February 27, 2012

Bay State natives Rowe, Fitzgerald scouting the deadline

By Jesse Connolly

Hold the résumés of Tom Rowe and Tom Fitzgerald side by side, and you’ll find an astounding number of commonalities, far more than just being born with the same first name. 

Tom Fitzgerald (Billerica, Mass.) -- celebrating the Penguins’ Stanley Cup with star Evgeni Malkin -- now works as an assistant to Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The two Bay State natives both grew up on the North Shore, had successful pro careers and spent time behind the bench as assistant coaches for NHL clubs. At present, they’re both serving in highly similar capacities as the eyes and ears of their respective GMs, with Rowe working as a pro scout for the Hurricanes and Fitzgerald as an assistant to general manager Ray Shero for the Penguins.

And while each of them spends the majority of the calendar year keeping tabs on their organization’s current cast and potential additions to the club via trade or free agency, the two will be on significantly different missions leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline.

“Obviously, we need to rebuild and we’re in the rebuilding process right now,” Rowe said as the Hurricanes found themselves at or near the bottom of the conference standings throughout most of the first four months of the season. “We’ve got a lot of young guys in our lineup and will probably have more in the second half. We’ll be looking for some size, more speed and to be a tougher team to play against.”

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald (Billerica, Mass.) is doing his part to boost a club with considerably higher aspirations this season. After being bounced in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Penguins will look to go deeper in the postseason, much the way they did in 2008 when they reached the finals and 2009 when they captured the Cup.

The process of preparing to find and acquire the missing pieces to a championship puzzle is something nearly all members of the front office are working on year-round.

“A high gear, for me, that’s the definition for cramming,” Fitzgerald said when asked how much things get ramped up leading up to the deadline. “Our pro scouts do an unbelievable job. Gearing up for the trade deadline I think is more of identifying needs and that’s the pro meetings before where we identify areas where we’d like to get stronger. You identify the teams that potentially have those pieces. Then it’s a guesswork on what the acquisition cost would be.” 

Tom Rowe (Lynn, Mass.), who served as assistant coach with the Hurricanes for three seasons, relies on his coaching experience in his role as a pro scout for Carolina. (Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Penguins’ success at the deadline in February under Shero has been nothing short of remarkable, as key pickups such as Marian Hossa and Bill Guerin (Wilbraham, Mass.) have played pivotal roles in the team’s lengthy playoff runs. But much like last year, Pittsburgh will have to do a little internal guesswork thanks to a rash of injuries to key players — namely Jordan Staal and superstar Sidney Crosby.

“You look at our man-games lost this year, we’ve got to be close to 250,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not sure if there’s a team that’s close. It’s part of the game. You have to deal with injuries, some long-term and some short-term. The one thing we’ve really tried to pride ourselves in is depth. We’ve tried to pride ourselves in developing NHL assets.”

One of Rowe’s main objectives is to help Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford boost the organization’s depth. Prior to serving as an assistant coach in Carolina for three seasons, the Lynn, Mass., native spent four years behind the bench for the team’s AHL affiliate. Rowe’s time there and familiarity with not only the Hurricanes’ crop of youngsters but also those of other organizations is something that helps him in his endeavors.

“I definitely look at the players differently now after coaching for the last 10 years,” Rowe said. “Obviously, I can watch a team and know what kind of system they’re playing and know how that player is supposed to be playing in that system, or how he executes within the system. If we’re playing the same system, then that player may or may not be for us, depending on how he executes. I know exactly what I’m looking for, and I know what our big club needs as far as depth and the type of players we need to get back to the playoffs.”

On the surface, the responsibility of making the right call on an immeasurably high number of players may sound daunting. While the general manager will have the final say, it’s up to guys like Rowe and Fitzgerald to accurately assess a player’s strengths and weaknesses, go to bat for those they believe are a good fit and try their darnedest to talk GMs out of acquiring the ones they don’t.

But as far as Fitzgerald — who has aspirations of managing his own team one day — is concerned, deadline day is certainly pressure-packed, but it’s the culmination of all the hard work he and the rest of the front office have put in leading up to it. That, quite simply, makes those final hours a thrilling experience.

“That’s the part I love,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve been very fortunate to sit in on every trade deadline in the past five years. When you’re a team that tries to win the Cup every year, deadline day usually isn’t too quiet. It’s been real exciting.”

With fine assets like Fitzgerald and Rowe in their arsenal, the Penguins should be poised to remain Cup contenders, while the Hurricanes promise to get themselves back in the mix in the battle for hockey supremacy in the near future. And that’s certainly yet another thing the two New Englanders would be more than happy to have in common.

THE STAT

Edmonton’s Ryan Whitney (Scituate, Mass.) has missed 113 games due to injury since the start of the 2008-09 season.

Schneider not fond of snub

Count Cory Schneider among those perplexed by Tim Thomas’ decision to snub President Obama.

The Marblehead, Mass., native believes the Bruins’ Conn Smythe Trophy winner was entitled to choose to not join his teammates during their celebratory visit to the White House, but the Canucks netminder thinks there was a better way for Thomas to push his political agenda.

“His beliefs are his own and that’s fine. It’s just the timing is a little odd,” Schneider told the Vancouver Sun. “If your entire team is going, it’s about the team to kind of put your own agenda aside and maybe just show up in support.

“Obviously, he believes strongly in his political views,” Schneider continued. “But, as an American, I think we all have a little bit of respect for the position of the president. Whether you like the guy or not, he’s the president of the United States. Tim has made a great living and a great career in the United States and I’m sure he’s benefited from tax-paying dollars and every other right that as an American citizen we all enjoy. It’s a little bit of a slight to sort of forget all that and choose to do this.”

Fayne growing with Devils

Called up during the Devils’ decidedly dismal start last season, Mark Fayne’s first stint in the NHL came with a team that wasn’t exactly on cloud nine. But with a dramatically better record, things are not only on the up-and-up for the Devils but also for the Sagamore Beach, Mass., native who has impressed first-year coach Peter DeBoer.

“I’ll be honest. I didn’t know him at all as a player coming in here,” DeBoer admitted. “He’s really impressed me with how reliable he is, how coachable he is and how versatile he is. He can do a little bit of everything. He can play a shutdown role, he can kill penalties, he’s a big body, he can help on the power play. It’s hard to find those types of players.”

Bonino has support

After spending all but one game in the minors during the first two months of the season, things weren’t exactly looking up for Nick Bonino (Unionville, Conn.). But since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Anaheim Ducks bench, his confidence has shot through the roof.

“He’s so positive,” Bonino told the Orange County Register about Boudreau. “I feel a lot more comfortable around here and getting feedback whether I have a good game or not. Being more comfortable here, it’s going to translate to the ice.”

Bonino got to take over as the second-line center with Saku Koivu sidelined in January, serving as the pivot for stars Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com