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Ray Shero: Five Years on the Job

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Five years ago today, Ray Shero was struggling with a huge decision.

Should he accept the position of general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, or take the same job with another NHL club that had also made him an offer?

Shero, who was assistant GM of the Nashville Predators at the time, turned to his mentor, Predators GM David Poile, for guidance – who offered it in a “you’ll thank me later” type of way.

“(Poile) said, ‘Ray, I told you a long time ago as a manager, you have to make decisions. Well, you’re going to be a manager – here’s your first decision,’” Shero said. “I was like, ‘That’s not what I want to hear. You’re really throwing me out there without a lifeboat.’ (Laughs) But that was accurate. It was true. You had to make a decision, and it was a hard one as to what to do. It ended up being the right decision for me and my family, and I’m happy with it.”

Ray Shero (Getty Images)
And so are the legions of Penguins fans that have watched Shero calmly and skillfully pull the trigger on a plethora of decisions since that have transformed the club into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.

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However, it was certainly an interesting beginning for Shero, who had to figure out how to turn the team’s fortunes around while simultaneously adjusting to a whole lot more responsibility.

Although 14 seasons as an assistant GM (eight with Nashville, six with Ottawa) had honed his hockey sense and management style, it hadn’t quite prepared him to be the final decision maker on everything team-related.

“It’s overwhelming, really, when you’ve got so much to do and so much on your plate and now everybody’s looking for you to make a decision,” Shero said. “I remember July 1st of ’06, I was trying to figure out how in the heck we’re going to get from 58 points to try and get back in the league here.”

But Shero did know two things for certain upon arriving in Pittsburgh – one, the type of philosophy and management style he wanted to utilize, and two, the prototypical player he wanted to build his team around.

So although deals like his acquisition of Marian Hossa (Atlanta) at the trade deadline in 2008 may be what sticks out to most, it’s Shero’s signings of forward Jarkko Ruutu and defenseman Mark Eaton in the summer of 2006 that are most significant to him in terms of constructing a solid foundation for his team.

Ray Shero (Getty Images)
In fact, Shero still has the email Ruutu sent him five years ago accepting his offer of a two-year deal.

“To get to the Finals with Ruutu and win a Stanley Cup with Eaton, really, they were the first two guys that we had that could have gone elsewhere, but they had bought into what we were selling,” Shero said.

“We weren’t selling much. We didn't have a building, we weren’t a playoff team, we were a cap team, I was a brand-new GM. So that, to me, was just kind of getting the thing going in the right direction.”

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And although Shero calls that whole first summer “chaotic” after the initial thrill of getting the job – he selected Jordan Staal with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in his first major player personnel decision – Shero managed to help the team climb from 29th place to 10th in his first season, a 47-point increase.

Even Shero was surprised by the progression.

One person who wasn’t surprised by Shero’s success, however, was Poile, as one of the reasons he hired him as an assistant GM back in 1998 was his eye for talent and inquisitiveness.

“You hear about people that are up-and-coming, and everybody that I ran into always gave Ray full marks in terms of his hockey knowledge and his potential,” Poile said.

“I think I knew real early in our relationship that Ray was going to be a general manager. It wasn't going to be ‘if,’ it was just going to be ‘when.’”

But Shero credits those around him – and those before him – with helping establish a solid foundation for the organization that has molded the Penguins into a team that will be a Stanley Cup contender for years to come.

He points out the work of former Penguins GM Craig Patrick and former Penguins head scout Greg Malone with setting the franchise in the right direction.

Ray Shero (Getty Images)
“My predecessor Craig Patrick did great things here in 17 years,” Shero said. “To be able to follow after him – we won a Cup with a lot of guys that him and Greg Malone drafted – says a lot about them. I’m happy that we could do that for them. … I happened to walk into a really good situation.”

In addition to the Penguins ownership, who have given Shero all of the resources he needs to do the job, he also lauds the scouts, trainers, coaches and management he’s worked with over the past five years who have all incorporated Shero’s three main principles for success – passion, work ethic and accountability.

“You just need to set up a good infrastructure to have success,” he said. “We can talk about when you get a job, yeah, of course we all want to win the Stanley Cup. That’s what we do this for, right? But before that, it’s like we say, it’s like building a house. Everybody dreams of having a beautiful house but to go into building it, you need a really strong foundation or else your house is going to fall apart. It’s no different building an organization. You need strong people for a strong organization.”

Shero, who signed a five-year contract extension last September, is looking forward to what the future holds.

“It’s been an exciting five years, a fun five years,” he said. “Looking back five years ago, I don’t know what I envisioned. Did I envision I’d be sitting here in this office in a brand-new building? I don’t know. I didn't know if we were going to be in Kansas City or somewhere else, but we’re sitting here and we even won a Stanley Cup, which is fantastic. It’s done a lot for the franchise and it’s done a lot for the players and the people here.”
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