If you haven’t watched Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero’s 50-minute press conference from Wednesday morning, I’d suggest you try to carve out some time to do so.
It was a media moment short on bluster and long on considered thought. To sum it up in a sentence, it was everything big-time professional sports usually isn’t:
Over the course of Shero’s hour with the Pittsburgh press, the seventh-year GM expressed disappointment in how the season ended, tempered with appreciation for his team’s accomplishments. In an industry that emphasizes postseason results, Shero vigorously swam against that reductive current.
Thomas Jefferson famously said, “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. When very angry, count to 100.” Shero must’ve counted pretty high after the Penguins were swept by the Boston Bruins, since he was able to calmly address what went wrong and describing why he and co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle decided to stick with coach Dan Bylsma and his assistants.
Shero used the word “belief” often Wednesday morning, in terms of trusting that what the Penguins are doing is the proper path, recent postseason results be damned. It’s a courageous stance to take in a sports world that often demands instant changes when expectations aren’t met.
As Shero put it, you have to build expectations before you have disappointment. In other words, you have to climb high to experience a letdown. I may disagree with some of the ways Shero justified extending his coaches, but ultimately I respect a man – and an organization – willing to adhere to convictions.
Some might call that approach stubborn, and there is a thin line separating perseverance and hubris. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a team refuse to allow the small sample size of 41 postseason games completely skew the more predictive results of 300-plus regular-season contests.
The Penguins’ prodigious regular-season success under Bylsma has powered the team’s growing influence off the ice. Hockey has never been more popular in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region, and it’s almost all due to the Pens’ becoming one of the more popular franchises in North America.
Shero referenced the Penguins’ mission statement multiple times Wednesday, particularly the part about “advancing the sport.” Tough to argue their aggressive, offensively-oriented style hasn’t made hockey more exciting to watch. The Pens’ status as perennial favorite was greatly aided by winning the 2005 NHL Draft lottery and generational talent Sidney Crosby, but the way they’ve built upon that is anything but lucky.
The franchise’s mission statement also includes striving to be a Stanley Cup contender every year. The Penguins have been that in each of the last six years, five of which have finished with Bylsma behind the bench. For Shero, Lemieux and Burkle, that’s enough to justify keeping the coaching staff intact.
Their patience may or may not be rewarded with another championship in the near future. But the Penguins have made this much clear: winning the Cup is a good thing, but it’s not the only thing.
And now, for something different but related, the Gospel of Hockey podcast is back after an unexpected hiatus last Friday. Larry Snyder (the Puck Prophet) joined me as we talked about the Penguins and Stanley Cup playoffs with City of Champions contributor Andy Green.
Andy is also the managing editor of Rock the Red, a Washington Capitals blog. He wrote an interesting piece on the Penguins’ defensive struggles since 2009 on our site this week. We discussed that, as well as some parallels between the Capitals and Penguins when it comes to coaching.
Also, Larry and I delivered our Local Hockey Report, featuring two Pittsburgh-bred players in the Stanley Cup Final and one last update on the AHL Penguins, who fell in the Eastern Conference final much like the parent club: