there and that’s what we have to look at here. Whether that’s through the draft or a waiver claim like Chris Thorburn or a free agent signing like Jarkko Ruutu – all these things go into trying to build a team.”
So far, with the Penguins growing together and in playoff contention, Shero and his staff are off to a good start.