Comparing Fitzgerald, Botterill

Dave Molinari 3 years ago

Ask people in the Penguins’ hockey operations department whether Jason Botterill or Tom Fitzgerald should be the team’s next general manager, and the response almost certainly will be a simple, “Yes.”

And while that answer doesn’t contain the specificity the question was intended to provoke – the idea was to see which one the person being asked believes would be the better choice – it says a lot about how the two- in-house candidates to replace Ray Shero are viewed by their colleagues.

One of them put it this way: “Jason and Fitzy are both very capable. Just different.”

That’s a pretty succinct assessment. A pretty accurate one, too.

And if ownership determines that Shero’s successor will come from inside the organization – which is far from certain to be the case – which one is selected could provide insight on what the owners view as the franchise’s most pressing problem.

Botterill, who was Shero’s assistant and is serving as interim GM, has a classic front-office background. He’s well-versed in things like the salary cap and collective bargaining agreement, has handled contract negotiations and annually restocks the Penguins’ top minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre with free-agent talent that has kept the team competitive.

Fitzgerald has been more involved with player development, evaluating prospects and working with them to accelerate their progress. His has been more of a hands-on role, including time spent as an assistant coach during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run in 2009.

Both clearly have backgrounds that would allow them to address concerns ownership expressed when Shero was fired May 16. What’s more, there’s no reason to believe either would simply be a clone of Shero, or balk at changing practices that yielded the results ownership – and, no less important, the fan base – found unsatisfactory.

The thinking here is that if Shero’s position is filled from inside the organization (and the size of that “if” cannot be overstated), Botterill likely would be the choice, because he is more familiar with the day-to-day demands of being a GM.

Then again, this ownership group has proven capable of pulling off major surprises, a point made most emphatically on May 16, when Shero lost his job and coach Dan Bylsma didn’t.