Friday, January 29, 2016

Seriously, Sullivan on a mission with Penguins

January 28, 2016

So far, so good with the Penguins' new coach. The stars are performing. The team is winning.
But who is this guy, anyway?
Who is the man behind the thick Boston accent, the slight Ben Stiller resemblance and the Robert Barone baritone from “Everybody Loves Raymond”?
To some, Mike Sullivan probably comes off as an early Tom Coughlin type. A drill sergeant who insists you're late if you're not five minutes early. A frighteningly intense hockey zealot who rarely smiles, never laughs, barely sleeps and has no interests outside of running the next practice or winning the next game.
A portion of that is true, actually, and it's pretty much the only portion the 47-year-old Sullivan has served his players in 47 days on the job.
I asked defenseman Ben Lovejoy if the boys have seen a softer side. Maybe a fun or humorous side?
“No,” he said. “He's been all business at all points. In the locker room. Before practice. After practice. On the ice. Before a game. After a game. He's all about winning and consistency.”
Not than anyone's complaining. Quite the opposite.
“A lot of people in here feel he's a pretty sharp guy,” Lovejoy said.
Penguins veterans seem to believe Sullivan's straightforward style, combined with a newly aggressive approach all over the ice, is precisely what this team needed.
“I like him,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “He's intense. He's got some emotions. He's upbeat. He's honest and straight to the point. He's been good for us.”
Early returns suggest the Penguins might have stumbled into the ideal coach for this mercurial group. Credit the team's Boston connection, (ex-assistant GM) Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin, with an assist from Rick Tocchet, in identifying Sullivan as the man to replace John Hynes in Wilkes-Barre this season.
After an 0-4 start upon his promotion to Pittsburgh, Sullivan is 9-3-4. That is a 113-point pace over a full season.
Sullivan smiled (I swear he did!) when I mentioned that his players said they have only seen his ultra-serious side.
“Really?” he said, feigning surprise.
Then he got serious.
“I don't look at myself as this hard coach,” he said. “I think I'm an honest coach. I think I'm a matter-of-fact coach. I told these guys at our first meeting: ‘We have some great players in the room. Our challenge is to become a great team. It's my responsibility to try to facilitate that process.'
“I like to have as much fun as the next guy, and I think in time our players will see it. But, you know, we're in a circumstance here that I think has called for a serious approach. The conversation I have with them all the time is, how do we have to play in order to win, and what is your contribution?
“We need to have a clear understanding.”
Former NHL player Matt Herr, executive director and general manager of UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, played for Sullivan in the minors more than a decade ago. He remembers a man who delivered easily digestible messages, taught the game thoroughly and engendered trust.
“At times, he'll chew you a new (rear end), but he was never intimidating to talk to,” Herr said. “He coaches the person, not just the player. Guys respect him because he's a former player and has incredible intensity. When he was talking about Sid's passion (after the Devils game), it gave me chills.
“I'd play for this guy again in a second.”
All of that being said, it's not like hockey pucks would fly out if you ripped open Sullivan's chest. He is an actual person. He has a family that includes wife Kate and three grown children: Kaitlin, Kiley and Matt, who plays hockey at Bowdoin College. Penguins staffers will tell you Sullivan owns an excellent sense of humor. He isn't afraid to bust chops. He loved it when PR man Jason Seidling showed up during the holidays wearing an indescribable suit and tie that made him look like a walking red-white-and-blue Christmas tree.
Other personal tidbits gleaned from a post-practice chat:
• Sullivan's favorite musical act is Billy Joel.
• He has seen “Jersey Boys” four times. “It's my favorite Broadway musical,” he said.
• He doesn't overexert himself in gelling up the hair before games. “I don't even use a comb or brush, just my hands,” he said, smiling (I swear he did!). “Low maintenance.”
Sullivan considers himself more well-rounded than when he took over his hometown Bruins 13 years ago. He's been fired four times since then (three as an assistant) and says he relates to players differently these days.
He spent last season working for the Chicago Blackhawks in various capacities. Those included mentoring the organization's 11 drafted forwards and doing advance scouting in the playoffs. He celebrated the team's Stanley Cup victory at center ice at United Center.
One last note: Sullivan recently read a popular Daniel Coyle book, the title of which fairly describes his initial mission here: “The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill.”
Consider it unlocked. The Penguins are scoring again. They are winning games. But they have a long way to go. Don't expect Sully to loosen up anytime soon.
“I've seen him laugh,” Herr insisted. “When he makes the playoffs, you'll see him laugh.”
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him

What, Seven Steelers on all-Super team isn't enough?

By Mark Madden
January 29, 2016

Jack Ham and Jack Lambert
Twenty-six players got named to the NFL’s official all-time Super Bowl team. Seven played for the Steelers in the 1970s. That team’s coach, Chuck Noll, also got the nod.
The honor wasn’t diluted: 11 players on offense, 12 on defense, three specialists and one coach. The team was picked by Pro Football Hall of Fame voters.
One team composes 31 percent of the roster. None but the great, and the Steelers of the 1970s still dominated.
Some things about the all-time Super Bowl team seem odd. The New England Patriots have won four Super Bowls since 2000, but were represented only by kicker Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri and ex-Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis are the only picks that won a Super Bowl since the turn of the millennium. The team skews ancient.
Some of the response locally was odd. The minute the team was announced, Twitter reacted: “Criminal to leave off (John) Stallworth and (Terry) Bradshaw.” Right, because who did Joe Montana and Jerry Rice ever beat?
Stallworth and Bradshaw were great players who had great Super Bowls. Bradshaw was a two-time Super Bowl MVP. But Montana took that award thrice. Those Steelers may be the best team of all-time, but they’re not the only great team ever.
But that’s typical of Yinzer Nation: The Steelers of the 1970s have nine players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but fans clamor for L.C. Greenwood and Andy Russell.
Greenwood and Russell were great. But that team has been immortalized enough.
The all-time Super Bowl team produced two particularly gratifying choices:
  • Noll is the coach. I grew up believing Noll was the greatest coach ever, and nothing that’s happened since has deterred me from that notion. Bill Belichick is the current-day version, but he’s a cheat. Noll won, and won with dignity. That concept is foreign to Belichick, and to most of today’s NFL. Noll never embarrassed himself.
  • Jack Ham got picked. Ham is also on the NFL’s 75th anniversary all-time team. But Ham occasionally gets short shrift, like when he was left off the NFL Network’s “Top 10 Steelers” program in favor of, among others, Hines Ward. Huh?
Ham and Lawrence Taylor are the NFL’s best outside linebackers ever. They were extremely different in style, obviously.
Only a handful of Steelers compete with Ham when you’re talking significance to the franchise. Joe Greene changed the Steelers. Mel Blount changed football. Terry Bradshaw played the money position, as does Ben Roethlisberger. Then there’s Ham.
Every Steeler selected to the all-time Super Bowl team was a relatively obvious selection: Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and Mike Webster on offense. Blount, Greene, Ham and Jack Lambert on defense.
Pittsburgh football fans live in the past far too much, especially given the Steelers’ more recent successes.
But the Steelers of the 1970s were a true juggernaut, and it’s nice to get an occasional reminder that isn’t locally manufactured.
How will players from the Steelers teams that won the 2005 and 2008 championships be remembered? Not like the team from the 1970s. Had they won the 2010 title, it closes the gap. But, with the Steelers, a mere runner-up finish doesn’t enhance.
Roethlisberger should be right up there. Troy Polamalu, too. Fan favorites like Ward, Jerome Bettis and James Harrison will be romanticized past even their very legitimate value.
But no latter-day Steelers are on the all-time Super Bowl team. Seven Steelers from the 1970s are. It’s as impressive as nostalgia gets.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).
The roster:
Joe Montana, QB; Jay Novacek, TE; Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris, RB; Lynn Swann, Jerry Rice, WR; Mike Webster, C; Art Shell, Forrest Gregg, T; Gene Upshaw, Larry Allen, G.
Reggie White. Charles Haley, DE; Joe Greene, Randy White, DT; Lawrence Taylor, Jack Ham, OLB; Ray Lewis, Jack Lambert, ILB; Mel Blount, Deion Sanders, CB; Ronnie Lott, Jake Scott, S.
Adam Vinatieri, PK; Ray Guy, P; Desmond Howard, KR.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Resurgent Crosby has Penguins back in postseason mix

By Will Graves
January 27, 2016

Resurgent Crosby has Penguins back in postseason mix

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) celebrates shutting out the New Jersey Devils with teammate Sidney Crosby (87) in an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. The Penguins won 2-0. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- In the middle of chaos, the puck allowed Sidney Crosby a rare moment of clarity.
There it was, on his stick as the Pittsburgh Penguinsstar stood at the goal line on Monday night. In front of him, the New Jersey Devils were too busy tangling with Crosby's teammates to notice the two-time MVP on the doorstep, giving him enough time to flip the rebound to his forehand before sending it past sprawled Devils goaltender Cory Schneider.
A split second later, the red light came on. The Penguins had a lead they would never relinquish and their captain moved a step closer to putting a prolonged slump firmly in his rearview mirror.
''It was kind of nice there to have some time and the puck lying there,'' Crosby said. ''Just tried to make sure I put it in.''
His 17th goal of the season capped a 5-1-2 surge into the All-Star break. Floundering in December, Pittsburgh heads to February with something resembling momentum, fueled in part by a leader who appears to be embracing new head coach Mike Sullivan's team-wide challenge to his players to get their hands dirty.
Look at Crosby's inelegant face-first dive to the ice after his ninth goal in his last seven games at Consol Energy Center as proof. For all his considerable talent, coaches have struggled to figure out how to best use him on the power play. On Monday there he was, down in the thick of things and ready to pounce when given the chance.
''He's scored a fair amount of goals and a lot of them are in the hard areas, right around the blue paint where you have to take a cross check or you've got to get your nose over the puck and pay a price in order to score,'' Sullivan said. ''I think he's a world-class player that has the skill sets to play in those areas and he plays he plays with courage.''
Crosby's always been a grinder. His relentlessness and work ethic is one of the reasons he's spent the majority of his first decade as the face of the NHL. It made the drastic drop-off in production at the beginning of the season all the more troubling. He had just six goals and 13 assists in the first 28 games, well off the career averages of a player who has led the league in points per game five times.
He wasn't injured. He was just ... off. Though Crosby insisted he was fine with head coach Mike Johnston's system, there were stretches - long stretches - where Crosby's No. 87 would become invisible on the ice, a once unthinkable prospect. When Johnston was fired on Dec. 12, Crosby didn't exactly offer a spirited defense of Johnston's methods.
Enter Sullivan, who has repeated many of the same thoughts Johnston and Dan Bylsma late in his tenure tried to impress upon a roster that sometimes appeared too intent on making every goal a highlight-reel GIF than just finding a way - any way - to get the puck behind the opposing goalie. After an initial adjustment period, the energetic Sullivan's booming voice - a stark contrast to the more professorial Johnston - appears to be getting through.
Crosby has 14 points in his last 11 games, some of them coming in typically un-Crosbylike ways. His tying goal against Philadelphia last week came when he took a pass from Chris Kunitz deep in the left circle. It's a spot where Crosby almost always looks to pass, and linemate Patric Hornqvist was parked right in front of the net. Only the pass never game. Crosby instead flicked a dart over Steve Mason's shoulder the goaltender didn't even react to, maybe because he was so surprised Crosby shot it at all. Two games earlier against Carolina, Crosby went to his knees a couple feet from the goal crease to get in position for a feed from Phil Kessel to clang off his skate and into the net.
''We see the results from doing it but that doesn't make it any easier,'' Crosby said. ''It's a tough spot to go and there's a lot of execution that comes with it.''
Pittsburgh heads into a weeklong break tied with New Jersey for eighth in the Eastern Conference. The crisis is far from over. Yet the Penguins are playing their best hockey of a tumultuous season. His muddled first half of the season cost Crosby a spot on the All-Star team - imagine that happening to one of the most popular players in any other league - yet he'll take the respite, keep his legs fresh and his sights firmly set on getting back to the postseason.
''He's playing inspiring hockey,'' Sullivan said. ''I think he's playing with passion. He's playing hard, he's playing in battle areas and he's getting rewarded for it.''
Follow Will Graves at

