Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 05/21/08 at 05:22 PM ET
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero participated in a NHL teleconference today. Below is the transcript from the Q&A.
Q. Being swept up in the middle of this playoff run, have you had a chance to step back and appreciate what your team has done, the rebuilding process that has gone on in the last couple of years?
RAY SHERO: I think so. In between every round, there’s a different challenge, the first one being Ottawa, which was, honestly, a little nerve-racking. They were a team that beat us last year quite handily in five games. Trying to see how the team would react. Getting the early goal from Gary Roberts in Game 1, that was great.
But it’s been a great experience for our club here. Every round we’ve gone on, I think we’ve got more confidence. Hopefully we’re going to be ready for Saturday night.
Q. The story that your team has, and playing Detroit, does this make kind of an ideal finals in your mind?
RAY SHERO: I’m hoping so. It has the makings of what should be a great final with two really good, skilled hockey teams. Goaltenders are playing well. There’s the added mystery of not playing each other this year. I think that adds to the element.
I’m sure Kenny Holland is the same way. We’re hoping both teams will be able to play really good hockey, play their best hockey, and make for a great Stanley Cup final.
Q. Can you stand back in this exciting time and think back how close things could have gone the wrong way in terms of the team maybe leaving town because of the arena situation and how in a short period of time the team has its security in terms of staying in Pittsburgh but a quick turnaround on the ice as well?
RAY SHERO: Yeah, when I look back when I was hired in May of ‘06, maybe even halfway through our first year, ‘06/‘07, I just moved into our house. I told the story where my wife didn’t go about buying drapes and curtains, not certain if we were going to be here for the second year, whether the team was going to be sold or moved. A lot of uncertainty.
It just seemed maybe halfway through whenever the announcement game that Mario and the group were able to secure the club here, the new arena, it just seemed maybe from that time on, the team kind of took off. We have had a great second of the season ‘06/‘07. It seems all like a real long time ago, even though it wasn’t.
Q. Looking forward, I know you already warned me several times this spring not to ask these types of questions, but trying to keep the nucleus of this team together.
RAY SHERO: I’m going to warn you again (laughter).
Q. But do you look forward to that challenge? Cap going up help you out?
RAY SHERO: Yeah, it’s going to be a challenge for the Penguins and for a lot of different teams. Every team is going to have their certain issues every year. It’s going to be a challenge for us.
But it’s a good challenge in the fact that’s based upon having some very good talent here. It’s something that we’re prepared for. At the end of the season we’ll have to start making decisions internally, talking to players and see where they fit in. Hopefully guys are going to want to stay. I think we have a great thing going. I think we’re set up long-term. But that will take care of itself after the season. That’s when we’re going to start addressing it.
Q. There’s a lot of interest down here in Atlanta about this run that you are making, specifically because of Marian and Pascal. Can you talk about the impact they’ve made on this playoff run.
RAY SHERO: Well, certainly with Pascal, and both players really have been critical for our success here in different ways, but in the same way almost. They’re both very good defensive players, both Marian and Pascal. Great teammates. They’ve really helped out. Marian is obviously having a great playoffs for us. I think he’s got nine goals. Even before he started scoring in the Ottawa series, it really seemed that he was a really good fit for our hockey team based upon his all-around game. Those nine goals were really slow in coming. People were starting to get on him a little bit. He’s come through with flying colors. Certainly the game winner in overtime in Game 5 against the Rangers.
But both players have been a really good fit for us. They’re both playing with Crosby. In one trade you get two players to play with Sid. That’s been really good for us. As the players and people down in Atlanta know, they’re both good players, good people. They’ve been an all around good success for us here.
Q. How does that change your team when you can put those two guys with Sid and have those two lines?
RAY SHERO: I think part of the thing is that we’re looking to add some team speed, whether it was at the deadline, getting quicker. Certainly with both players, they’ve really helped our team speed on the penalty kill where they both contributed. Being able to put them with Sid, Marian can score goals, good down low, good defensively. Sid is a guy with speed and drive and tough to contain. And Pascal creates holes with his speed, driving to the net.
To be able to put those two guys out there, I think it’s really rounded out Sid’s games. He’s really felt comfortable there. They’re really starting to click. So that’s good news.
Q. Do you feel some of the pressure is lifted off of Marian’s shoulders based on how he’s performed this playoffs?
RAY SHERO: I think so. I can’t answer for him certainly. You look back, that first goal he scored against Ottawa in Ottawa I think Game 3, it just seemed, wow, it was great to see that go in. And Sidney Crosby’s reaction, he was really happy for him. Being able to have success in the playoffs, you know, the guys are pulling for him because certainly he helps you win, but he’s a good player, good teammate.
But to see the success, where he is now, his team being in the finals, him having a big part to do with it, I feel very good for him. I think he feels some relief. But he’s got four games more to have more relief.
Q. I want to talk about Michel Therrien for a minute. Not everyone that comes in as a GM keeps on the coach. I wanted to know why you did. Can you talk about his evolution as coach.
