Friday, March 16, 2012
Bill Guerin beginning a new career
By Pierre LeBrun
NEW YORK -- Bill Guerin watched attentively alongside general manager Ray Shero. He took notes. He nodded as Shero spoke. He shared his opinion when asked.
This is the life now for Guerin, almost two years removed from his last game as a player. He's earning an honest living as a player development coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins. And after playing in the NHL for 18 years, he explained his new career in excited tones.
"It can be different every day," Guerin told ESPN.com during the Penguins' 5-2 win over the Rangers on Thursday night. "I deal mainly with our prospects, our draft picks, kids playing mainly in junior or college, and the guys in [AHL] Wilkes-Barre."
Bill Guerin said he occasionally gets the itch to return to playing but snaps out of it when he sees just how fast the game is today.
Wilkes-Barre is about 150 miles from where Guerin lives with his wife and four kids in New York, so he can make it down to the baby Penguins in no time.
"I spend quite a bit of time dealing with our coaches down there and trying to stay in as much contact as possible with those players," Guerin said.
Steve Yzerman once told ESPN.com that he needed the first couple of years in the Detroit Red Wings' front office to figure out what he wanted to do for his post-playing career. He eventually realized a GM job was his calling.
So will it be behind the bench or in the front office for Guerin?
"I would lean toward the management side, because I don’t know how good of a coach I’d be," Guerin smiled. "I’ve gotten a little bit of a taste of both and I like them both equally. Right now, I’m just taking this year step by step and, after the season, I’m sure I’ll sit down with Ray and [assistant GM] Jason Botterill and [assistant to the GM] Tommy Fitzgerald and go over the year, see what’s next and see how I can improve."
He took a full year off between playing and beginning his new gig. Being off the ice after two decades in an NHL uniform was an adjustment for his entire family.
"For the first year, it was great," Guerin said. "It was like being on a 10-month All-Star break. But after the end of the year, my wife and I both knew I needed to get back involved. Even my kids are getting the itch now; they want to know when they can get back to Pittsburgh and see a Pens game. They don’t know anything different. They grew up with it. It’s been in their life since the day they were born. There’s an element to that. They like having me home but they miss going to the games."
The 41-year-old, who scored 21 goals in his final season in 2009-10, gets the occasional itch to return to playing but snaps out of it when he sees how darn fast today’s NHL game has become.
"It’s unbelievable," Guerin said. "It keeps getting faster. I think every guy that retires, the first couple of years they say, 'I think I can still play. I think I can make a comeback.' And I thought of it. But the game is so fast now, once you’re out, you’re out. The pace of the game is amazing. Teams are preaching transition and pace. It’s a north-south game. The game is so direct. It’s a fast, fast game."
On hand for his team’s 10th consecutive victory, Guerin, like many of us, was amazed at how the Penguins have survived so many key injuries over the past year and are still contenders. He shook his head when reminded that Thursday night was only the 11th game in two seasons Sidney Crosby, Evegni Malkin and Jordan Staal have played in the same game together.
"It’s unbelievable," Guerin said. "It just tells you how good the coaching is, and not just in Pittsburgh. Because in Wilkes-Barre we’ve had a number of guys come up and fill in. The organizational depth is incredible. And you look at a veteran like Pascal Dupuis who has 20 goals, I mean, we’ve got guys chipping in all over the place."
And today, Guerin is a cog in developing those next contributing Penguins. A media favorite for his thoughtful comments during his playing days, he has GM material written all over him if he chooses to pursue it, especially with Shero and his staff providing the tutelage.
"I enjoy what I’m doing right now," Guerin said with a smile.