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Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com

Follow The Money

June 20, 2002

So the front office isn't talking to the players, the coaches aren't talking to the players, maybe even the players aren't talking to the players, and it's all one big mess. Rather fitting for a team that ended the season in the league's basement, is it not? Finger pointing. Blame enough for everybody.

How appropriate it is that the latest Penguin dust-up (if one can even call it that) would come this week, during the thirtieth anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Not because both involve poor judgment, or because the home audience seems so hung up on who said what to whom, but because in both cases, the same axiom is just as resonant today as it was all those years ago.

Despite the bullet-point summary you'll find in the history books, what happened at the Watergate wasn't simply about entrenching the power of a paranoid Republican president. (Sorry, that should be more specific—a paranoid Republican president named Richard Nixon.) Rather the story was about leveraging access, maintaining control, and creating opportunity.

For the Penguins, the opportunity for success is significantly smaller than it is for their moneyed counterparts based simply upon the Penguins' bank balance. Call it an excuse if you will, but the fact that Pittsburgh ended up with Rick Kehoe coaching the Penguins and Glenn Patrick coaching the Baby Penguins has as much to do with their price-point as it does with their coaching ability. The Penguins' average coaching staff and adequate (at best) scouting system stem directly from the team being barely removed from bankruptcy. For the Penguins, the watchword is affordability. And while organizational competence plays a part, without the opportunity that money provides, the Penguins' ability to leverage any sort of access is hamstrung from the start.

Now, money does not guarantee a different outcome. However, there is a reason you don't hear horror stories about the ineptness of the New York Yankees' farm and scouting systems. The Yankees have the money to hire a cost-no-object staff, and while that cannot ensure success, it does dramatically increase the team's chance of success by opening up options and removing limitations. Money creates opportunity and teams like the Yankees use these opportunities to leverage their access and maintain a considerable measure of control.

Of course, this can open up a whole new set of problems. For Richard Nixon, 1972 was simply part of an on-going campaign (no pun intended) to stay in power. Still, his motive was no different than the motives of the modern-day Yankees or Philadelphia Flyers, Nixon just so happened to be caught breaking the law. But if you don't have the money to begin with, having much power at all—let alone enough power to abuse—is mostly a pipe-dream since you are continually relegated to simply make do based what you can afford.

Please do not think that this is the 'stand by your man' argument. General Manager Craig Patrick and everyone beneath him (not to mention above him) should be held accountable for the choices they make and how those decisions effect the franchise for better or worse.

If the minor league coaching staff cannot teach and communicate, they are effectively scuttling the most valuable asset the franchise has and they should be replaced no matter what their last names may be. If the scouting staff is spread too thin to thoroughly evaluate talent, they should be supplemented with reinforcements or let go in favor of those who can do more with less. And all of this should be discussed, at great length, between Patrick and his boss(es).

Whether or not that is happening behind closed doors remains unknown, but because the business of today's NHL doesn't happen on a level playing field, there is a harder road for the Penguins to hoe with each passing season. Every action that small market teams take must be viewed and evaluated through the prism of money, just as it must be recognized that the allocation of money has become its own talent and the successful business model for an NHL team has changed substantially in less than a decade.

This is why it should be no surprise to see the verbal volleying playing out daily in Penguinville right now. This team was broke last year and, even worse, they were bad. Moreover, the team has to know that if they don't do something about their situation soon they're going to end up sliding even further down the ladder a year from now.

Thus, it would behoove this organization to get everybody in a room and concentrate solely on fixing the future. We already know the present, and how it came about, a shadowy figure lurking in a Washington D.C. parking structure thirty years ago told us all about it.

Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and when he's not steadfastly guarding a lost eighteen minutes of audio tape in the off-season.

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