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Grading Ray Shero: Part II

As promised, Justin, GoPens! and I took your questions and worked them into a roundtable of sorts.  If we missed a few here or there it's probably because we started sending the e-mails around before you got your questions up.  In either case, you should know by now that it's cool by us if you toss them up in the comments.  So let em rip.

After the jump, your questions answered.

Is Tangradi ready for the big time as a top 6 winger? - RandyF

GoPens!: I think he is. He's got great size (6'4", 221 lbs), and he can use it in a lot of different ways, like in front of the net, along the boards, or      rushing up against d-men. If he's placed in a bottom six role, then he won't get that much of an opportunity to contribute, since he'll have mediocre    teammates, fewer minutes, and not as many o-zone starts. I'd put him at wing on the 2nd line to start the season so he avoids the pressure and competition the first line usually sees. 

FrankD: I think he's ready to play at the NHL level but, as is my perception of a lot of guys who join the club from the WBS level, I'm concerned about rushing guys into the mix.  But how long can you really sit on a guy like Tangradi?  I say you work him in slowly and see if he can develop into a winger similar to what Fedotenko was in his prime: a big-time threat on the forecheck, quick on his feet and a goal scorer.  That would pay huge dividends for the Pens.

JustinM: I think that he probably is, and I also think that the team doesn't really have much choice unless that Brett Sterling acquisition turns out to be a truly prescient signing, a diamond in the rough that everyone else passed on because he's not 5'9" or taller. It's possible, but even though I'm a fan of GMs willing to sign short guys contra to conventional wisdom, it's far from probable considering that he's already 26 years old. Chances are better that he is what he is, and Eric Tangradi will be the only option for the Pens.

Are they still looking to potentially sign a 3rd line center ? - RandyF (Part II)

GoPens!: My guess is no. Talbot and Adams are both centermen, so if Staal moves up to the second slot, one of them can move up to center the third line. That leaves a hole in the 4th line, which can be filled by someone like Nick Johnson or Dustin Jeffrey. I don't think it would be wise to spend some of our salary cap space for a bottom six forward, especially when we already have plenty of those signed in our system. 

FrankD: I have to agree with GoPens! here.  If anything, a third-line center or grinder sort of forward could realistically be in the Penguins' price range, but I think they're just about set in that department.  Line promotions aside, I don't see them doing more than potentially calling up an AHL guy to fill that kind of role.

JustinM:  Doubt it.  They've already got several people who can fill that role if Jordan Staal moves to the second line:  Maxime Talbot, Michael Rupp, Craig Adams, Mark Letestu, and probably others I'm not thinking of.  You have to realize that 5 of the 6 people who were regulars in the bottom six are centers by trade.  It's a very nice problem to have, and one that can kind of take care of itself to some degree if Staal indeed does end up playing center to Evgeni Malkin's wing or vice versa.

Shero has moved a lot of draft picks. One question is, is he getting value in return. Granted, you overpay to make a cup run, but long term, how does it affect the farm depth? - TartanBill

GoPens!: As to the question of getting value in return, this is an unequivocal yes. In the last three years, we've been to the playoffs all three times, made it to at least the second round every year, the Cup Final twice, and won it all last year. If we weren't getting value in return, we wouldn't have that track record. As to the second question, it will have a negative impact on farm depth, but how negative is anyone's guess. Chances are that a lot of the picks or players we traded or gave away never become impact players in the NHL.

FrankD: I'll jump out of the realm of hockey for a few minutes and just say that we shouldn't have to worry about the Pens turning into the New York Yankees.  A farm system in hockey is far more crucial than a system in baseball, salary cap not withstanding.  With that said, I don't think fans have to worry much with regards to watching the farm team slowly turn into an ECHL team playing at the AHL level.  The guys down there are good.  Look at the internal moves made over the past three years from WBS: Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski.  Of the three, GoGo is probably the one who can use the most work, but let's also not forget that he's coming off his first full NHL season.  Nevertheless, that's an average of one guy per year stepping up to take on an NHL role.  I'll take it.  If Tangradi makes the jump this year that's four, and if Simon Despres makes the jump to WBS this year, then he could be a nice consideration for the 2011-12 season.  [Edit: I'm an idiot and keep forgetting Despres is only 19 and, thus, not eligible for the AHL.  In other words, I'm not worried.  And you shouldn't be either.

JustinM:  I'm not worried about it.  Draft picks in the 3rd round and later are notoriously inconsistent and thus have little true value. It seems, actually, that teams overvalue the lower-round draft picks in my opinion when there are always, /always/ guys available on the open market who can fill those roles at the AHL and NHL level if that's what you want, and they can come just as cheap as a draft pick can.  It's a rare bird indeed that ends up like a Henrik Zetterberg or a Jaroslav Halak, and it will continue to become rarer still with the increased amount of international scouting in recent years.

The last two playoff series the Penguins have lost — in the 2nd round to MTL last year and in the SCF to Detroit in 07-08 — the opposition has focused on shutting down Crosby (and his line) and the Pens were unable to get sufficient offense from anywhere else. Is there are plan to adjust for this, and if so, what is it? - Diomedes7

GoPens!: I don't think that there's going to be any changes to Crosby's line. He'll have Kunitz and probably Dupuis flanking him this year. He will have better d-men behind him, though, which will have a big impact on everyone's performance. I think the biggest adjustment will be moving Staal and Malkin together. No team has two D-pairings and two forward lines that are talented enough to shut down a Crosby-Kunitz-Dupuis line and a Staal-Malkin-Tangradi line. 

FrankD: I feel Ray Shero would be best to answer this question, but if I had to throw in my two cents I'd say the best solution would be to have Malkin amp it up on the other line(s).  If a team's top defensive pairing is so focused on shutting down Crosby, then you'd have to hope that a mismatch would exist for Malkin.  Now granted, Geno didn't have the best of years, but he did have to deal with an injury earlier in the season.  There's always a haze hanging over injuries in the NHL and I wonder if, deep down, he ever got back to 100% percent at any point afterward.  Like in any sport focusing on man-to-man coverage, if two guys are shutting down Crosby that means someone is wide open somewhere on the ice.  Best solution would be to find that person and have them bury it.  Easier said than done of course.

JustinM:  It's going to continue to be a problem as long as Sidney Crosby is flanked by guys like Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin.  You should expect Kunitz to pick up his game in 2010-2011, but the long and short of it is that GoPens! and Frank are absolutely right here. Malkin's line needs to be able to carry the load if the opposition decides to shut down Crosby.  The checking lines need to get in and create the "dirty" goals around the net as well, but we have to be realistic about how much secondary scoring you're really going to get on a team like this, too.

What are Shero’s biggest proven weaknesses during his tenure with the Club? - Ulf Murphy

GoPens!: I think most will say that he sacrifices depth and the farm system for the "win now" mentality, but I think this criticism is overblown. We haven't been losing out on serious talent that's going to tear the league up anytime soon, and the reality is that the Penguins exist to win the Stanley Cup every year, not build up a great system in WBS. With that being said, nothing really comes to mind as a weakness for Shero. He's avoided many of the traps a lot of the GM's fall into, and he built a Cup winner along the way. Tough to argue with that.

FrankD: Can't really say.  He's obviously played a huge part in turning this club around.  Had the Pens not won the Cup last season, I guess I would've said, "Not winning the Cup yet."  But since he's done that, it's considered a Mission Accomplished in my mind.  I suppose the real pressure now is trying to win again.

JustinM:  My first reaction is that he doesn't have any that are glaring, and in fact he's made few actual mistakes that I can come up with, and most of those are debatable.  If you held a gun to my head and told me to come up with something, I guess it's that he seems to be somewhat sentimental in his off-season dealings.  When it was clear to most of us that Sergei Gonchar wasn't going to be back, Shero swore that he was going to try to get him signed.  The same could be said of Guerin.  But that's all I can come up with, and it's a stretch.

