I trust Penguins General Manager Ray Shero. How couldn’t I? He’s an elite executive in this league. Think of all the good moves he’s made since taking over that position with the Penguins.
Alexei Ponikarovsky aside, of course.
So I trust Shero’s instincts. And it’s because I DO trust Shero so much that I’m a little hesitant to embrace his signings on day one of free agency.
You see, it was Shero’s instinct to acquire Dan Hamhuis. That’s why he gave the hated Flyers a third round pick to get him. It was also Shero’s instinct to keep Sergei Gonchar. That’s why he made such an impassioned and public pitch to retain his services on my radio program. It’s also why Shero allegedly made a two year offer to Gonchar in the rage on $4.5 million per year to keep him in Pittsburgh.
So if Shero is making an offer to Gonchar and acquiring the rights for Hamhuis, that must mean he would’ve preferred having that tandem heading into 2010-2011 as opposed to his newly re-shaped blue line which features former New Jersey Devil Paul Martin and former Phoenix Coyote Zbynek Michalek.
“I made it clear that we wanted to sign Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis. That didn’t happen,“ admitted Shero. “But I think we are ecstatic to have Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek.“
Martin is about a half million dollars cheaper per season and seven years younger than Gonchar. Gonchar signed a three-year $16.5 million deal in Ottawa. Martin is also better defensively than Gonchar, but not the power play ace that #55 has been.
Michalek is also a half million dollars cheaper than Hamhuis (who went to Vancouver for six years and $4.5 million per season). And his contract is a year less. Shero is making it sound like the Martin/Michalek combo is better than just a Plan-B that was necessitated by the departures of Hamhuis and Gonchar.
“Paul Martin is a real good defenseman. Good stick. Good defensively. Probably better offensively than his numbers (Martin was hurt much of last year). Effortless skater. Lots of minutes,” raved Shero.
“Michalek is a right handed defenseman we’ve really liked. Big body at 6’2”. Probably under the radar out in Phoenix. He’s had a great career there (Michalek lead the league in blocked shots in 2009).”
The upside is that the cash left over by going with Michalek and Martin allows the Penguins to chase a winger.
The downside is that very few good ones are still available on the open market. And Shero suggested young forwards in the system such as Eric Tangradi and Mark Letestu may have to step up and make the roster this year.
Or the Penguins may still try to bring back Bill Guerin. Shero claims that is still an option.
Shero insists Michalek was the first number he dialed after free agency began at noon Thursday when free agency technically began. But Shero didn’t go so far as to spin the reality. Acquiring these two players wasn’t the initial goal.
“I obviously traded for Dan Hamhuis’ rights with the intention of signing Dan Hamhuis.” And when asked about Paul Martin replacing Gonchar, Shero quickly stated, “No one is going to replace Sergei Gonchar.”
Ray Shero deserves credit for bringing two quality defensemen to the Penguins. He followed through on his stated goal of improving Pittsburgh’s personnel in its own end. He also deserves credit for honestly stating that both of the big fish he wanted initially got away.
Now time will tell how much blame he gets for keeping neither of them in the boat. Maybe he will get none. Maybe Michalek and Martin will be better catches in the long run. But on Thursday Ray Shero spoke like a fisherman who had a good day on the lake, but could’ve had a better one.