Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A tale of two Pittsburgh GMs

By Jeff

The Pittsburgh Penguins recently signed general manager and executive vice president Ray Shero to a five-year extension. The man deserves it and the deal brought nothing but joy to Penguins fans. The reaction was pretty much the opposite to any story involving Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntingdon.

Comparing Shero to Huntington is pretty unfair, but let's do it for funsies (Urban Dictionary says funsies is a word).

The definition of happiness and success.
So why is it unfair? Other than the obvious observation that they work in different sports; they have vastly different situations. Huntington has to compete against teams with tens of millions of more dollars in payroll than the Pirates, while Shero, thanks to the salary cap, does not have to worry about big market teams outspending the Pens and buying championships.

Shero also walked into a pretty nice position with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fluery and Sergei Gonchar already in place. Huntington had Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Adam Laroche and no pitching staff to speak of.

Now, that we got those disclaimers out of the way, there is no question that Shero he is better at his job than Huntington is at his own. And it's not even close.

The NHL's salary cap is $59.4 million. Shero has very little room for error. If a players starts to suck in the NHL, you can't cut him and not pay him the remainder, like you can in the NFL. Committing large junks of salary to bad players results in the team being set back for years (See the Toronto Maple Leafs).

Huntington can be burned by bad deals as well, but if Pirates ownership wanted to make up for the bad deal, they could spend more money and maybe get someone else. Granted, Pirates ownership doesn't have that kind of money. Even if they did, most fans will tell you they would never spend it.

So Shero and Huntington are both handicapped by spending limits, but this is wear Shero shines. He locks up core players who have bright futures in the league. He worked out extensions with Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Jordan Staal, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang. For role players, he usually doesn't offer more than two years.

In comparison, Huntington claims to be cleaning house, but gives large contracts (Large for the Pirates) to mediocre players like Nate McLouth, Ryan "Demon Eyes" Doumit, Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, etc. Huntington didn't have the stars to sign like Shero did, but that doesn't mean he should lock up crappy players who just happened to be the best the Pirates had.

When it comes to making trades and free agent signings, Shero again has the edge. He brought in the likes of Gary Roberts, Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin, Hal Gill, Ruslan Fedotenko (The first time), Mark Eaton, Craig Adams, Matt Cookie and Chris Kunitz . Only Kunitz, Cooke and Adams remain, but all of the these men played big roles in the Pens back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Finals. Guerin, Gill, Kunitz, Cooke and Adams were key contributors in winning the '09 Cup. Shero also received prospect Eric Tangradi in the same deal that gave us Kunitz. Tangradi projects to be a top six winger the Pens have lacked.

To be fair, Shero also had some stinkers. Alexei Ponikarovsky did nothing for the Pens last year and cost the team one of their top prospects in Luca Caputi. He also traded Daniel Carcillo to for George Laroque. Let's be honest, Laroque sucked and is out of hockey now. Carcillo is a jerk that every one in the league hates, but he is actually productive and is the type of player fans love to have on their teams. And he resigned Fedotenko last year, and he really sucked.

The definition of misery and suckiness.
Huntington's trades have mostly been of the bust variety. The prospects he's brought to the Pirates have been highly regarded, but then they flop for the team. Andy Laroche, Charlie Morton, Jeff Clement and Brandon Moss are really bad ones. He had some good ones too, though. Huntington gave up little to acquire Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf and James McDonald. But while those players are good, they don't project to be all stars.

Finally, we have public perception. Very few, if anyone, questions what Shero does. Pittsburgh actually prints money that says "In Shero We Trust". When he signed an extension, the news what met with joy and approval by the fans. It was also announced immediately.

When Huntington signed an extension, no one was told. It was as if the Pirates were embarrassed. When the deal was announced MONTHS later, it received a lukewarm response. No one I spoke to was excited. Most just shrugged and went on with other business.

So after all that rambling, there is one solution. The Pirates need to hire Shero. Actually, we all need to hire Ray Shero.

Annie Lennox - Walking on Broken Glass

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