Do you believe that the Penguins are moving away from the traditional model of build from within, since the core of the team is SO young? ie we have one of the weakest farm systems in the NHL and Shero continues to trade away valuable picks. - Ulf Murphy (Part II)

GoPens!: I think this is more a statement than a question.

FrankD: I don't think you can really say the Penguins have the weakest farm system in the NHL.  I mean, the WBS squad consistently makes the playoffs (even though they got swept last season), but there has been a significant drop in talent on that team.  However, wouldn't you say there has been a boost of it on the NHL level?  2007-08, Pittsburgh goes to the Finals and loses to the Red Wings.  That same year, WBS goes to the Finals and loses to Chicago, if I recall, without Kris Letang or Tyler Kennedy.  In 2008-09, Pittsburgh goes to the Finals with Tyler Kennedy and Kris Letang officially locked up and on board and Alex Goligoski called up as a reserve.  They win the Cup, while WBS loses to Hershey in the second round.  Last season Pittsburgh loses in second round to Montreal and WBS gets swept by Albany.  So there is definitely a trend, but I guess this season will really show the depth of the farm, especially after we get a look at prospect camp and who may make the jump to NHL level or come in from QMJHL, etc.

JustinM:  To some degree, maybe, but like I said above, the net effect of losing draft picks in the third through the seventh round is negligible, at least in the short term, and so I have a hard time caring when he makes some of those moves.  Either way, like Frank said, I don't think the farm system is as bad as all that.  You have to realize, too, that this organization is set up to benefit the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Wilkes-Barre team are mere pawns in that game.  We are not the Washington Capitals who seek to have Hershey win the Calder Cup every year.  Most Pens fans couldn't even tell you what the Baby Pens do for good or for bad, and I don't see anything wrong with that.

Where does GMRS’s job end, and HCDB’s job begin? And vice versa. - PopRocks
All this moving Staal to wing discussions are tighlty tied with the proposed discussion on the roles of GMRS and HCDB. Who decides what we need? How does the communicatoin work between the GM and HC? - Nut1976

GoPens!: I grouped these questions together since they are really similar. The first thing that comes to mind is that both Shero and Bylsma are really smart guys, and I can't see them having a serious disagreement over something important. My guess is that they talk to each other about everything related to the team, and I doubt we make a serious move in free agency or otherwise without both of these guys having a briefing and an opportunity to provide input. It'd be tough to divide up responsibilities beyond the obvious, so I'll leave that to everyone else.

FrankD: Good questions.  For the first one, Shero's job is to notice holes in the system and fill them, be they minor league or otherwise.  I'm sure he and Bylsma meet to discuss the areas of concern, potential targets, etc. but it's ultimately his job to take care of that situation.  Bylsma's job, by description, starts and ends on the rink.  Anything on the rink - camps, practice, games - that's his job.  Shero just sits back at that point and sees where his moves fit in.  It's up to Bylsma to relay that info.  If a guy is dragging and Shero thinks there's no place on the Pens, he'll test the market and see what he can get in return for him.  If a guy gets injured, Shero gets on the horn and calls up WBS to see who he wants to call up.  Again, I'm sure there's a lot of back and forth between him and DB, but he makes the final call.

As for the second question, I suppose it'd be Bylsma's decision on where to put Staal since it's his job to manage the lines and work the chemistry of the team.  If he doesn't think Staal will make it on the wing, it's his job to make (and stick to) that decision.  He'd then relay it to Shero.  If they want to troubleshoot the situation they'll likely brainstorm and see what they can do about it.  If Shero doesn't see it as a roster issue, then it's up to DB to work around it.  Ultimately, I think it comes down mostly to Staal's ability/transition and Bylsma's decision.  Don't think it'd impact Shero's job much.

JustinM:  I'm going to agree with Frank again here.  I think that moving guys between levels is Shero's purview, but that he does so with the knowledge that Bylsma knows who he wants for any given callup.  I think that Bylsma gets the final say in where people play any given night, but that Shero has the power to force his hand, say, by signing a guy whose position is obviously 3C and nothing but 3C. And I think this interplay is mirrored in sports franchises everywhere, not just here in Pittsburgh, and not just the Penguins.