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How high can Sid go?

January 26, 2016
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby beats Devils goaltender Cory Schneider for a first-period power-play goal Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, at Consol Energy Center.

Sidney Crosby's place in the scoring race isn't the Penguins' most pressing issue, obviously.
Winning hockey games is the objective, and the Penguins won a big one Tuesday, defeating Ray Shero's New Jersey Devils, 2-0, to move into eighth place in the East going into the All-Star break.
Crosby's continued ascent, however, is more than a fascinating sidebar. It's a necessity if the Penguins are going to reach the playoffs.
He's hot. They're hot. That is not a coincidence.
Crosby has 11 goals and 19 points in 15 games since the club started 0-4 under Mike Sullivan. The team is 9-3-4 in that span (Crosby missed a game).
“We're definitely rolling,” Crosby said after scoring the winning goal.
A player that looked uninspired early in the season suddenly is on fire.
How much does the new coach have to do with that?
Sullivan gave all the credit to Crosby.
“He's playing inspiring hockey,” Sullivan said. “I think he's playing with passion, he's playing hard, he's playing in the battle areas. When he plays at his best, he plays with emotion. I think you can see it in his game, can see it on the bench, his interaction with players. He's emotionally invested in the game.
“He deserves the credit for the type of consistent play that he's been providing.”
At various points this season, you needed MapQuest to find Sid's place among NHL scorers. I believe he was 96th at one juncture. By season's end, I'm betting, you'll only need one hand to count the people ahead of him. Maybe only a couple of fingers.
With 40 points, Crosby already was back in the top 25 going into Tuesday's game — six points out of the top 10 and eight out of the top 5.
Crosby has 34 games left, presuming good health. If he continues to score at slightly more than a point per game — his pace under Sullivan — he'll finish at around 80.
If he explodes, who knows? Ninety is not out of the question. And to think, he was on pace for 56 points when Mike Johnston got fired.
It'll be a huge upset if Patrick Kane doesn't win the scoring title. He entered play Tuesday with 72 points, 15 ahead of second-place Jamie Benn. After that, anybody, including Benn, could be in Crosby's crosshairs by the time April rolls around.
What a joy it is to see the jump back in Crosby's game. He looks dangerous on nearly every shift, whereas one could go an entire game in November and barely notice him. His shot totals are up. He had the X-ray vision going Tuesday and could have had three or four points easily if teammates had converted incredible chances.
Most notably, Crosby is all over the place on the power play, doing some of his best work down low. That is where he can torture penalty killers by working behind them and darting in and out wherever he pleases to make quick reaction plays. He flew in from the right half-boards to make one of those plays at 15:27 of the first period, giving the Penguins a precious 1-0 lead.
Why precious? Because when New Jersey scores first, games shut down. The Devils are 17-0-3 when they score first.
Crosby made that stat moot when he jumped on a Kris Letang rebound that kicked out to goalie Cory Schneider's left. Sid corralled the puck on his backhand, quickly went forehand and fired it home as he was falling to the ice. That gave him eight goals this month, tied for the NHL lead.
“I had some time there,” Crosby said. “We had a lot of traffic in front. Just had to make sure I put it in.”
He's hot.
The Penguins are hot.
That is not a coincidence.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him

