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Penguins rumors: Will Ray Shero remain the GM? Should he?

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma seems to be drawing the biggest spotlight for the Pens failures, however his boss, general manger Ray Shero, is on the hot seat too.

It's no longer all smiles for Shero and Bylsma (with USA GM David Poile, center)
It's no longer all smiles for Shero and Bylsma (with USA GM David Poile, center)
Bruce Bennett

The Pittsburgh Penguins are left to consider their future, after their fifth straight season of disappointment since winning the Stanley Cup back in 2009. In what was an unthinkable move until recently, will General Manager Ray Shero be shown the door?

Rob Rossi of the Tribune-Review says that upper management is still in discussions:

Lemieux, fellow majority co-owner Ron Burkle and CEO David Morehouse met Wednesday to determine the future of general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma, sources told the Tribune-Review. The Penguins' top brass also met before Game 7 — in New York and Pittsburgh — to evaluate the state of the franchise, the sources said.

Ownership is not happy with a perceived lack of accountability, overall team toughness and poor drafts, the sources said.

No decision on Shero had been made as of Wednesday, but ownership favored terminating Bylsma, the sources said.

Lemieux, also the Penguins' chairman, preferred keeping Shero, the general manager since May 2006. Burkle believed the Penguins needed a new general manager to rebuild a potential championship roster around captain Sidaney Crosby, the sources said.

Regardless of how much stock you put into Rossi's reporting, could Shero's decisions put him in a position where his job is in question? Below, some of the reasons that Shero might find himself on the hot seat.

Linking himself to Bylsma

Last year, after the embarrassing sweep suffered at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Ray Shero went to bat for Dan Bylsma to his bosses. From that Rossi piece:

Ownership believed Bylsma lost the dressing room this season, specifically the support of Crosby and Malkin, the sources said.

The sources added that Burkle contended Shero specifically tethered himself to Bylsma, whom he signed to a two-year extension after the Penguins were swept from the Eastern Conference final last June. That is why the length of Bylsma's deal was made to run concurrent with the final years remaining on Shero's contract, the sources said.

If Bylsma were deemed necessary to replace, Shero would be held accountable, the sources said.

"Dan's my coach," Shero said last June.

Shero told his wife to be ready to move if the Penguins lost Game 7 against the Rangers, the sources said.

If Bylsma has in fact "lost" the room, that could be devastating news for Shero, who's seen by his bosses as being linked with the coach. Shero, for self-preservation purposes, might have been better off pushing Bylsma under the bus last summer. To his credit, Shero didn't, so now it appears the two are in it together.

Poor drafting/development

Poor drafting and development may be more on the scouts, player personnel people and minor league coaches than it is on Shero, however "the buck stops" with the GM.

The Pensblog did a masterful job recently, breaking down the drafting tendencies and results by Shero. We here at Pensburgh did a similar analysis last summer as well. The verdict isn't surprising: the Penguins have done a terrible job at converting draft picks into Pittsburgh Penguins. The team has lacked speed, energy and the youthful burst (and cheap entry level contracts) that other top contending teams have rode to Stanley Cups in the past five years.

With his first 8 years of first round draft picks:
  • 4 were traded (either as prospects or before the Pens even made the pick- 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013)
  • 2 young, inconsistent players with promise (Simon Despres, Beau Bennett)
  • 1 home-run (Olli Maatta)
  • And Jordan Staal, who worked out (even if they passed on Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel to pick Staal) and then was traded for a package another promising, but untested prospect in Derrick Pouliot

Of Shero's 8 second round picks:
  • 2 are complete busts (Carl Sneep, Keven Veilleux),
  • 2 were traded before the Pens made the pick (2008, 2010)
  • 1 isn't looking promising (Philip Samuelsson)
  • 1 is looking promising (Scott Harrington)
  • 2 are too early to tell, not yet at professional level (Tristan Jarry, Teddy Blueger).
That's a horrible batting average on the top picks. Shero's apparent strategy to rarely if ever draft players from European leagues and select almost exclusively North American trained players has also closed off potential avenues of talent for the Penguins.

