Today's news, in a word, was stunning. For the first time in my life as a fan of the New Jersey Devils, Lou Lamoriello is no longer the general manager. He remains as team president, but there will be a different individual making trades, hiring staff, and doing the day-to-day work of running the team. That individual is former Pittsburgh Penguins general manager, Ray Shero. As he will be the boss, let's learn more about who he is and what he did in his last position. That may guide us as to what to expect (or be wary of) from the new general manager.
Ray Shero was born on July 28,
19651962, he will turn 50 53 later this year. He was an assistant general manager with Ottawa in the mid-1990s and then with Nashville from 1998 until 2006. In May 2006, the Penguins hired him to replace long-time general manager Craig Patrick. The apex of his time with Pittsburgh was clearly in 2008 and 2009 when the Penguins reached the Stanley Cup Finals back-to-back, winning it all in 2009. However, the team could not build on that success and proceeded to be eliminated prior to the Eastern Conference finals in four of the five following seasons. The last one featured a second round loss to the Rangers where the Penguins choked away a 3-1 series lead. The lack of playoff success played a part in Shero being fired from the team in May 2014. He has since been out of the NHL until today.
The big positive from Shero's past was that he has experience of dealing with a contending team. The Penguins did not miss the playoffs at all under Shero's reign. The Penguins finished every season with at least 45 wins except in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. The Penguins went to the top of the mountain twice and reigned from their once. You want a general manager with success that was recent, then Shero is the guy. Yes, Shero inherited two generational talents in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and some other fantastic talent, but success in hockey comes from building a team around those players. Shero essentially did that and the results don't lie. Say what you want about early playoff exits, but that's far better than missing the playoffs - something the Devils have done in four out of the last five seasons. Had the Penguins won a few more playoff games, then I think someone else is being named today as New Jersey Devils general manager. I am confident that was the chief reason why he was let go.
That being said, a closer inspection of Shero's reign as general manager is more auspicious than the results would suggest. For starters, the team's draft record during his tenure is very spotty. Especially at forward. Pensblog took an excellent, in-depth look at how the Penguins have drafted. When Shero was rumored to be fired, Hooks Orpik at PensBurgh cited it as one of the reasons why he should go. One the major takeaways was that the Penguins have been awful at finding and developing NHL forwards. Shero either had the forward already (e.g. Crosby, Malkin) or traded for help in that regard. Given that the Devils' biggest need in their pipeline, AHL roster, and NHL roster is scoring forwards, this is not helpful Yes, the Devils' own staff has been missing big at forward. Shero's history at Pittsburgh doesn't inspire me a lot of confidence that he'll fix it. It's possible, sure, but I'll wait until I see it.
Orpik's post on Shero's future in May 2014 highlights two other aspects to Shero's time in Western Pennsylvania that may cause some worry. He was guilty of signing players to far too much money than they deserved and going out and trading for assets - which hurt the drafting, sure - that may not have worked. I'd like combine both under the larger skill that all general managers have: talent valuation.
When it comes to free agency, the market usually drives up a player's price far beyond their worth. A GM needs to balance out whether a player can provide enough value (e.g. points, possession, fitting in with the team, etc.) to be worth that market price. Likewise, the idea of the trade is to get an asset you need for an asset that is not as crucial to the team at that time. Some of his signings and trades were dubious from when they were made: like giving Tanner Glass a seven-figure contract; a four-year deal to a 35-year old (and then declining) Rob Scuderi; trading for Brendan Morrow and Doug Murray as rentals. Every GM who has been in the league for a while is going to have their share of misfires and mistakes. However, some of these moves not only did not turn out well for the Penguins, but they undercut their future, whether it's in terms of cap space, lost picks that can't be moved or used, or having players who don't benefit the team as much as their contract suggests. All together, it makes me worry whether Shero can properly evaluate talent. That should absolutely be something to worry about as the Devils are in a re-building situation. A number of significant moves going awry will only extend the re-build and I don't think Shero was brought in to do that.
Lastly, from a critical standpoint, one can point to the simple fact that Shero inherited a team with two of the best players of this generation - Crosby and Malkin - and plenty of other strong young talent and won exactly one Stanley Cup with them. While the team was built up to be a contender, they were bounced out early in the postseason for one reason or another for four out of five seasons and Shero couldn't pull the trigger on making those changes - be it Dan Bylsma as head coach or Marc-Andre Fleury as a goaltender - like he would for a acquiring a veteran as a playoff rental.
However, life is rarely set in stone and neither is Shero's future time in New Jersey. It's not a guarantee that Shero is going to throw picks away for experienced players or just crash the team until they get a Crosby-like player and a Malkin-like player. It's not even 100% sure Bylsma will coach the team next season, although I'll prefer him over the likes of Adam Oates and Scott Stevens every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Lou remains as the president of the team and is essentially Shero's boss. He'll have all of the powers of a general manager, but I don't he'll go wild with the changes. Shero had a year to reflect on what went wrong in Pittsburgh and he can use this as an opportunity to learn from those errors. If he does, then the Devils can stand to gain from that.
I'll agree that after looking at what he did in Pittsburgh, I'm underwhelmed. At the same time, I cannot name a better candidate. An assistant GM or someone from another league has to deal with a lack of experience among all of the other issues a GM has to deal with that may or may not get talked about. Virtually every ex-GM is going to have flaws. Of course he does. Every GM that gets hired does; the precious few general managers who build excellent organizations are rarely available to be hired. Owners will keep them on as long as they can. It's not a coincidence that David Polie, Ken Holland, and Dean Lombardi have been with their teams with little word of their removal. Even with the failed seasons of missing the playoffs, there was not even a legitimate rumor that Lou would be out as general manager. It wasn't seriously thought of happening until today at 4:01 PM EST. So when someone is removed, one has to hope that they've learned from it and have the qualities and skills to be given another opportunity with another team. That's just the reality of the position. It's why, I think, there's a lot of second and third chances. It's not that easy to break into.
At least give me this. He's not David Conte. He's not Chris Lamoriello. He's certainly better than Pittsburgh's current GM, Jim Rutherford. The Devils could have done worse than Shero. So, as much as there was from his time in Pittsburgh that worries me, I will still give him a chance. He deserves that much and, really, I don't have much of a choice. Ray Shero is the New Jersey Devils general manager. It still feels weird to type. More on that later as I still try to figure it out.