Team Composition – Penguin Style

If you had to put together a full team under the salary cap, how would you do it? Would you focus more on offense or defense? How much would you allot for the goaltending? How much would you pay for your stars, and how much differential would you have between your stars and your ‘depth’ players?

Evaluate the Nashville Predators, where Mr. Shero, before he came to the Penguins as GM, was able to cut his teeth as an Assistant GM under David Poile. None of the forwards get paid over 4.5 million. As a matter of fact, Jason Arnott, Martin Erat, and David Legwand all get paid that very amount. The next two forwards get paid 4 million and 3.75 per annum, J.P. Dumont and Steve Sullivan respectively.

The Pred’s highest paid defensemen is Shea Weber at 4.5 million per annum. Ryan Suter is next at 3.5 million, and the rest are all 2.5 million and below. There is no superstar on the team. Just good solid defensemen. Plain and simple.

So one can see the basic tenet of that organization. Nashville has always been known as a solid dependable team, but no stars (they tried to make a splash with Forsberg years ago, but where did that get them?). The Predators cannot spend to the highest cap level, so they value consistency across the board. Mr. Poile looks for every player to pull their share, and look for success with a total ‘team’ concept. As it stands now, the Predators will probably go into the season with a payroll around 43 or 44 million, a full 13 million below the Penguins.

So think for a second if Ray Shero had the same thoughts on building a team when he came to the Pittsburgh Penguins? Was he the type of GM to stay the course and not make a splash before he got here?

I would say that Shero ultimately believed in a Nashville type system before he came to Pittsburgh, and that the fact that the bulk of salaries devoted to the forwards on the Penguins roster is coincidental. The Penguins were simply forced to draft Crosby and Malkin, and as management you clearly have no choice but in paying them exorbitant salaries. While he loves the Chris Kunitz’s of the world, Mr. Shero just happened to get lucky when he came to the Penguins. The cupboard was already stocked on the front end, and there’s no way any sane GM could trade all of that away.

So in having 17.4 million in salary cap devoted to 2 players, you have already accounted for 30% of the total 56.8 million dollar roster allowed under the cap system. The Penguins also have 21.4 million dedicated to the centers of the top three lines, certainly not a mistake. Mr. Shero still is all about depth. Further analyzing the numbers, the Penguins will enter the season (as it stands now) devoting almost 35.5 million to salaries of forwards, or 63% of the their total salary to forwards, the total salary and highest percentage in the league. Defense gets 27% of the pie, and the goalies will get about 10%.

Long term, this trend will continue for Pittsburgh. With the NHL team and minors stocked with young defensemen, the Penguins will more than likely keep this ratio of spending in tact. Going out and spending a lot of money on a high priced defenseman has never been the modus operandi of the Penguins organization, whether under Ray Shero or the latter years of Craig Patrick. With Gonchar supposedly negotiating a new extension at a discounted rate, he will still be the highest paid defenseman even if it comes in at 4 million per year. Many teams have at least one, if not two, defensemen signed above that level. From an excitement perspective, high-octane offense never hurt anything. The Penguins will be top heavy for quite some time.

In the short term, Mr. Shero will more than likely rest until the end of free agency period and not make any aggressive moves. He’s not in a desperate place right now (essentially playing with house money after winning the cup this past year), and he’s smart enough to know that you pay out the nose for talent on or around July 1st. He signed veterans (Guerin, McKee, Fedotenko, and Adams) at a discount, moves that put the Penguins in a great position to start the season. He’ll more than likely sign Ben Lovejoy and a veteran backup goalie and then call it a summer, unless he smells a trade that really strikes his fancy. He already has a strong team that needs only to be tweaked. And we already know from years past that he’ll make a move (and good ones at that) near the trading deadline to put the final piece(s) in place.


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