RAY SHERO: When I came in, one of the things is there had been a lot of change here. The last 25 games, 20 games of the previous season, the ‘05/‘06, the team played pretty well, had some structure. I got some real good advice from my former boss and mentor in Nashville, David Poile. When he first went to Washington in ‘82, he had a coach there in Bryan Murray. They did not know each other. He elected to give it a try. They lasted seven or eight years together. That’s another good piece of advice that David has given me. That worked out well for both me and Michel.
I saw Michel coach a lot in junior and the American League. Our team played against them in the finals in ‘04, I believe it was. I didn’t know him before I came here as a person or a coach. Maybe had a reputation in junior or whatever. What I see here is a guy that’s got a system. He’s got a commitment to his team, to his players. I found him to be very loyal to players, very loyal to his staff, and loyal to me.
The evolution of him I think is a maturity. I think the Montréal experience was very good for his career, very good in the fact that in that environment, with the team, the pressure at a young age, when he gets let go there, gets fired, coincidentally by the general manager Andre Savard, now his assistant coach, works in funny ways, but I think it makes you a better, more responsible coach.
Like all good coaches, he had to take a step back, went to the American League, had success, now back in the NHL. I think that experience has been good for him. I think that experience has come full circle.
Q. What have you learned from your father that is helping you in your job today?
RAY SHERO: He was a coach, long-time coach. Was a general manager for about two, two and a half years. In terms of applying coaching to managing, that’s a tough thing to do. Probably what he’s given to me growing up was just the ability to be around. By that I mean he always let me come to practice. He always let me hang around the locker room. He always let me hang around in his coach’s office.
I remember the one year in Philadelphia, when he was coaching, his assistant coaches were Pat Quinn and Terry Crisp, the goaltending coach was Jacques Plante. I am in that company at 14 years old. You learn the game. You hear things. I think that has helped me apply things.
I’ve learned I think from my father the game of hockey. I’ve learned a lot from my mother, who has the personality—I’m more like my mother, a little more outgoing than my father ever was. I’ve taken them both and applied them both in my life and my job.
From the hockey end, my father really helped me. I learned a lot from his little diagrams and systems, just watching and learning growing up. So I think I’ve tried to apply that best I can.
Q. Are you surprised at how quickly the rebuilding process has produced significant results, reaching the Stanley Cup finals now? And can you pinpoint a time during that rebuilding process where you just knew this organization, this franchise, was headed in the right direction?
RAY SHERO: I’d say, yeah, I’m certainly surprised. When I was given the job in May of ‘06, I didn’t know exactly what we had here. We made a lot of changes. There were some really good parts in place by Craig Patrick and Greg Malone in particular that left here. Their imprint is still on this team. They deserve a lot of credit for what we are.
But when you’re coming off of 58 points, not certain how quickly this thing is going to turn, the first thing is to be competitive on the ice. I think we established that the first 10 games of ‘06/‘07. We started 7-3. I think we got some hope and belief we were a pretty decent team, that we can be in the league. We kind of fell off a little bit. We were around .500 at Christmastime.
The first time I really thought we have a pretty good team here, I can’t remember when it was exactly but it might have been when Jordan Staal had a hat trick up in Toronto. We beat them in overtime. It was a real satisfying game. It was a Saturday night, national TV audience. Hockey Night in Canada. I wasn’t even at the game. I was watching on TV. I turned to my wife and said, Geeze, I think we have a pretty good team here.
Just seemed to come together. The team had confidence the second half of that ‘06/‘07 season. Games like that, plays like that, really make you believe that you got something going. Certainly having guys like Crosby and Malkin doesn’t hurt. That was a huge steppingstone for our franchise. So I think that was the first time I realized we got something here.
Q. Detroit pretty much has the patent on Hockey Town U.S.A., but where do you think Pittsburgh fits in that constellation of U.S. hockey towns? Do you think it’s right up there? How much of that is due to the relative freshness of your success and can you see how some of Detroit’s decline in terms of fan participation is due to the fact they’ve been good for a long time?
RAY SHERO: That might have something to do with it. The economy maybe. The baseball, certainly the basketball team is still doing well. I think just speaking for a city like Pittsburgh, we’ve all been to Detroit, it is an unbelievable hockey town and we’re looking forward to playing there. A lot of our players, it will be a first-time experience. I know they’re looking forward to playing in the Joe, the history there, the great players.
But the town of Pittsburgh, I mean, it’s a serious hockey town. This last couple years has rekindled I think what they had 16 years ago with Mario, Jagr, the great teams that won the Cups. They had some really good years. The fans are excited again. It’s been a while. The fans are feeling it.
We’ve been sold out for, I don’t know, 60 some games in a row. You can’t get tickets. It’s a real hot thing, which is great.
I think this team has really evolved. The fans are excited again about the hockey club, which is just great. I know the players are excited. The players I think have done a great job in the community. These guys have really made themselves part of it, the whole idea of connecting with the fans, we have a young team, we have a young fan base, they’ve really related to this group. Whether it’s the players delivering season tickets at the beginning of the year, the college lines coming here during the season, the lineup for college night, players going out and delivering pizza, it’s a connection with the fans that I think is great. I hope it bodes well for us in the future with all the fans, having that connection moving forward.