Fleury, Penguins top Devils 2-0 for 3rd straight win

By Will Graves
January 26, 2016

New Jersey Devils' Joseph Blandisi (64) can't get to the puck behind Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins may finally be starting to figure things out. Just in time — they hope — for a playoff push.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and the surging Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 2-0 on Tuesday night for their third straight win.
“I think we’re making progress,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think we’re getting better. I know there’s another level to this team.”
One Pittsburgh has flirted with reaching during a 5-1-2 surge to the All-Star break. Sidney Crosby picked up his 17th goal of the year for the Penguins, a goal line flip past Cory Schneider on the power play late in the first period. The two-time MVP has scored in each of Pittsburgh’s last seven home games, the longest home scoring streak of his career.
“He’s playing inspiring hockey,” Sullivan said of Crosby. “I think he’s playing with passion. He’s playing hard, he’s playing in the battle areas and he’s getting rewarded for it.”
Crosby downplayed his recent uptick, pointing instead to improved work with the man advantage and all-around better play by a team that’s spent most of the first half as one of the league’s biggest disappointments.
“We’re definitely rolling,” Crosby said. “We have come with that same level of desperation and hopefully the puck will keep bouncing that way.”
Phil Kessel added an insurance goal as Pittsburgh drew even with the Devils for eighth place in the Eastern Conference heading into the All-Star break.
Cory Schneider made 29 saves for New Jersey, which saw its four-game winning streak snapped. The Devils went 0 for 4 on the power play, managing just one shot on goal during 8 minutes with the man advantage.
“We just got outworked,” New Jersey coach John Hynes said. “We didn’t win any puck battles.”
The Penguins are starting to show extended flashes of their formerly high-scoring selves heading into a week-long break. Evgeni Malkin’s 10th career hat trick powered a comeback victory over Vancouver on Saturday, and Crosby continued his recent surge with the kind of skillfully dirty goal Sullivan promised his club would create if it would stop worrying about style points.
Fleury withstood an early surge, including a memorable stretch in which he was left to fend for himself with his stick hopelessly out of reach following a scrum in front of the net. The Devils fired off 10 of the game’s first 12 shots, but when Fleury’s teammates found their footing, Pittsburgh dominated.
Crosby ended the Penguins’ scoreless streak against Schneider at 135 minutes, 27 seconds when he picked up a rebound off Kris Letang’s shot from the point and flipped it into the net for his ninth in Pittsburgh’s last seven games at Consol Energy Center.
Kessel doubled the lead 15:21 into the second, though Carl Hagelin did most of the work. The forward, acquired from Anaheim on Jan. 16, broke in with Kessel 2-on-1 and spun around New Jersey defenseman Eric Gelinas before slipping the puck to Kessel, who had little trouble beating Schneider for his 15th of the year.
That was enough for Fleury, who received a bit of help from the left post and the crossbar in the third period. The goaltender even rubbed the crossbar affectionately when it kept a New Jersey shot at bay in the final minutes of his 42nd career shutout.
“We came out and played a good first period, but you don’t win games in the first period,” Devils forward Kyle Palmieri said. “We had a couple chances. I had a couple chances. Just wasn’t good enough the rest of the game after that.”
The game was a homecoming of sorts for former Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who helped the franchise to its third Stanley Cup in 2009 before being fired in the summer of 2014 following a second-round collapse against the New York Rangers. The Devils hired Shero last May to rebuild a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since losing the 2012 Cup Finals to Los Angeles.
The reboot appears to be ahead of schedule. New Jersey is right in the mix with just over two months to go in the regular season and despite his contentious exit from Pittsburgh, Shero chatted up Penguins CEO David Morehouse before the game and waved graciously when the in-house camera cut to him during a brief video tribute in the first period.
NOTES: Penguins F Chris Kunitz missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. Pittsburgh also scratched D Ian Cole and F Sergei Plotnikov. … New Jersey scratched Fs Stefan Matteau and Tyler Kennedy and D Marc-Andre Gragnani. … The Penguins start the post All-Star break at home against Ottawa on Feb. 2. … New Jersey hosts the New York Rangers on the same day. … Fleury took a shot at his first career goal in the final minute only to have his long flip batted down by New Jersey defenseman David Schlemko.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lemieux fantasy camp a great chance to reminisce

