Bill Guerin isn’t holding anything back.
Pittsburgh’s assistant general manager had only officially held the title of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins GM for a little over four hours before he had his first press conference with the local media, but he’s not showing any signs of somebody who wanted to dip his toe in the water before getting in. Guerin’s comments were a full-fledged cannonball.
A lot of what he had to say revolved around his desire to ensure that the Penguins stay among the top of the American Hockey League standings.
“It’s absolutely critical that we have success in Wilkes-Barre,” the U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer said. “The culture in Wilkes-Barre, the winning attitude, the winning that’s done on the ice, being able to compete in the playoffs every year, and not just competing, but giving yourself a chance to win every year, that’s part of development, in my mind. Development is not just about going out and playing hockey, playing a lot of minutes. It’s about playing the right way. It’s about playing with a purpose, and that purpose is to win.”
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has been a bastion of success in the AHL for quite some time now. The club has qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs for 16-consecutive years, the league’s active record. This last season, the Penguins finished with the best record in the AHL, earning the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy for the second time in team history.
Guerin isn’t trying to tamper expectations in his first season at the helm. He’s embracing them.
“There are high expectations [in Wilkes-Barre],” he said. “There’s a good history there, and I plan on following in those footsteps. Not much is going to change in terms of the expectation level. We’re still going to compete for the Calder Cup, we’re still going to develop players for Pittsburgh. I expect our team and our organization to continue to be one of the model organizations of the American Hockey League.”
Guerin’s responsibilities as general manager of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton encompass all hockey operations-related decisions, such as free agent player signings, trades, staffing, etc. Given the wrinkle that the NHL’s expansion to Las Vegas has presented the offseason, he acknowledges that it will probably be a while before he can really zero in on potential roster moves. The NHL and AHL’s roster landscape is still very much in flux with the pending expansion draft.
All of that considered, Guerin isn’t wasting any time when it comes to preparing for the beginning of the unrestricted free agency period on July 1.
“My first order of business is to go over our depth chart and start planning for next year,” he said. “I’m going to go up and down the lineup to see where we’re strong and see where we can improve. We definitely have to look down the middle. Strong teams are always built down the middle.”
Guerin has always been an affable personality and colorful personality dating back to his playing days. In fact, there’s a part of him that you can see that still feels like the same guy who racked up 429 career goals in the NHL. A suit and tie job hasn’t tampered his enjoyment of hockey. He loves being a “hands on” mentor, occasionally hitting the ice with Penguins players at practice in the past.
His front office role allowed him to explore the business from a different angle, too. Since he joined Pittsburgh’s staff as Player Development Coach in 2011, he’s learned how to interact with players from a position of authority, be a teacher and instructor, but still keep things light the way only Bill Guerin can.
The time he spent under the tutelage of Jim Rutherford has proven invaluable to Guerin, too. In the three years Rutherford has spent as Pittsburgh’s GM, the team has captured two Stanley Cups. Surely some of that wisdom has rubbed off on Guerin by now, which is part of what made him the ideal candidate to lead Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the success that he considers to be so crucial.
“The things that I’ve learned from [Rutherford] is that you have to patient with players, you have to communicate well with your coaches, you have to be loyal and you have to be fair. I’ve learned a lot from Ray [Shero], too.
“I feel like I’m fully prepared for this.”