How's this for a front-office team?

Dave Molinari 5 years ago

If the Penguins had sealed off their defensive zone during the playoffs as effectively as ownership has cut off the flow of information during its search for a new general manager, city officials might be contemplating the details of a Stanley Cup parade right about now.

Instead, the Penguins squandered a 3-1 lead against the New York Rangers during Round 2 – the second time in four springs they failed to win a series after taking three of the first four games – to trigger a chain of events that began with the firing of GM Ray Shero May 16 and might well rumble through the franchise for weeks to come.

Th immediate focus is on finding Shero’s replacement, and at least four candidates – assistant GMs Paul Fenton (Nashville), Julien BriseBois (Tampa Bay) and Jason Botterill (Penguins) and Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins’ assistant to the general manager – have interviewed for the job.

There also have been reports that some others, including TV analyst Pierre McGuire, have discussed the position with co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle and president/CEO David Morehouse, but those have not been confirmed.

Brisebois is reputed to have received the endorsement of player agent Pat Brisson, a longtime friend of Lemieux’s and likely front-runner for the job if he hadn’t publicly expressed a lack of interest in taking it.

BriseBois has a law degree and MBA and, like Botterill, has primary responsibility for his team’s issues pertaining to the NHL’s labor agreeement and salary cap.

Botterill, it should be noted, also has experience in scouting at this level; he handled those duties during his early months with the organization.

That BriseBois will be GM of an NHL team in the reasonably near future is a given; whether his skills set is precisely what the Penguins need at this point is far less certain.

Fenton, who has been with the Predators since they entered the NHL in 1998, has focused mostly on player evaluation, selection and development. He has little experience negotiating contracts, because Nashville GM David Poile and others have handled those chores.

What he does have is a solid record for identifying and helping to develop talent for a franchise that, because of financial constraints, doesn’t have the option to consistently be a major player in free agency.

When Shero was fired, the owners made it clear that, among other things, they want the Penguins to do a better job of finding good prospects and grooming them to contribute in the NHL eventually.

At least one player from every draft has made it into Nashville’s lineup since Fenton succeeded Shero as Poile’s assistant in 2006, and no fewer than six from the Class of 2009 have reached the NHL.

Fenton doesn’t deserve all the credit for that – it’s the scouts, not the GMs or assistant GMs, who turn up most of a team’s prospects – but it certainly suggests that he has a knack for finding people who are capable of recognizing pro potential in teenaged players.

Whether Fenton could capably execute the contract-signings facet of a GM’s job isn’t clear, but if the Penguins would hire him, there would be an easy solution: Give Botterill a decent raise and an upgraded title – make him, say, associate GM, rather than assistant – to convince him to stay with the organization, even though he would have lost out to Fenton for the GM job.

Botterill is very good at what he does, so there’s no question that losing out in the GM race would sting. But he’s also extremely intelligent and surely realizes that, like BriseBois, he will get a chance to run a team at this level before too long. Once the disappointment of being passed over eases, he surely would recognize that holding onto a front-office position with one of the league’s better teams is a good way to maintain his visibility.

Keeping Botterill also might help to convince respected player-development personnel like Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin to stay, which would reduce the inevitable disruption in the front office a bit. (That, obviously, would hinge on Fenton wanting to keep them.)

Of course, there could be complications, like, say, a personality conflict between Fenton and Botterill. Those happen sometimes between people who generally seem quite agreeable.

Nonetheless – and while operating with admittedly little information about who might be where on ownership’s wish list – hiring Fenton and keeping Botterill might be the most effective way to bring about significant changes in the areas where ownership is seeking them without gutting the entire operation.