Maybe it was supposed to be like this. Maybe losing was part of the plan all along. Undoubtedly it would be a daring tactic, but communism once had a promising future, so anything's possible.
When Mario Lemieux took ownership of the Pittsburgh Penguins what seems like a decade ago, there was (and assumedly still is) a plan to take the team from the brink of financial ruin and put them back in the black. It was supposed to be a five year plan. Although, when Mario Lemieux laced up the skates and returned to the game last year, that plan was pushed forward. At least, that's what the team said at the time.
Which makes one wonder, which part of the plan is this exactly? Are the Penguins only pretending to fall out of playoff contention with each passing game? Is this all part of some slick ruse where the Penguins feign being an expansion team rather than one that clawed their way to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago? Is this part of some grand scheme that has yet to be unveiled?
One can only hope so. Either that or this team is slowly becoming the living embodiment of Joseph Heller's Catch 22; a team not talented enough to get into the playoffs, yet one that requires playoff gate receipts to pay players talented enough to get them into the playoffs.
The excuses are all right there, and if the Penguins continue their current slidethe one that started in Philadelphia and has yet to end five games laterthey'll certainly be trotted out for all to see.
The team's young. The team's thin. The team's inexperienced. The team's hurt. Mario's hurt. Straka's hurt.
Unfortunately, excuses are cheap, and they will never explain why the organization has yet to answer the one, simple question that has been hovering around the team since Mario's return.
Exactly what does this team want to be?
Are they a team structured on skill? If so, how does that explain the presence of players like Ian Moran, Darius Kasparaitis, and Dan LaCouture? Conversely, if this team is one built on hard work and effort, why isn't Dan LaCouture on the first line all the time and what are Stephane Richer and Aleksey Morozov doing on the roster at all?
How can any team expect its young talent to seamlessly blend into an NHL squad when that squad has absolutely no identity?
Maybe the organization looked at the way Mario coached the team in the playoffs last year, assumed he'd do the same this entire season, and left it at that. Or perhaps after the trade of Jaromir Jagr the team expected one of the newly acquired unknowns to lead this team despite the fact that, according to team General Manager Craig Patrick, these players were hardly supposed to contribute at all this year. Whatever the rationale, there has been opportunity after opportunity to meet this issue head on and, repeatedly, it has been ignored.
So now, with the Penguins languishing on the outside of the playoffs with 25 games to play, should Penguin fans really be surprised at the current state of affairs?
What this team probably needs is one of those three month backpacking trips through Europe to "find themselves," too bad they don't have the time. Although, if their luck and play continue unabated, the Penguins will have all the time they need to think about their identity and reminisce about how they were once in the upper-echelon of the league.
The fact of the matter is that the Penguins have no leader among them, it has been said here before, and it bears repeating now. As he pointed out at the time of his return, Mario just wants to be 'one of the boys,' and taking second chair is a right he's earned. Yet, whether it stems from fear, lack of ability, or a combination of the two, not one player on the roster has even feinted toward center stage in an attempt to fill the leadership void that exists on this team.
Or is this all just part of the plan too?
Is there some prospect that the Penguins secretly have their eye on who is spearheading this nosedive through the standings? Someone who is the antithesis of the Amazing, Disappearing Milan Kraft; someone who can come up through the Penguins' system and actually have an impact at the NHL level? A player who can sell out the Igloo in a single bound whose name isn't 'Mario'?
Or is this team turning into one gigantic tax write-off?
Forgive these pages if they question a plan that has even its supporters confused, but is all this really in the script?
To be sure, the Penguins could turn this around at any time, they could even stop this free fall before they no longer control their own playoff fate, but this question of leadership and of who this team wants to be has gone unanswered for over a year now. With the team on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, might now be as good a time as any to settle this issue once and for all?
The hope here is that when Mario gets to take the entire country of Canada off his perennially sore back two weeks from now, he can hopefully turn his full attention back toward being the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. At which point, maybe he can sit down with his General Manager and his Head Coach and this trio can begin to answer a question that should have been settled long ago.
That is unless organizational indecision is all simply part of the plan as well.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com and keeps seeing the Penguins' off-season getting closer by the gamewhich doesn't feel right at all.