by Tony on 02/08/13 at 11:54 AM ET
Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
The body of work of a General Manager in any professional sport is never static. There will always be an immediate reaction to the moves a GM makes, whether that be a draft pick, trade or free agent signing. But to be fair, you have to continually look back at moves made in previous years to get a complete snapshot of the GM's performance.
No GM is perfect. There will always be moves that will considered a failure, it's simply inevitable. The trick is to make those failed moves as infrequent as possible. And Penguins' GM Ray Shero, or GMRS as we like to call him, doesn't make many of them, and the Penguins' ascension back to the top of the NHL is a testament to his accomplishments.
Oh sure, there are some duds.
The 2010 trading of then-prospect forward Luca Caputi and defenseman Martin Skoula to the Leafs for Alexei Ponikarovsky comes to mind. As it turned out, Caputi's career has fizzled, currently still playing in the AHL. So we can politely call that one a push.
But there's not too many more since GMRS took the reins back in 2006. Moreover, the vast majority of his transactions have to be considered at the very least successes.
Back in 2008 on Trade Deadline Day Shero pulled a last-minute stunner, pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade, obtaining Marian Hossa for wingers Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, then highly regarded prospect Angelo Esposito and a 1st-round draft choice to Atlanta. And, oh yeah, they also threw in winger Pascal Dupuis for good measure. It was a controversial move, not only moving Esposito but a 1st round pick and a locker room favorite in Army. Of course, Hossa ended up being a significant asset in the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup Finals that year. Not only that, but Armstrong and Christensen have turned out to be role players, while Esposito has been relegated to playing in Italy. In the meantime, Dupuis had a career-best 25 goals last season, and has consistently been a steady linemate of Sidney Crosby on the Pens' 1st line.
But it's two other trades that are now looking extremely lopsided.
In February 2009, Shero moved offensive defenseman Ryan Whitney to Anaheim for rugged winger Chris Kunitz and power forward Eric Tangradi. While Tangradi has been a disappointment so far in his early NHL career, Kunitz has joined Dupuis as Crosby's winger and has performed very well. He has provided a steady forecheck and an occasional scoring touch, recently generating four goals this past Sunday against the Capitals. Meanwhile, not only did Whitney subsequently get traded again the next year to Edmonton, he has now been a healthy scratch.
And the topper: Two years later, in February 2011, GMRS traded yet another offensive defenseman, Alex Goligoski, to the Dallas Stars. He received winger James Neal and then-struggling defenseman Matt Niskanen in the deal. After struggling in the months following the trade with the Penguins, Neal exploded in the 2011-2012 season, scoring 40 goals on Evgeni Malkin's wing. He's continued where he left off last year, already scoring 7 goals in the Pens' first 11 games. Not to be outdone, Niskanen has turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise, providing the Penguins with much-needed defensive presence on the blue line, and is now firmly planted among the Penguins' defensive starters. But in Dallas, Goligoski, even though he received an $18 million contract extension in 2012, has recently been a healthy scratch as well.
In retrospect, they were quite similar deals. Shero traded offensive defensemen who were lacking in the, you know, defensive aspects of their position. Perhaps the teams trading with Shero overestimated Whitney's and Goligoski's defensive attributes. All I can say to that is regular watchers of the Penguins saw it.
The 2012 Draft Day trade of Jordan Staal to Carolina for Brandon Staal, Brian Dumoulin and the 1st round pick that turned out to be defenseman Derrick Pouliot has to still be regarded as a work in progress. Sutter has definitely shown his overall talent, both offensively and defensively. But I believe it's fair to wait a while longer to judge this trade.
And you can't forget Shero's acquisition this past June of veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun from the Capitals for only a 7th round pick. Vokoun has since signed a two-year contract with the Penguins. That move, so far anyway, has been outstanding. He's not only performing well with a 3-1 record, but he's also pushing Marc-Andre Fleury. Not necessarily for his job, but if Fleury stumbles, Vokoun will be a very worthy replacement.
So a GM's job isn't really that much different, regardless of what pro sport you're referring to. You draft well, you make smart trades and free agent signings, you ended up with a team that should succeed. But on the flipside, if you fail in one or more of those areas, you're probably headed for mediocrity.
Fortunately for the Penguins, Shero has been passing all of those tests with flying colors. And oh, by the way, if and when GMRS wants to wheel and deal for another piece of the puzzle, he currently has approximately $8.4 million of cap space this year (assuming $70.2 million cap) to do it.
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