Right now a lot of people are assuredly doing their best to bend your ear; trying every subterfuge in the book to get some last minute lobbying in before the season begins next week. Pittsburgh needs this, Pittsburgh needs that. The Penguins need this, the Penguins need that. But not this column. Not here. No way.
Of course, suggestions, those are a different story all together . . .
Save the team, not the league
It's not your fault that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has the spine of a half-melted Jell-O mold. If you're ever at a loss to explain the existence of the Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, simply remember the commish never met a check he was unwilling to cash. Still, just because the head of the league starts to salivate when he looks at the debacle that is the NBA (where the average ticket price is over $50 per game), doesn't mean you need to be recruited for the cause.
Playing professional hockey is hard enough, and as they say, if you build it, they will most definitely come. The same free-form game that you loved so much as a kid is the same one hockey fans want to see, it's just that NHL teams are afraid they can't win playing it. The league needs a reason come around and another team that plays any version of the Neutral Zone Trap isn't it. Win in Pittsburgh on your own terms and the league will emulate the Penguins. Feel free take the entire season to disprove this theory.
Listen to your body
Your comeback, already the stuff of legend, has now brought even the biggest ego in sports off the bench. However no one should be surprised if Michael Jordan's shameless reclamation of the what is, in reality, the JBA ends in a sad hobble off the court. In preparing for his comeback, Jordan broke ribs, had knee problems, back problems, and obviously came down with a severe case of myopia. His body has been trying to tell him something, loudly, but like a screaming six year-old, he staunchly refuses to listen. Please don't make the same mistake, not for the fans, but for you.
Being someone with a high-maintenance back, you've certainly been admonished ad nauseam. Caffeine is not your friend. Shoes and socks which help mitigate spinal compression rather than exacerbate it are worth their weight in gold. But this is more than that, this is about doing what it takes to wake up ten years from now and not be in searing pain. Maybe this means working through the soreness, maybe this means taking an extra day off during the season; whatever it is, if you listen to what your body tells you, you'll be more than ready come this May or any other.
Vote Straka for Captain
With Jagr on the roster there was a reason to keep the captaincy from Marty, but not now. Straka works hard every shift, every night. He doesn't try to coast by on talent or wait for his 'potential' to kick in. He doesn't quit on a puck or a play, he just gives it everything he's got every single game. In a town founded on a blue-collar work ethic, it's hard to find a Penguin more deserving of the captaincy than Marty Straka.
Team General Manager Craig Patrick has made amends for the ugliness that took place during Straka's salary arbitration hearing, consideration Straka well deserved. It seems only right that the players now reward Straka for his tireless dedication on the ice as well.
Embrace Kasparaitis or exile him to the Alaskan wilderness
Certainly no one needs to remind you about the last time you had to play against Darius Kasparaitis in the playoffs, those rodeos they show in the middle of the day on ESPN2 feature less hog-tying.
Kasparaitis is still one of the best pests in the game and even though Craig Patrick has done everything in his power to undermine the defenseman's worth to the team, Kasparaitis can still get inside an opponent's head as good as anybody. Whether or not he can get inside of yours is debatable, but why give him the chance?
If the first few months of Kasparaitis getting in the face of Lindros, Yashin, Roenick, and LeClair don't prove Kasparaitis' worth in Pittsburghagainremind Craig Patrick to trade Kasparaitis not just out of the division, but out of the conference. But if Kasparaitis does reestablish his worth and his mettleyes, againtake him back into the fold, apologize for the way the organization let him twist in the wind and the press, and pay him what he's worth.
Ask anyone, from those in the front office to the ticket takers at the Igloo and they'll all tell you the same thing. If you don't need the money, you have little excuse to work a job you hate.
It was particularly hard for Penguins fans to listen to Jaromir Jagr brood last season when he was not only pushing $10 million in annual salary, but well on his way to another scoring title and MVP-caliber season. It's not that a fan making $7 an hour is unable to imagine how someone could be so rich and so miserable, and it's not not because all those conscientious Internet columnists who aspire to make $7 an hour can't fathom it either, it's because these are the people saving their paychecks to go to the Igloo. These people dream about the ability to play hockey for a living for free, let alone get rich off it, and Jagr was "dying alive"?
Yet, if none of the above suggestions merit any consideration, please remember only this. The genuine enjoyment you get from playing the game can't be concealed, nor should it be. Because it is this very excitement which is appreciated, reflected, and then reciprocated ten fold by the fans in the stands. That is why the seats really get filled. Not because sport is a diversion from every day life, because it is a convergence, hopefully a confluence of the best that life has to offer. That's why those three hours a night are so special to those who show up. In a perfect world, we want to believe those hours are just as special to you.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and believes that Mario can win the scoring title playing only 65 games. Brother Karsh is also convinced that the restraining order Mario has against him is all just one big misunderstanding.