Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com
Something New Under The Tree
December 24, 2002
There are a thousand stories in the naked city and some are certainly not as naked as they should be. For that grievous injustice, this column blames the current conservative administration, but that's probably a story best left for another time. Instead, let's focus on another tale this holiday season. One that is just as black as it is white and just as plain as the beak on your penguin.
It involves a poor, disheveled hockey club. That little forlorn one in the corner that nobody wanted. Well, it just so turns out that all this team needed was a good home and little bit of loveand if you believe that, you'll be happy to know that the Pirates will win the World Series sometime this decade and for Christmas, Pinocchio will finally become a real boy.
The truth is, the Penguins need a lot more than just a little love. This team needs more talent, more heart, better coaching, better drafting, and then it needs to go through the drive-thru at McDonald's and super-size the whole lot.
After that, the team needs a promotional night sponsored by a wayward pharmaceutical corporation simply for the good of morale. Think about it, at home this season the Penguins are 0-4 when trailing after one and 1-6 when trailing after two. Would you rather have a warm and fuzzy memory of your last trip to the Igloo or an Ulf Samuelsson bobblehead?
Still, despite the fact that the team and its fans might be better off with the help of prescription-strength narcotics, one thing Pittsburgh won't find under the Christmas tree this holiday season is a new head coach for the Penguins.
Sure, the team could probably use one, but the country's in a recession, money's tight, and not every hockey team can afford a new head man every year. Hey, it's tough all around, not every Internet columnist will get the pony they've wanted since they were four this year either. It's just the way of the cold, cruel, pony-less world.
Part of the reason Kehoe will be able to survive his recent 2-10 stretch is money, but more than that the question becomes this: would a new coach really do much more for this team than the current one? Also, with all the inconsistency on the ice, couldn't one make the argument that the last thing this team needs is more inconsistency in its staff?
Rick Kehoe is a caretaker coach. You know it, the organization knows it, and he has to know it too.
Here's a guy who's the quintessential company man. He's done everything the Penguins have asked for nearly three decades and if there's something in the organization he's yet to do, it is almost certainly because the team has yet to ask.
From scoring to scouting Kehoe's done it all without complaint and odds are that if the team desperately needed him to drive the Zamboni at intermission, he'd read the manual in the morning and be circling the rink that night. (General note to Tom Rooney: This is not a cost-cutting suggestion.)
But the main reason the Penguins have dropped ten of their last twelve games isn't Kehoe, it's because the team has about four combined players on the roster who can be counted on for points. And that's being generous.
Certainly Kehoe's not making it easy on himself with what goes on under his watch, and nobody believes General Manager Craig Patrick when he says the team is doing everything right except winning. (General note to Craig Patrick: If the team were doing everything right they actually would be winning.) Still, in Kehoe's defense, it's tough to implement a system when your starters are dropping left and right and your call-ups are in the hospital having emergency surgery.
Yes, when Super Mario straps on the cape and gets you four points by himself, you're probably going to win. But if the opposition can keep Lemieux and Kovalev off the scoreboard, the only other real threat you have to worry about in the lineup is Strakaand that's when he's actually in the lineup.
Remove Morozov and Tarnstrom from the equation, since they're on the shelf, and you have Lemieux and Kovalev accounting for 48% of the points scored by this team to date. It takes at least four other Penguin players to account for the production of the dynamic duo and if you can take those two off the scoresheet, there isn't a coach in hockey history who would expect to win with the rest of this roster. Which is hardly the slap toward the players it seems.
The Penguins haven't drafted well in about a decade and they haven't groomed players well since somewhere near the dawn of time, so blaming Kehoe may be cheap and easy, but it doesn't really solve anything. (General note to all: The previous statement no way suggests that this column believes there's anything wrong with being cheap and easy.)
Could another coach weave a collection of rookies, castaways, and low-budget fill-ins into a winner? Maybe, but that's not what Kehoe was hired to do. Kehoe was brought in to keep the load on Mario's back steady as Mario lugs this team into a new Igloo.
At that point, if there's any money around, Kehoe will be tossed aside and another coach will get his chance with more developed NHL material. Is it fair? No, but odds are that's the way it will go and undoubtedly Kehoe knows this as well as anybody.
Moreover, this is exactly what Kehoe was asked to doand it's exactly what he's done. For almost 30 years, Rick Kehoe has been there for this organization and for that he should be applauded.
An appropriate gift for the Penguins this holiday season would be some serious NHL talent or even a little more direction from the Penguins' front office. But until that arrives, a new coach is a fruitcake this team can do without.
Kehoe's a rare breed who's earned this time behind the bench and if the team does little more than tread water throughout his tenure you'll know that Kehoe's done exactly what was asked of him.
At which point the question shouldn't be, 'why is the Penguins' coaching staff content to simply tread water,' but rather, 'why is the Penguin organization content to simply tread water?'
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com when he's not on injured reserve or six sheets to the wind thanks to some free holiday egg nog. He also tends to consistently embody the idea of being both cheap and easy.
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