Sunday will be a rare occasion for Penguins general manager Ray Shero and his family. It’s the one time all season they will watch the Nashville Predators, who take on the Penguins at Mellon Arena that afternoon, but won’t be cheering for the hockey team from the country music capital of the world.
The Nashville organization will always hold a special place in the hearts of the Shero family because prior to being tabbed to replace Craig Patrick as the Penguins general manager on May 25, 2006, Shero spent eight seasons as the assistant general manager for the Predators. Shero was with Nashville from their inaugural campaign in 1998-99 through the 2005-06 season.
“We still try to see them as much as we can on TV,” Shero said. “My kids really enjoy watching them still because they remember the players from watching them there when they were growing up. They know the coaches well so they like to catch Nashville whenever they are on TV.
“We don’t play them a lot obviously, but a lot of the players were there when I was there. We either drafted them or they played with us in (Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate in) Milwaukee. A lot of their guys have come up through the farm system. I was with their coaches for a lot of years and (Nashville general manager) David Poile. I have found memories of Nashville. I still root for the team to do well.”
Nashville’s way of running their franchise – they make the entire organization feel like one big family – had a tremendous effect on Shero. When the Penguins gave him his first chance to run an organization, he quickly set out to emulate the formula which worked so well for the Predators.
“When (former Predator’s majority owner) Craig Leipold owned the team, from Day 1 until he sold the team last year, they treated families and people with respect. (Nashville) is a great place to live and raise a family. A lot of players who have played in Nashville have stayed there after their career is over. It says a lot about the community and how they were treated.
“That also says a lot about the way Dave runs his operation. It’s a business but it’s also about life skills as well. Dave has two children and they were brought up the right way. That is also very important to me – the way he treats people and that was also nice to learn.”
I was with their coaches for a lot of years and (Nashville general manager) David Poile. I have found memories of Nashville. I still root for the team to do well. - Ray Shero
Because Shero knew the way he wanted his new organization to be run on a day-to-day basis, he wanted to surround himself with familiar faces from the Nashville organization who he knew could help him quickly establish success in the Steel City.
Among his first hires were current senior director of team services, Frank Buonomo, and director of player personnel, Dan Mackinnon, who originally joined the Penguins as the director of professional scouting.
“The first guy I hired was Dan MacKinnon,” Shero said. “He started out as scouting coordinator (for Nashville) back in 1999 or 2000 and now he is our director of player personnel with the Penguins. He has been with me for a long time. Frank Buonomo was also with me in Nashville and he is now our senior director of team services.
“It’s a familiarity thing that they know how we want to run the business. It’s nice to have that comfort level, especially with Dan and Frank, especially when we first came in 2006. That first month there was a lot to do and they were really a big help laying the foundation.”
Shero later added another top talent evaluator with ties to the Predators when current assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald was brought into the fold three seasons ago, originally as the Penguins director of player development. During his playing days, Fitzgerald was the first captain of the Predators.
Besides the family atmosphere Shero and Co. have created within the Penguins organization, they have also copied the Predators’ success building an organization from within. This includes finding late round gems in the draft, and then developing such talent at the AHL level.
Shero had a huge role in Nashville’s success, as he helped unearth late-round stars such as three-time 50-point scorer Martin Erat, pesky Jordin Tootoo, No. 1 netminder Pekka Rinne and current team-scoring leader Patric Hornqvist. He has continued that in Pittsburgh with selections such as Jordan Staal
, Luca Caputi and Dustin Jeffrey
“Paul Fenton, who is the assistant general manager in Nashville, has done a fantastic job drafting,” Shero said. “They may be one of the best drafting teams in the league. They have had to do it that way, through the draft, because of their financial situation and the market they are in. They have always been competitive every year. That goes to their coach, Barry Trotz. He has done an incredible job.
“Milwaukee has been their only (AHL) affiliate since they started in 1998 and at least half their players have played there. Peter Horachek coached there and now he is (Nashville’s) assistant coach. Todd Richards, who was an assistant coach (in Milwaukee), was with us (as the head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) for a while. Claude Noel, now the head coach in Columbus, was the head coach in Milwaukee.”
While all of the talented executives Shero worked with in Nashville taught him a trick or two along the way, nobody has had a stronger influence on Shero’s career than Poile, the only general manager in Nashville history.
“I wouldn’t be here without his help that is for sure,” Shero said. “I spent eight years with him. I learned an awful lot about managing, about life and about a lot of things that applied in my business life and my personal life. He is still a really good friend and a mentor to me. Everybody needs a mentor when they are in this business. He was mine for sure.”
The two watched the Penguins’ practice together on Saturday at Mellon Arena from the seats just above the East Igloo Club.
“It was great to catch up with him for sure,” Shero said. “I will go out to dinner (on Saturday) with my wife, him and the coaches. It should be fun.”