  • By Mark Madden

January 25, 2016

Gary Roberts, Mario Lemieux, and Tie Domi (Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp)

In last year's Mario Lemieux fantasy camp, one goaltender became known for making impressive saves on the tournament’s host. Said goalie had no pedigree. He was typical of the Lemieux campers, just an ex-high school hockey player.
He didn’t attend this year’s camp.
“He wasn’t invited,” said the tournament’s host, a grin splitting his features.
Mario Lemieux was kidding. Probably.
But the Lemieux fantasy camp is known for laughter as much as anything. A good time is had by all. That includes the hockey legends as well as the beer-leaguers.
All proceeds go to the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and lots of great passes go from the stars to the campers. That was evident in this year’s edition, held this past weekend at Consol Energy Center and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy and their ilk are out there to make you look good, in part because vice-versa isn’t likely.
Four teams are assembled, each dotted by a few NHL legends. But the legends don’t often shoot. Sergei Gonchar, just a year removed from the NHL, instinctively rifled home a one-timer during Friday’s game and immediately looked sheepish.
At the Lemieux camp, the pros all turn playmaker. Tough guys Tie Domi and Jay Caufield display a skill set that’s far better than yours. Three-time All-Star goaltender Curtis Joseph does pretty well playing out. Gary Roberts streaks after loose pucks, but keeps his elbows down. That appears to require a very deliberate effort.
Friday’s games at Consol Energy Center were open to the public, and a solid crowd braved the snow to see Lemieux. Lemieux plays a game for each team and, at 50, he’s still pretty good. “Elegant” seems the right word. I know, because he told me.
Start the comeback rumor: Lemieux will return to the Penguins and play the power play. It sounds crazy, but with the man advantage, he could probably still produce.
I always go. Not to skate. God, no. That’s nobody’s fantasy. But the tournament’s host annually reminds me I have a standing offer to play goal.
I just enjoy the kibitzing. Friday night, I discussed the state of the Penguins with Lemieux, Bryan Trottier, Eddie Johnston, Pierre Larouche and my longtime friend, camper Tom Parent. Trottier, Johnston and Larouche served as coaches.
Can you be star-struck at 55? That’s 12 Stanley Cups, two Hall-of-Famers, 1,609 goals and 32 shutouts talking hockey. (The group consensus: The Penguins are playing better. Much more fluid out of their zone, and on the attack.)
Later, I was on one of the benches during a pre-game warm-up. Caufield skated over and we talked about Lemieux scoring five goals five ways on Dec. 31, 1988. Caufield passed to Lemieux for his last goal, the empty-netter. Over a quarter-century later, we expressed frustration that Lemieux finished that season with 199 points, not 200.
Coffey, also a member of that year's Penguins, joined the conversation and the annoyance. (At 54, he can still fly, by the way.) “How did we not get him 200 points?” Coffey said.
Lemieux got two goals in that season’s final game, a visit to Philadelphia. But he couldn’t tack on one more point to reach 200.
Lemieux certainly didn’t finish 1988-89 in a slump: He had 18 goals in his last nine games. Not points. Goals. He also dished eight assists during that span.
I asked Coffey how many points Lemieux, in his prime, would post in today’s locked-down NHL. “A hundred-forty, a hundred forty-five,” replied Coffey. How many would you get, Paul? “I’m out there with him, right? A hundred-twenty.”
Let’s check the video from 1988-89. Find an extra assist and get Lemieux to 200 points. The NHL would have long since done that for Wayne Gretzky.
I had a tremendous seat for the camp’s games Friday: On the photographer’s platform in one of the rink’s corners.
At one point, Lemieux tried to score right off a face-off. He failed. He turned, pointed at me, and laughed.
That happened before, with one big difference: Lemieux scored and it cost me $6,600. Google it. It’s a funny story. Why couldn’t he have missed then?
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).


