Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com
July 11, 2002
Everybody is absolutely outraged; the people, the press, the president. It's gotten to the point where the New York Times has begun to run editorials outraged about all the outrage.
At least the country's current 'crisis of confidence' hasn't extended to our propensity to hop on the emotional bandwagon of the moment.
Sadly, unlike many, Penguin fans have every right to be outraged. They should be angry enough to take up arms and storm the palace gates. In fact, they might even do so, were many of them not mired so deep in denial.
It should probably be stipulated that everything does look better in denial. The NHL is competitive and financially healthy. Companies don't commit three billion dollars worth of fraud. The president can actually speak English. Truly, it is bliss. Unfortunately, when you trade reality for piece of mind it's a one-sided deal that you don't win.
The good news is, without the aid of serious pharmaceutical assistance, denial is a temporary state. Some unlucky souls, such as Gary Bettman, have the ability to transform a temporary denial into a permanent delusion, but usually the real world does win out, and this time will be no different.
That is, as soon as wethe fans and the teamfinally accept reality.
Professional hockey as we know it, ladies and gentlemen, is dying. All those little lies we tell ourselves so we can sleep easieryou know, the ones about over-expansion not diluting the talent pool and the large market, big dollar teams not buying their way toward a championshipall those lies are finished. Oh, they'll still be repeated in tabloids like the New York Post, but no one will really believe them. Why? Because the facts are in.
Today, owning a hockey team is an invitation to lose money on an annual basis, the harbinger that you might eventually be sent to jail for fraud, or both. Add to that the teams who are looking for protection from the Canadian government or working their way from bankruptcy, the players like Robert Lang who now earn $5 million a season, and a general absence of fiscal sanity and you don't need resident LetsGoPens.com economist Tomas Jandik to tell you that the NHL has a serious problem.
None of this happened overnight, it never does, but that doesn't make it any less offensive. It also doesn't explain why you need a significant substance abuse problem to make the case that the National Hockey League is stable and not becoming a farce of Major League Baseball proportions.
How the NHL could be so asinine as to watch baseball lose all credibility with virtually every sports fan and then proceed to emulate it every step of the way is almost inexplicable. Baseball is a sport that canceled a World Series and just had fans booing not just the commissioner, but booing the All Star Gameduring the game itself. How can that possibly qualify as a positive role model?
Yes, Penguins' General Manager Craig Patrick lied. He lied to other teams, he lied to the press, and he lied to the fans. That's what general managers do. They lie to increase player value, they lie to get people in the building, they lie for a living, and everybody knows it.
Patrick didn't lie to make himself look good, whether or not he's that vain he's surely not that adept with the press. He lied because the Penguins have the financial balance sheet of a banana republic and because they're slowly becoming unable to compete in the NHL. Yet, this story languishes on the back burner and that's if it's even discussed at all.
Years ago, the Penguins failed to properly capitalize on Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in the prime of their careers. The team concentrated on filling seats instead of creating Penguin fans and now they have to watch as their attendance erodes in lockstep with their on-ice talent. The fault for this lies squarely on the shoulders of the organization, they were and are still unquestionably to blame, but that should make Patrick's intentions all the more expected. Even if his exploits ended up being ineffectual, using what little press dexterity he has in an attempt to keep the team afloat wasn't a bad idea, it was just poorly executed.
Remember, the first free agent signed to a long-term deal last year wasn't a player, it was Patrick and the cost to fire him, replace him, and bring in someone new goes beyond prohibitive for a team run on a little more than a shoestring. Thus, with his job safe, it should follow that no matter how poorly he's explained himself, Patrick was making a genuine effort to help the team.
Therefore, how is it possible to be angry and outraged by any of Patrick's lies when hardly an eyebrow has been raised toward the league as they've lied to small market teams like the Penguins and their fans not just for years, but for far more insidious reasons? Patrick was trying to raise player value, how is that worse than the NHL denying that, as the game is currently structured, more than thirty percent of the league will never again have a chance to win the Stanley Cup?
It is time to wake up and smell what the NHL is trying to sell the public, and it's not coffee. No matter who is willing to discuss it or not, the NHL is not healthy and the Penguins are just trying to survive.
Should this team be trying to do more than just survive? Certainly. Absolutely. However, as soon as the Penguins come out and tell the world that the NHL is run with the collective impotence of a eunuch factory, the sooner hockey fans begin to realize the truth about the game, the league, and their team. And as soon as this grand facade the league reinforces at every turn begins to crumble, denial goes out the window, and the NHL begins to look a lot like Major League Baseball.
Again, denial is a warm and fuzzy place, nobody will debate that. But denying the truth isn't going to make the Penguins a contender any time soon. Nor will it even out the playing field league-wide.
So long as the league is content to stick their head in the sand and lie to hockey fans across the globe without a second thought, teams like the Penguins will struggle just to survive. That is until they can't survive, then the league will dissolve the Penguins and sell off the players just as they intended to do three years ago when the Penguins were in bankruptcy court.
But nobody has time to deal with this right now because Craig Patrick lied, the Penguins lost Robert Lang, and everybody is simply outraged.
In that case, don't worry at all. Everything is fine with the league and with the Penguins. Please, continue to enjoy your summer and remember to call 642-PENS for season ticket information.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com and believes that the Penguins shouldn't lie to their fans, but he understands their reluctance to fight the system. He just wonders if the Penguins realize that the system they're so willing to acquiesce to is the very system designed to drive professional hockey out of Pittsburgh forever.
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