Q. Could you talk about the step up and play for Ryan this year. He talked about how he kind of put it all together in this, his fourth year. What do you see as the key for his heightened success this year?
RAY SHERO: I’ve been asked that question a lot this year. I don’t have a hundred percent answer as to why it is. He always had the talent. He had the size. He had a lot of inconsistencies in his game. I talked to him last year. He was going through some tougher times last year. I talked to him a few times. He had been a first-, second-year guy scoring 20, 22 goals, whatever it was. But the team wasn’t very good. The challenge for him was to be a good player on a good team. It’s not as hard to be a good player on a bad team. He said that to me this summer, that was going to be his goal, he wanted to be a good player on a good team. He thought this was going to be a good hockey team.
I really believe that Ryan at 27, 28 years old, he got married this summer, newborn baby, I think it’s a contract year for him, whatever incentive it is for him to have the year he’s had, good for him. The best thing I can say about Ryan this year, I can say many good things about him, but the best thing is he’s been a really good teammate, he’s become a leader. He stood up for his teammates. He scored timely goals. He’s played tough. He’s killed penalties. He’s playing the power play. You know, he’s really been a big part of our success here.
It’s really good because he’s taken the Ryan Malone of the first few years, people look at him as pretty carefree, but here is a guy that’s taken a leadership role on a team that’s in the Stanley Cup finals. I know when we had a injury to Gary Roberts earlier in the year, the coaches decided to give him the A, that really meant something to him. A kid from Pittsburgh. I think that’s just maybe a testament to how far he’s come as a player and as a person, so I’m very happy for him.
Q. He has some roots in Minnesota. Your dad spent some time here with the Saints, actually.
RAY SHERO: Absolutely. I was born in St. Paul. He coached the Fighting Saints. I still have some nice memories growing up for a few years in White Bear Lake, learning to skate on the ponds, getting some stitches falling on my head. Those are my memories of Minnesota (laughter).
Q. What fond memories can you recall in the days leading up to the Cup finals when your dad was a coach and are they similar for you today?
RAY SHERO: I was 12 years old in 1974 when they beat the Rangers in seven games, went on to play Boston in the Stanley Cup finals. I have all kinds of memories about that. I remember every game, going to the pregame skates with my father. Basically I have two boys right now, one being 12, one being 9. They’re at the same age growing up around it. It was a real exciting time.
The similarities, you know, Philadelphia, it had been a while. I think they were in their seventh year in the league. They were kind of building to that. The fans really just took a real attachment to that hockey team, the Broad Street Bullies. A long time in Philadelphia without any sort of championship, let alone a Stanley Cup. I see the same thing here in terms of the fan base really connecting with this team, a young group, they really identified with.
It was a great experience. Hopefully it’s a great experience for my kids, they can always look back and remember this. That’s what I do, I look back to ‘74, ‘75, when they won the Cups there at that age. The excitement around the town, it’s a special time, and you always look back on it fondly, whether you’re a father, a coach, or a kid.
Q. How impressed have you been with your team’s poise and composure in the playoffs and how important do you think that will be against an experienced team like the Wings?
RAY SHERO: It’s going to be critical. I think we do have a pretty young team, but we have some really good veterans that have been through it as well, Peter Sykora, Gary Roberts, Darryl Sydor. They’re the voices of reason for us. We talk about having a young group or a young team. Sidney Crosby is 20 years old. Evgeni Malkin is 21. They’re young in age, but these guys are top players. These guys are star/superstar players ready to take the next step, which they’ve done this year.
I’ve been very impressed the poise our entire team has shown this year. Whenever we’ve had that adversity, we’ll have it in this year for sure, we’ve been able to bounce back, refocus, whether it’s a timely game from Marc-Andre Fleury, a timely save or a big period, we’ve really responded this year. We’re going to need that and more against Detroit.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the reemergence of Ryan Whitney?
RAY SHERO: Ryan Whitney is a guy that had a tremendous year last year. I think he had 58 points or something like, one of the top-scoring defensemen in the league. His season has been a little bit up and down. He’s played really well recently for us. A big part of our success this year in the playoffs has been the emergence of Kris Letang, Ryan Whitney, the play of Sergei Gonchar. I mean, we’ve had a nice balance on the fence with Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, guys that have played that defensive role. Of course, Brooks Orpik has played tremendous for us the second half of the year in the playoffs. Guys like Whitney, Letang and Gonchar, we really didn’t have last year like that puck moving and the combination of defensive guys.
Ryan is a huge part of this hockey team. He’s just on the cusp of how good he’s going to be. We’ve got him signed for five more years after this. That’s certainly a buy-in by us that he’s got the tremendous upside. But he’s a big part of our team. His role in the power play has been reduced a little bit because Malkin is playing the point on the first power play unit. That was his role most of the year. He’s one of the better guys at it. So we’re pretty fortunate to have guys like Gonchar, Malkin, Whitney and Letang to play the power play for us.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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