In long run, Shero will bedevil Penguins
January 25, 2016

Devils general manager Ray Shero was fired by the Penguins in 2014. “No hard feelings on my end,” he said.
Devils general manager Ray Shero was fired by the Penguins in 2014. “No hard feelings on my end,” he said.PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

A great disappointment crossed Ray Shero's mind Monday as he drove along the New Jersey and Pennsylvania turnpikes toward familiar territory.
“It was my first year, and we had points in 16 straight games,” Shero said. “We were in Long Island, and Marc missed a puck with, like, 30 seconds left. I was (ticked) off, really mad.
“A few weeks later, Brian Burke told me, ‘Ray, you're going to get fired. You may win a Cup. You may win a lot. But the one thing you can count on is you're going to get fired.'
“And, you know, you're not a GM — not really — until you get fired.”
So, it's a real general manager bringing the upstart New Jersey Devils to a big hockey night in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
And his Devils are a club the Penguins should really fear the rest of this season and beyond.
Their coach, former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton bench boss John Hynes, knows his next opponent. Their goalie, Cory Schneider, knows how to stop a lot of shots. Their cap space, around $8 million, is known as the greatest of NHL assets.
But, basically, the Penguins should fear Shero.
He's proven himself to be in a half-season what Jim Rutherford hasn't proven himself to be in a season and a half: an elite rebuilder.
The Devils' best days are ahead, but they appear to have arrived early.
The Penguins' best days are buried, and they're trying to play catch-up late.
“No hard feelings on my end,” Shero said while driving to the house in Upper St. Clair that he still owns, where his family spent the Christmas break.
Proof came three weeks after his firing, when Shero phoned Rutherford to wish his replacement well. Shero also phoned Mike Sullivan, whom he knows well, to congratulate the Penguins' new coach on his return to a top NHL job.
Of his first game as a visiting GM in the building he opened, Shero said: “It's closure more than anything.”
“Not that it's not there anyway, but if I went back (into Consol Energy Center) as a pro scout, it's probably not the same thing.”
The Penguins aren't the same thing since Shero was fired May 16, 2014. Then, at the very least, their identity was that of a “top quartile” NHL team.
Co-owner Ron Burkle said that wasn't good enough.
So what's been better?
Barely holding onto the final playoff spot last season? Chasing that final playoff spot this season?
Well, there is a lot of hockey to be played this season. The smart money is probably on the Penguins playing longer than the Devils.
But in the long term, I'll take Shero over Rutherford, the Devils' stable ownership over the Penguins' looking-to-sell group, and all that cap space.
In the long run, I'll probably come to think of Shero as having been lucky the Penguins fired him. Their philosophies were no longer his. What they prized was not what he sought.
Shero is a hockey guy.
The Penguins were a Stanley Cup contender when a hockey guy was in charge. Now they have the look of a flailing political campaign.
And the Devils are the beneficiaries of the biggest blunder the Penguins have made since sacking hockey's greatest coach.
Thing is, Scotty Bowman did just fine after the Penguins backed over him with a Zamboni. Likewise, Shero has recovered nicely since the Penguins threw him under one.
Here's hoping Shero doesn't receive a video tribute Tuesday night. Wouldn't seem right given all the lousy things said behind a good man's back on his way out.
Plus, anybody can put together a video.
Takes somebody special to get a Cup banner hung in Pittsburgh.
There is one hanging thanks to Shero's work with the Penguins.
Despite what we've been sold, a Cup banner should never be considered a disappointment.
Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter@RobRossi_Trib.