Seen through the lens of an NHL general manager, life is a series of encounters with people who are ultimately critics, skeptics, or both.
In the case of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Ray Shero, the naysayers apparently include people who live under his roof.
When Shero finally wrapped up the capture of a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer from the Calgary Flames late Wednesday night, he picked up the phone to share the news.
“The first people I called, actually, I called my kids and let them know we acquired Jarome Iginla. They said to me ‘no, you didn’t. He’s going somewhere else, we see it on TV,’” Shero told a news conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday. “And I’m like ‘well, I think we’re getting him.’ But that’s the way it goes.”
You would think by this point they would understand that nothing is impossible when it comes to their dad.
This is the man, after all, who two trading seasons ago pried thoroughbred goal scorer James Neal out of the Dallas for defenceman Alex Goligoski and also got the Stars to thrown in Matt Niskanen, who plays second-pair defensive minutes most nights and features on the power play.
In 2009, he performed a similar act of prestidigitation in obtaining Chris Kunitz, who is among the league scoring leaders, and prospect Eric Tangradi out of Anaheim for defenceman Ryan Whitney.
Even when he pays a steep price – Stanley Cup winning centre Jordan Staal, say – he ends up with major assets in Brandon Sutter, defenceman Brian Dumoulin and a first-round pick.
A glum Peter Chiarelli, general manager of a Boston Bruins team that was apparently jilted at the altar by the Flames and Iginla, said the current trade market is “the hardest I’ve ever seen it in all my years because of the short supply.”
That may be true for hockey executives not named Ray Shero.
In the face of desperate competition from Boston and others, Pittsburgh has managed to hoover up three precious assets in the past week: Iginla, former Stars captain Brenden Morrow, and behemoth Swedish defenceman Douglas Murray, ex of the San Jose Sharks.
He has neatly addressed several organizational needs – playoff-tested scoring wingers, veteran leadership, blueline depth – in a way that has a ring of familiarity.
Before the Pens’ run to the Cup final in 2008, he snaffled Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from the Atlanta Thrashers and penalty-killing defenceman Hal Gill from Toronto in his mid-season shopping.
Pittsburgh lost that year, but the next season, he added Kunitz, and scooped up Bill Guerin for a conditional third-round pick. Both have their names on the Cup, as do Dupuis and Gill.
The cost for his haul of 2010 Olympians (Iginla and Morrow played for Canada, Murray for Sweden): three prospects, a first-round pick, two second-round picks and a fifth-round pick.
Crucially, none of Pittsburgh’s roster players or young blue-chippers – including winger Beau Bennett and defencemen Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot – were sacrificed.
That has to do with understanding the market and keen intelligence, it also has to do with good fortune.
Shero’s the first to admit his singular act of genius was to accept a job in 2006 running a team that already included the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-André Fleury and Kristopher Letang.
And he has unabashedly leveraged the fact Pittsburgh has become the hockey destination of choice, the new Detroit Red Wings.
“If I’m the manager of the Oakland Seals,” Shero joked, “I don’t think we’re getting Jarome Iginla.”
At the same news conference, Shero doled out credit to the club’s owners for being willing to add a pro-rated portion of $14-million in salary (“we talk about cap space, but this is actual cash money”), his scouts for accruing the necessary assets to complete the deals, to his players for being a natural draw.
Boasting is not his deal.
But the Pittsburgh GM’s hockey bloodlines run deep, he is the son of legendary player, coach and executive Fred Shero.
Though he’s not quite as inscrutable as his dad – the Winnipeg-born Fred was known as The Fog – the younger Shero, who like Chiarelli learned his executive chops with the Ottawa Senators, is similarly savvy.
According to several hockey people who have done business with him, Shero is a discreet, generally agreeable guy who is nevertheless quietly, unyieldingly persistent.
Therein beats the heart of a ferocious competitor.
This week is merely the latest demonstration.