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Ray Shero Transcript: July 1st Free Agent Signings

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Ray Shero met with the media following a busy signing day on July 1st. Here is what the Penguins general manager had to say:

On the team’s overall moves on July 1:
I think we did really well. Since the end of the season I’ve met with the coaching staff and our pro scouts, the area we addressed, and I was pretty clear over the last couple of weeks about addressing our defense. By getting Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, I think we’ve done that. We’ve got a great corps of defensemen right now that are signed for a number of years. They’re at the right age I think. That’s the area we targeted to improve our team the most. Today, from our staff and coaches standpoint we’re pretty thrilled.

On how hard it is to lose Sergei Gonchar:
With Sergei it was really difficult. We went into the last day, really the last night, about 11:30 p.m. I texted Sergei and asked him to consider one more thing. It wasn’t meant to be I think. He’s had a fantastic stay here, five years, a Stanley Cup, classy and dignity, represented us really well. I’m really happy for him. They got the three-year deal they were looking for. Ottawa will be a great place for him. He’ll be missed. He is one of the best players to play an offensive position from the defensive side. That’s hard. We won a Cup with him. It’s going to be very hard to see him leave. But those are decisions that you have to make. Once we made that he moved on, so did we. I’m glad we both ended up in a pretty good situation.

On why the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement with Gonchar:
I offered two years. That was all we were going to do. He wanted three or more. I understand his position. He’s 36 years old. No hard feelings at all. It was just a position from his side and our side. Nothing was ever acrimonious, it was just business. I wished him well at the end, so did he. We’ll have great memories of Sergei Gonchar here. He’s been a fantastic player and maybe a better person on and off the ice. There’s not much more I can say about Sergei. A lot of respect, but in the end it was a business decision for both of us.

On if the moves will help replace will Gonchar:
Nobody is going to replace Sergei Gonchar. Sergei is an extremely talented offensive player, good for 50, 60 points. What we’ll get in Paul Martin, Paul is a really smooth skating defenseman, great stick, good defensively, offensive production might be a little bit better than what he’s had in the past. He’s a real solid all-around player. He can play lots of minutes, an effortless skater. Michalek is a right-handed defenseman that we really liked. He’s 27 years old, a big body, 6-foot-2. He was really under the radar in Phoenix. He’s had a great career there. He was an under the radar swap with Minnesota a few years back, and he really blossomed in Phoenix under Dave Tippet. We’ve really liked him for a long time. Phoenix tried really hard to re-sign him. Unfortunately for them he became free. He was our first phone call today. We took care of that pretty quickly. Both should be real solid additions to what we already have in Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. That is a real solid defensive corps. We’re looking forward to having him play the blue line for a number of years for us.

On the top prospects contending for roster spots:
There’s a time when we have to give these guys an opportunity. We’re going to sit back over the next day or so and see what’s still out there from a forward standpoint. This is something we’ve talked about for a month internally. We need to address our defense. I made it clear that we’d like to sign Dan Hamhuis and Sergei Gonchar. That didn’t happen. We’re really, really ecstatic to have Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. They’re at the right age and are under a long-term contract. I like the look of our defense today and moving forward.

On who is likely to make the jump to the NHL:
We’re going to talk to the coaches again over the next day. We have guys like (Eric) Tangradi that should be pushing for a spot. (Mark) Letestu proved he can do a good job last year. We have Dustin Jeffery, Nick Johnson. These guys are deserving of some looks. We’re a team over the last four years that I’ve been here that we’ve had no problem scoring goals. We’re always in the top 4, 5 or 6. But unfortunately our goals against is not where we want it to be. So we wanted to tighten that up and address our defense. Honestly I think the group of free agent defenseman was much stronger than up front. We didn’t see any real difference makers up front. To go out and spend our money for a supposed wingers for a lot of money or term didn’t make sense to us right now. Our chance was to focus on the defense and we wanted to add good players at the right age. I think that’s what we did.

On the loss of Gonchar affecting Malkin:
I have talked to Geno at the end-of-the-year meeting and I’ve been in contact with him. He has assured me that if Gonch doesn’t come back that that is Gonch’s decision and that he will be fine. He has a number of good friends on this team. He has been over here for four years now and he is out (living in Pittsburgh) on his own. Having said that, what Sergei and Ksenia did for Geno, you can’t pay that back. They will still be training together in the summer. Geno is going to be fine and he will be ready to come back and have a real good year for himself.

On signing Michalek versus Volchenkov or Hamhuis:
Michalek was a guy we really wanted to target. I traded for Dan Hamhuis with the intention of signing Dan Hamhuis. When that didn’t seem to be coming to fruition – and we tried really hard to sign him – we wanted to see what else was out there. We made it very clear that his best chance to be a Penguin was before noon (on Thursday). When it got past 12 o’clock I told their side that we would be making phone calls and offers. I said we would keep in touch. This thing with Michalek came down right away. That was a guy we wanted to target. It says a lot about Paul Martin – who had a lot of suitors out there – that he wanted to come to Pittsburgh, which made us feel good. It worked out quite well for us. With these two signing with our team, defense is an area of strength. Last year I don’t think it was.

On looking at the free agent wingers out there:
Yeah, I think so. We are going to re-group this afternoon and tonight and just kind of see. There didn’t seem to be those kind of guys who are going to make a difference for the kind of money they were looking for. We’ll take a look and maybe we can do somebody on a one-year deal at a low number or just give our players an opportunity and see what training camp brings or later in the summer we can make a trade.

On Bill Guerin still being a realistic option:
Yeah I talked to Bill Guerin today. If he is getting something he is going to call me and vice versa. I can’t say Billy is out of the picture at this point. We’ll see how things shape up. The one promise I have to Billy is if we are going to move in another direction we are going to call him and let him know and vice versa.

On not making a deal for a player’s rights like the Hamhuis trade in the future:
I would do it again. I have known Dan for a long time. We had drafted him when I was in Nashville. He is a good defenseman. It’s competitive to get defensemen when they are free agents. If I have to spend a third-round draft pick to try to get a step up on someone – which in the end we didn’t get Dan Hamhuis but we got two other guys. I had four days to talk to Dan Hamhuis and I didn’t have to spend time talking to him today. If I didn’t have that opportunity maybe I would have missed out on somebody. I think it worked out well. I saw Dan signed with Vancouver, which is very close to home for him. That is a great landing spot for him as well.

On talking term and money with Hamhuis:
Yes, we talked with him. But we never got close before 12 o’clock (Thursday). He went to free agency, which was his right. I made it quite clear that once you do that – the best chance to make a deal is before 12 p.m. Obviously we didn’t do that, but I am happy with the two guys we got. I wish Dan well.

On improving the defense to help Marc-Andre Fleury:
I think we have really upgraded our defense with these two guys and the guys we have coming back and into the foreseeable future. When I talk about defense, I talk about our forwards playing better defense and not having some of the turnovers we saw last year. I talk about our defense as a group being active in the rush. Paul Martin and Michalek made a really good first pass. That is what I am talking about. Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson – in Marc’s case – are going to have to do a better job than last year. That is going to be his goal. I know he is focused on that. If he comes back and plays to his capabilities we are going to be in really great shape.

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