Bad Free Agent Contracts

In a vacuum giving Tanner Glass $1.1 million a year for two years might not be the worst thing. But giving a 4th line grinder who was a healthy scratch in 15 out of 28 playoff games in his two years with the team that kind of salary cap space is a problem. The team's salary structure was already hamstrung with top talent eating up a large amount of cap room, every dollar becomes important and Shero paid about twice as much he should have for a true 4th line winger with very limited upside.

Zbynek Michalek got $4 million dollars for five years and turned out to be an awful fit. Luckily, the Pens were able to trade him back to Phoenix for a minimal return to clear that mistake.

Let's not forget the Penguins were in the hunt back in summer 2012 to give Zach Parise and Ryan Suter long-term contracts that would have saddled the team with large cap hits until those players were deep into their 30's, and past peak performance. Perhaps fortunately for Pittsburgh, the two decided to sign with Minnesota for a combined cap hit of $15.032 million dollars a season.

And, of course, the crown jewel now appears to be the four year, $13.5 million contract for Rob Scuderi, who was an absolute liability on the ice, and at 35 years old is only going to get worse as time goes on. If only Ray Shero could have known this was too long of a contract, oh wait, he admitted as much on the day he announced it.

Over-aggressive Rentals that didn't fit Team Needs

At first, Ray Shero couldn't miss when it came to acquiring veteran talent at the trade deadline who were considered rentals. Gary Roberts, Marian Hossa and Bill Guerin were all brought to Pittsburgh in three consecutive years from 2007-09. (Guys like Hal Gill and Chris Kunitz we won't count, they had a contract for the following year and weren't rentals).

Then in 2010 Shero acquired Alexei Ponikarovsky for a second round pick and he lost his magic. The following year the Pens rental addition (so, not James Neal) would be 38 year old Alex Kovalev.

2013 would be the mother of debacles, with the Pens acquiring Jarome Iginla, only to use the career right-wing on the left side, after Sidney Crosby broke his jaw and never got the time to break Iginla into his line before the playoffs. Then they traded for Brenden Morrow, who was a step-slow in Bylsma's system, and Douglas Murray, who would be 5 steps slow in anyone's system.

The combined price for those 3 additions would be 2 first round picks, 2 second round picks and two other prospects. It didn't work and none of them stuck around.

in 2014, the Penguins only could acquire Lee Stempniak (3 playoff points) and Marcel Goc (1 playoff point) in exchange for third round picks a piece. Other, better wingers like Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson were traded for 2nd round picks....Which Pittsburgh couldn't offer, since they had already traded this year's second round pick last year.

Loyal Soldier Contracts

Rewarding the veteran guys you like with contracts, when really you shouldn't based on merit. Like:
  • The aforementioned Scuderi contract. Shero signed him in 2013 because he thought he was getting 2009 Rob Scuderi. Instead he got a guy who was 4 years older and slower, because 4 years has gone by.
  • Last summer, then 36 year old Craig Adams signed a two year, $700,000 (per year) deal with the Penguins. I'm not even certain any other team in the NHL would have offered the aged Adams even a one year deal. This is the third consecutive 2 year contract that Shero has given Adams, after claiming the replacement level player on waivers in 2009. The money isn't the issue, the roster spot and fact that the Pens have never, ever made Adams a healthy scratch is, considering his limited skill-set.
  • After playing 23 games in a backup role in 2009-10 with a totally replaceable .906 save %, the Penguins gave then 33-year old Brent Johnson a two year contract for $600,000 per year. It wasn't a wise choice, as the 35 year old Johnson in 2011-12 posted a .883 save %, and the team didn't have the cap flexibility to get a better backup and had to watch Marc-Andre Fleury totally and utterly collapse in the 2012 playoffs vs. the Flyers.
  • Eric Godard got a three year, one-way contract from 2008-2010 for $750,000 a year. The enforcer has died off, so it might be too much hindsight to attack here, but the fact remains- Ray Shero gave a hockey player who couldn't play hockey a 3 year contract.

Take the Positives with the Negatives

This was just meant to be a look at Shero's mis-steps. We all know he's had several victories and very wise choices that have set the Penguins up for success. But for all the talk on how Dan Bylsma's job is on the line, it's important to remember that Bylsma's just the chef. Ray Shero has been in charge of buying the ingredients for eight years now.

Based on the job he's done, and the fact the Pens as an organization aren't where they want to be, the debate is valid. Should Ray Shero keep his job?