I called Ray Shero on Thursday to ask him what he did to tick off the NHL's other general managers. They are the primary voters for the general manager of the year award. Shero isn't one of the three finalists, who were announced Wednesday.
Of course, Shero immediately turned the conversation to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. He said if I wanted to push someone for an award, I should push Bylsma for the Jack Adams Coach of the Year Award. "What he's done is much more symbolic of our year than anything else," Shero said.
I can't argue the point.
Bylsma has been absolutely terrific.
But so has Shero.
Let's review as the Penguins are just one win against the Tampa Bay Lightning from advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs without stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin:
• James Neal came in a Shero trade in February. He scored the winning goal against the Lightning in double overtime in Game 4 Wednesday night. "A blast from the side boards, top shelf," Shero said. "Not many of our guys can do that."
• Alex Kovalev came in another Shero trade in February. He scored the winning goal against Tampa Bay in Game 1. "He's got good hands, can still make plays and brings experience," Shero said.
• Arron Asham was a Shero signing as a free agent in August. He has three goals and an assist and is a plus-4 player against the Lightning. "Once the puck drops in the playoffs, he seems to be a step quicker," Shero said.
• Zybnek Michalek and Paul Martin were Shero signing as free agents in July. They are half of the best top-four defensemen in the NHL along with Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang. "That's how we win games -- with defense and timely scoring," Shero said. "Those guys have been invaluable for us."
• Chris Conner and Eric Tangradi are just a couple key parts of the depth Shero has built at the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor league club. Conner has been a regular against the Lightning on a line with Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot. Tangradi played for the first time in the series Wednesday night and contributed to the first goal by Tyler Kennedy on the power play by parking his sizable behind in front of Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson. "I work with great people," Shero said. He mentioned assistant general manager Jason Botterill, assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon and director of pro scouting Derek Clancey.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
That the three finalists for the GM of the year award -- Tampa Bay's Steve Yzerman, Vancouver's Mike Gillis and Nashville's David Poile (Shero's mentor, by the way) -- must have had fabulous years?
It should be noted here that the general managers vote on their award before the playoffs. But that hardly detracts from Shero's resume. The Penguins finished with 106 points -- tied for third most in the NHL -- despite getting only half a season out of Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal. That's a tribute to Bylsma and the players, sure. But it's also a tribute to Shero.
Maybe the best thing Shero did was continue to believe in a team that many thought couldn't be competitive in the playoffs without Crosby and Malkin. No one would have complained if he had done nothing at the trade deadline. No one outside of the locker room, anyway. But he gave up promising young defenseman Alex Goligoski to bring in Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. Then, he picked up Kovalev for virtually nothing -- a conditional seventh-round draft choice.
"The players and coaches put themselves in position for me to try to get them some help," Shero said. "They worked their [rear ends] off."
This time, the trade deadline was a little more complicated for Shero. Before he could deal for Neal, Niskanen and Kovalev, he had to go to Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux and ask them to take on payroll that would stretch the team above the NHL salary cap. He could do that because Malkin was placed on the long-term injured list and his $8.7 million salary didn't count toward the cap.
"We're talking about millions of dollars, real dollars," Shero said. "I knew with 100 percent certainty that they would give the OK to add the money. It was never, 'How much is it going to cost?' Or, 'Are you sure?' It was, 'Do what you have to do to make the team better.' "
That tells you all you need to know about the faith Burkle and Lemieux have in Shero. It's too bad they don't take telephone calls from the media. I would have loved to hear them put it in words.
You're not supposed to assume anything in sports, but I'm going to make an exception to that rule this morning.
I'm going to assume Burkle and Lemieux would vote for Shero as GM of the year.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.