The Post-Gazette's Gene Collier was granted an interview with Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux today following the announcement that Ray Shero was fired as general manager. Here is the transcript:
Can you just take me through the process by which you arrived at this?
Burkle: When you’re having a problem in most businesses, in leadership or when you’re not meeting your goals, you start by looking at the top [Shero]. I don’t agree that you start looking in the middle, or off to the side or anyplace else. It’s important to start at the top.
So the normal way you’d do it is to bring someone in and look at everything you do, your whole organization, to decide if you want to make changes or not. So I don’t think, while it might feel good to do things people have done in the past or it might feel good to do what everybody expects us to do . . . that’s not a smart thing to do, that’s not the way we want to do things.
You want to let whoever comes in as the new GM and is going to be head of hockey operations, we’ll talk to them about what about what kind of changes we need to make, what kind of team we’d like to have, and what we need to do to get there.”
Is there some possibility therefore that Dan Bylsma can retain his job.
Lemieux: "Absolutely, that’s why we didn’t fire him. He’s a good coach. Look at his record at his record in the regular season, in the playoffs. If he was fired today, there’d be a lot of teams lined up to get him."
“He’s done a lot of good things for the organization and he’s been a great asset. A new GM will come in, evaluate the hockey operation, and we’ll go from there.”
Was this because of what’s happened over the past five years or was it due to the nature of what’s happened recently that necessitated this change?
Burkle: "After we won the Cup, we set a high standard. A lot of people would be happy just making the playoffs, that puts you in top 50 percentile and if you make the second round, you’re in the top 25 percentile and in most things in life that’s a pretty good place to be."
"We’ve said and we say it often, we wake up with a lot of advantages that nobody else has. We have an owner that nobody else has. To have Mario and what that means to us in terms of understanding the game and understanding the players and the community is a great place to start off. We have Sidney and Geno under long terms agreements, who most people say are the No. 1 and No.2 player. We have an unbelievable community when you look at the support we have here, with youth hockey, with the number of people who follow us on TV. The number of people who come to the games, the season tickets, the waiting list, all of those things give us the pieces we need to raise expectations."
"We have a reasonable expectation we should be able to build a great organization and since we won the Cup, we haven’t accomplished what we want. You can look at each year and you can come with different reasons (why we didn’t) whether Sid was ill, all kinds of different things each year. But if you look at the kind of team we’ve had over the course of the last five years, we don’t have the kind of team we want to have. You make those decisions at the end of the season. When people look at it and when we read the articles that have been written and listen to what the fans have had to say, and you see things like, it’s not, well, if they lose Game 7 they’re out of work, well, it really doesn’t have anything to do with Game 7."
"We want to have a certain kind of team and we want to make certain we have the kind of organization that supports that."
Lemieux: "I think the bottom line is that we want to win the Cup every year, and put a great product on the ice."
When you decide on a GM and meet with him, how will you describe what you need or what you want?
Lemieux: "Ideally you need speed. I think the game has changed over the past five, six years. You need speed, you need grit, you need character to win championships. Those three things are most important."
Of those three, which is most important?
Lemieux: "I think character. Character is going to win you a lot of championships. Of course you need the other elements, which we have. We have the star power here in Pittsburgh. It’s a matter of surrounding them with the right people. The right people who have the character to complement the stars that we have here."
Would I be incorrect then to infer that character is what you feel you don’t have?
Lemieux: "I feel it’s been missing a little bit this year. Once you get in the playoffs, it’s a long two months, it’s a long journey, and to get to the end you need grit certainly, but you need character to go through adversity, from game to game."
Are either or both of you disappointed with the way Sidney has played, or do you know of any reason he would score only once since March 30?
Lemieux: "I think Sid’s been disappointed in his play for sure and we certainly feel the same way. He’s had a long year, especially with the Olympics. He would certainly be the first one to say that he didn’t play up to his expectations."
The way you’ve chosen to do this, of course, keeps Dan, depending on the GM hiring timetable, from filling any of the current coaching vacancies. Isn’t that being unfair to him?
Burkle: "I think you asked a question earlier and that’s an important place to start – you said is there a chance that we would keep Dan. I think if people thought we were going to let Dan go and this was just but this was just a way to somehow prolong it, well that doesn’t make any sense, so I’m not quite sure why anybody would think that."
"I also think that it’s too easy to blame it on the coach and throw the coach out and have the GM stay, it’s more complicated than that. As Mario said, Dan’s done a lot of great things here and he’s been a good coach."
"When we try to evaluate why we haven’t been more success in playoffs, obviously the coach comes into the picture, but if you listened to what we said about what kind of team we want to have – and we don’t have what kind of team we want to have today – then that comes back to more of a GM issue."
Lemieux: "If you look around the league, there are some great organizations. Look at Detroit. They don’t win the Cup every year but (Mike) Babcock is still the coach. If you have a great coach, you’re not going to win every year but certainly the expectation is still there for Detroit and a team like us."
Usually a GM wants his own coach. Would you rule out a GM who did not want to have Dan Bylsma coach the team?
Lemieux: "I don’t think it does."
Burkle: "I just think when you meet with someone you have to consider all aspects. How they interview and what their qualifications are and what they bring to the table. I would say it’s a deal point – what they want to do with Dan."
If I were a candidate and said, ‘Yeah, I really want this but I don’t want Dan Bylsma,’ that wouldn’t take me out of the running?
Burkle: "No, but we’d ask him why."
(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)