If the Stanley Cup championship was decided before even one regular-season game was played, then you could etch the Penguins’ name on the hardware.
At least, according to many preseason prognostications in the media
While all the preseason buzz and attention is nice, Penguins Executive Vice President/General Manager Ray Shero knows it’s way too early to schedule any parades.
“We can’t control what people write or what they say or what they think. I think it’s great for the league, especially when you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing for this franchise,” he said. “We had a pretty good year last year, but we know one thing: What people write and what people predict is not going to affect the way we conduct our business or our plan to move forward.
“It was no different last year. Last year people were saying we were going to be a last-place team, so it’s no different this year,” he continued. “Every team starts off the same. Our expectations last year were to try to be a playoff team. There are a number of teams that want to win the Stanley Cup, but we know it’s a very difficult league. A lot of teams in our conference got better; our division got better.
“Good teams miss the playoffs and I believe we’re a good team. We’ll see where this goes, but there are no shortcuts to where we want to go or how we’re going to get there. I said that when I was hired. We have to keep in mind we’re one year removed from a 58-point season. We want to put things in perspective. [Winning the Stanley Cup] is a long-term goal for a number of teams in the league, but we have shorter-term goals we have to take care of first. I think that is part of our foundation, because when I got hired, I said I wanted us to be a team that, when we make the playoffs, we want to stay there for a few years and be a good team.”
And, while the Penguins made the playoffs last season with a 105-point effort, that does not guarantee anything this season. That’s true especially in the salary cap era, where teams can improve dramatically in one offseason.
“You have to be respectful of this league. It’s very, very close and very tight. There are a lot of good teams,” Shero said. “You take a look at a team like Carolina that won the Stanley Cup and then missed the playoffs last year. We know they are going to be a top team. It just goes to show how you never know? We’ll see. It’ll be a big test for us to go there Friday and it’ll be a much-harder year for us, but that’s part of growing for our players.”
The Penguins experienced plenty of growth last season as they rose up the standings with their surge.
“Part of the growth of becoming a good team is the pressure and the adversity. Last season, I look at January and we were three or four games over .500, but we were starting to play some meaningful games, come-from-behind games, overtime games. Then, we started to play in front of a sold-out building and people were starting to recognize us as a team. That was part of the process of growing as a team,” Shero said. “This is also part of it, in terms of expectations and adversity – which we’re going to have – and how we’re going to handle it because you never have completely smooth sailing for any team. This is just part of the process we have to go through to be a good team in the long term.”
While seeing the Penguins earn a lot of preseason praise in the media is good, but Shero knows the team is focused on how the season starts and not how it ends.
“I think it’s nice. But, I think it’s more of a story for the league and the city of Pittsburgh than it is for this hockey team and players. Their focus is on Friday night,” he said. “I think we have shorter-term goals here. You can’t look at the end; you have to look at the beginning. Month to month, we want to get better. It’s no different than last year.
“These coaches and these players and myself are very respectful of the league and how difficult it is to win every night because it is so close. It’s a slight margin of error either way. So, hopefully we’re on the good side.”
Shero enjoyed watching the Penguins mesh last season and evolve into a playoff squad.
“It was fun last year,” he said. “Going from a 58-point team, I didn’t know if we were going to be a 60-point team, a 50-point team or a 105-point team, but that was part of watching the team grow and evolve.”
Even though the Penguins racked up 105 points in 2006-07, Shero knows that figure may not be reached this season. He is more concerned about seeing improvement on the ice, not necessarily in the standings.
“No doubt. To get 105 points or 110 points – the Islanders were the last team in the playoffs last year with 92 points and that’s a lot of points. We want to be a playoff team. That’s everybody’s goal. The teams might want to win the Stanley Cup, but you have to make the playoffs first and there’s a lot that goes into being a playoff team,” he said. “In three or four years from now, we still want to be a good team and hopefully hit our peak, but it’s certainly a work in progress. I don’t want to judge this team by its points. I know the expectations are higher this year because of what the team accomplished last year, but we want to judge the team based on how we do month by month. Hopefully, we will improve. We saw a lot of growth in our players last year and we’re looking for some of these guys to continue that or, if they want to have a bounce back year, there are a couple of guys in line to show if they want to be with the Penguins long term, we’ll see. But, there’s a lot to look forward to.”