Shero skips Bruins for Pens

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – Ray Shero had a surprise waiting for young sons Christopher and Kyle when they arrived home from school in Nashville. On the family phone was a message from Mario Lemieux, welcoming them to Pittsburgh.

That’s how Shero revealed to his family he was becoming the Penguins’ general manager.

“If you could see the look in their eyes – the joy in their eyes – that Mario Lemieux actually left their dad a message, it was really tremendous,” Shero said Thursday after signing a five-year contract. “It really makes me feel this is the right place for us.”

Shero, the Predators’ assistant general manager for eight seasons under David Poile, might change his mind when he starts watching game tapes. A Penguins franchise that made the playoffs every season from 1991-2001 hasn’t won more than 28 games during four consecutive last-place finishes, a falloff that even Lemieux’s comeback as a player couldn’t prevent.

“But there’s an outstanding talent base of young players here, and it’s an exciting, exciting time in Pittsburgh,” Shero said, pointing to 100-point rookie Sidney Crosby, promising goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and draft pick Evgeni Malkin.

Shero was hired by a Pittsburgh a day after breaking off talks with the Boston Bruins. Shero said he felt more comfortable working for Penguins president Ken Sawyer and Lemieux, whose group has owned the team since 1999.

“I interviewed with them (the Bruins), that’s public knowledge, but what I really want to convey is this is the place I really wanted to be.”

,” Shero said. “It’s important to me who you work with.”

But the Penguins have problems, many of them, which is why Shero repeatedly referred to the necessity of having patience.

He said the NHL’s new labor agreement and salary cap allow teams to build quickly – none of this season’s four conference finalists made the playoffs in 2003-04 – but that Pittsburgh needs more players, and soon.

“It’s about more than one player or two players, because it’s a team sport,” said Shero, an NHL assistant GM for 14 years. “I recognize the fact we have Sidney Crosby, he’s an unbelievable talent and a superstar. But he’s going to need help.”

The 43-year-old Shero doesn’t blame his Hall of Fame predecessor, Craig Patrick, for the bad trades, poor signings and overall neglect that led to the Penguins’ steep decline. But Shero suggested the Penguins were wrong for emerging from the NHL’s one-year shutdown last year by rushing out to add veterans such as Sergei Gonchar, John LeClair, Ziggy Palffy and Jocelyn Thibault.

The older players not only didn’t improve the Penguins, they saddled them with debt – especially Gonchar’s $25 million contract – that must be paid for years. Patrick’s own contract wasn’t renewed last month following 16-plus seasons on the job.

“I’m more interested in establishing a winning tradition in Pittsburgh, and that means doing things right – having a vision, having a plan and having patience,” Shero said.

“My goal here is to re-establish that tradition, and that’s not just one year of winning hockey.”

Shero was hired by a Pittsburgh a day after breaking off talks with the Boston Bruins. Shero said he felt more comfortable working for Penguins president Ken Sawyer and Lemieux, whose group has owned the team since 1999.

“I interviewed with them (the Bruins), that’s public knowledge, but what I really want to convey is this is the place I really wanted to be,” Shero said. “It’s important to me who you work with.”

That’s why Shero initially told Sawyer he “didn’t want to be saddled with a coach” – referring to Michel Therrien, who has two seasons left on his contract after replacing Eddie Olczyk in mid-December. The Penguins’ record under Therrien (14-29-8) was nearly identical to that under Olczyk (8-17-6), based on winning percentage.

Shero apparently wanted to hire Predators assistant coach Brent Peterson as head coach with any team he took over, but changed his mind as discussions with Sawyer progressed.

“I think there has been enough change for a while, and we need some stability,” Shero said. “I think he brought that – especially in the last 20 games, there was some substance and discipline. My feeling is that I am going to work well with Michel Therrien and his staff and we’re going to win the Stanley Cup together.”

AP-ES-05-25-06 1759EDT

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