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Penguins GM Ray Shero Can Fish With The Best

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Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero doesn’t have the easiest job in the business, yet at times he makes piecing together his team’s roster seem as effortless as goin’ fishing.  In his fifth year as GM, Shero has gained the full confidence of fans, players and owner Mario Lemieux, compiling his roster to fit directly with the Penguins’ needs.  The phrase floating around these days tells it all: “In Shero We Trust.”  While most GMs would have nightmares figuring out how to work within the salary cap with three premier centers on the roster, Shero somehow finds the best deals on the market.  He signs players that display great work ethic (see Chris Kunitz), he lets guys go if they ask for too much money (see Ryan Malone), he rewards young talent with big contracts (see Jordan Staal), and he’s not afraid to make blockbuster moves at the trade deadline (see Marian Hossa).  This year, we should expect nothing less.

After last year’s embarrassing loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs, Shero saw a gaping hole in defense, and addressed it immediately.  Instead of resigning the aging Sergei Gonchar to a multi-year big money contract, he cast his line into the free-agency pond and reeled in two top-tier defensemen in Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek.  Gonchar had one of his worst seasons in Ottowa, while the Penguins’ newest additions upgraded the Penguins defense to produce the league’s top penalty killing unit.  He also re-signed two-way defenseman Kris Letang to a 3.5 mil/year contract, and watched him go on to become a Norris Trophy Candidate in 2011.

This year, the Penguins’ weaknesses are a little harder to define and address.  The power-play unit was a disaster that cost the team a first-round exit in the playoffs, but injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are obvious attributions their failure to create man-advantage offense.  When your top two scorers are in suits and ties, there isn’t much blame to throw at the roster.   If anything, Shero upgraded the offensive attack by trading for top-six forwards James Neal and Alexei Kovalev.  This year, Shero’s decisions rest more on the hustlers on his roster, deciding who to re-sign, who to let go, and who to reel in.

With Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy, Max Talbot, and Mike Rupp headlining a long list of free agents, Ray has got some fishing to do come July 1st.   He already made the no-brainer move to reward the gritty Craig Adams to a two-year deal, but managing Kennedy, Dupuis and Talbot yield no easy decisions.  Kennedy, if he doesn’t ask for more than 2 mil/year, could get a contract extension.  Talbot, however, could very well be let go due to his age and general lack of production on the year.  Although he is a fan favorite, his game thrives on his hustle, a quality that is slowly decreasing by the year.  He might be able to find better money elsewhere, given his fame for scoring both goals in game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.  Dupuis leaves what seems to be the hardest decision for Shero.  Currently paid 1.4 mil/year, his speed and penalty killing are great assets to the team, but James Neal’s presence pushes Dupuis out of the top line, subsequently subtracting from his contract value with the team.   If he does decide to stay with the Penguins, it will be for very little upgrade from his current contract-Shero won’t waste his bait on a small fish.

Mike Comrie, Aaron Asham and Eric Godard are likely to be let go, while Shero will try his best to re-sign forward Mike Rupp for his tenacity on the fourth line.  This leaves adequate room for the GM to dip into free agency and pick out decent mid-level guys looking to play for a consistent contender.  Although you can never put it past Shero to make a big deal to bring in a forward (possibly a young right-winger for Crosby’s line), the Penguins will be set for Stanley Cup contention if he can go through the same catch-and-release strategy that has brought the team success in past years.  He’ll re-sign the players that want to win, release the players that want the money, and bring in players that want to hustle.  He’s proven that he can reel in big fish for the Penguins in the past, and he can surely do it again this summer.

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