To-do list for Penguins' Shero long, all decisions pending
The Penguins' season ended more than three weeks ago, but general manager Ray Shero hasn't struggled to stay busy.
He put in a week or so in Scandinavia, watching the U.S. team he helped to construct compete in the ongoing world championships.
He has overseen the amateur scouting meetings now going on at Consol Energy Center, as the Penguins prepare for the NHL entry draft there June 22-23.
He's preparing for a postseason personnel evaluation with coach Dan Bylsma and his staff next week, and he has begun planning for the pro scouting meetings early next month, when the franchise's strategy for free agency and the rest of the offseason will take shape.
And he has spent a lot of time reflecting on the Penguins' cameo appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, when awful decision-making and worse execution turned what could have been a championship run into a six-game layover.
"It's basically, 'Take a few weeks to get over the first-round loss,' " Shero said Tuesday. "And that hasn't happened yet."
Their past can't be changed, and the immediate future of the Penguins -- like that of every NHL team -- is uncertain, because the league's collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in mid-September.
Although the NHL's next labor deal will have a profound impact on how clubs do business, especially when assembling their lineups, Shero is proceeding as if the 2012-13 season will begin on time and without any major changes.
"It's business as usual, for right now," Shero said. "We have to operate [as if] there will be a new season [in the fall]."
Word has circulated that teams should proceed as if the salary-cap ceiling, which was $64.3 million in 2011-12, will be around $69 million or $70 million for next season, and a bump like that could be significant for the Penguins.
Not because they're in immediate peril of losing impact players to free agency -- the list of their players who can test the market on July 1 isn't terribly imposing -- but because Shero is not prepared to abandon the three-center model that helped the Penguins to earn a Cup in 2009.
Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal have one year left on their contracts, and Evgeni Malkin has two. Negotiations with Crosby and Staal can't begin until July 1, so there's no way of knowing precisely what they'll be asking for, but Shero reiterated that his goal is to retain all three.
"I'd like to do that, if possible," he said. "We're looking at hopefully getting extensions with [Crosby and Staal]."
While it is conceivable that Staal, the team's No. 3 center, might want to play elsewhere so he can fill a more offense-oriented role, he apparently has not said anything of the sort to the Penguins. Asked if any of the top three centers had expressed a desire to move, Shero responded, "Absolutely not."
Personnel changes are part of every offseason, for every team; for the Penguins, the issue is how significant they will be.
"I haven't decided, either way," Shero said.
He seems somewhat conflicted, and that's understandable. The Penguins have met, or exceeded, expectations in each of the past three regular seasons, but have lost three consecutive playoff series to lower-seeded opponents.
"We have a good team," Shero said. "We have had a good team. ... That's good, but certainly we need that to translate into playoff success."
Shero said that while the makeup of the coaching staff won't change, adjusting duties and responsibilities hasn't been discussed yet. That could come up next week, in conjunction with the talks to assess player performance and potential.
Shero confirmed he has decided "in my mind" about some free agents-to-be he will not try to re-sign, but declined to identify them.
Nothing will be finalized, he said, until he meets with the coaches, which is the next entry on what has turned out to be a pretty lengthy to-do list.
NOTE -- The Penguins signed Reid McNeill, their sixth-round draft choice in '10, to a three-year, entry-level contract. He is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound defensive defenseman who had three goals and nine assists in 51 games for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League.
First Published May 16, 2012 12:00 am