Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com
New Year's Resolution
January 1, 2002
Everybody makes them, if only in passing. Quit smoking. Quit drinking. Get in shape. They almost never last, but still people throw them out there. Work less. Travel more. Read. They're mostly harmless, but mostly just as meaningless. Save more money. Spend more time. Find more meaning.
The Penguins, too, have proven themselves in need of a resolution this coming year, but the kind they need is less suggestion than solution, and it starts at the top.
Fact is, you can't go home again. The phrase often gets used as a catchy title, or flung around as a punchline, but in reality it's neither. It's something you learn in time.
You can, of course, travel to the place where you were raised. You can see the same sights, the same people, you can even sleep in the same bed. But you can never go back to the home you once knew. Time sees to that.
A year ago Mario Lemieux returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins under all the fanfare anyone could ever ask for. He was hailed as a hero and a savior, again.
A year later, that's past. Yes, the team still longs for his return (desperately so according to their last few outings), but it's not the same. And as Mario finally talks about getting back on the ice in January, it won't be the same then either.
Assuredly Mario Lemieux had fun last year, it was visibly evident when he was on the ice. Yet that was hardly the home he once knew. Like those high school friends who marry, move on, or both, Ron Francis and Tom Barrasso were long gone before Mario even took the ice. Moreover, Jaromir Jagr was all grown up and Kevin Stevens had become a shadow of his former self. Since then, the team has only continued to change, struggling mightily in the process.
Once this team was home, it still is in many ways, but it certainly isn't the home Mario Lemieux once knew.
Today's team is thinner, younger, less resilient, and a far cry from the budding dynasty Mario once anchored. Today's Penguins need a teacher just as much as they need a leader, and the longer Lemieux is off the ice and away from this team the more the questions mount.
Thus, what Mario Lemieux needs right now, what his team needs right now, is resolution itself.
All the talk about whether Mario should play in the Olympics or not is blather. Maybe it makes for good television or good ink, but it's of absolutely no consequence. Mario can and should do whatever he wants about the Olympicsas he should with the rest of his time on the ice. Mario has more than earned the right to such choices over the course of his career. However, whatever his plans are with regards to his future in a Penguins' sweater, they should be shared with his team as soon as possible; not for his sake, but for theirs.
Whether or not this team has earned his trust, the players who are on the roster have at least earned the truth merely by being part of the organization. Yet the more one watches this team continue into their tailspin, the more it seems that Mario's teammates are no less confused by the Mario sideshow than the average Joe on the street. That's not right.
If the Penguins are going to have any chance to compete for anything come the end of the season, the players are going to have to be there for each other. They're not deep enough to pretend they could accomplish anything else any other way. Which is why Mario needs to be there for the Penguins in a way he never has been before.
The time has come for Mario to admit that there are things he simply can't do on the ice any more. The time has come for Mario to realize that the past is the past and the future is what you make it. You can change the logo, you can bring back whatever players you want, but you can't go home again.
Nobody tries to turn back the clock just for fun. It's done in an effort to recapture something. A time, a feeling, someone or something you once hadand it's obvious that Mario is looking for something here. Perhaps that something is only known to Mario himself, but the longer his true condition remains shrouded in mystery, the easier it is to throw the rest of the team off their game which hurts the entire organization.
The rumors have already started in the press box, both in front of and behind the camera. There is speculation about Mario's condition, his desire, and his resolve. This is precisely why Mario needs to quell this issue on the ice and in the office.
The Penguins cannot weather injuries like they've had this year and if Mario's body can simply no longer endure the grind of the NHL, Mario's team needs to know about it now so that everybody can move on.
Nobody's going to fault the owner and captain if he can't go much further, he's already given Pittsburgh more than any hockey player in the history of the game. But at some point this team will need long-term answers about who's going to be there every night. At some point this organization will need to lay the foundation for a new home instead of trying to reach back for one that dissolved years ago.
There are far worse ways to begin a brand new year than by looking forward. There are far better ways to begin a brand new year than with resolution.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.comunless he's on the road for the holidays, then he's usually too pinned down under the weight of presents, people, and pilsner to have the faintest idea what a 'week' is. But he wishes everybody a Happy New Year nonetheless.
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