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Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com

Resolution and Resolve

January 9, 2003

So here we are, an entire week after the first of the year and if you can still remember your New Year's Resolution, you can give yourself one point. Now, if you're still holding to that resolution, go ahead and give yourself two points. However, if you've completely forgotten whatever it was that you promised to do, work on, become, or give up while you were wallowing neck-deep in a profound state of inebriation, scrap this game all together and consider yourself normal.

Right around the time the calendar was set to turn over again, the USA Today—best friend to pie charts everywhere—declared that well over fifty percent of the country makes a New Year's Resolution each year. What they failed to mention was how many people actually keep them, and beyond that, why so many people make resolutions in the first place if they hardly intend to remember them, let alone keep them.

Resolutions are like doughnuts, in theory they're a sound idea, but in practice they're a disaster unless they're properly implemented. Sure, resolutions can change anything from daily routine to life as a whole, yet they only work if you have the courage to take a long look in the mirror beforehand and the resolve to stick to them going forward. Which brings us back to 1999.

When Mario Lemieux rescued the Pittsburgh Penguins from bankruptcy all those years ago, his stated goal was to "rebuild the Penguin dynasty." At the time this sounded less like a resolution than an edict, and Penguin fans tired of a team with lots of talent and little direction rejoiced.

Only now, years later, how much has really changed? How much closer are the Penguins to this goal today than they were when Mario swooped down from above and saved the team from their own managerial ineptitude?

Could it instead be argued that the Penguins have actually lost ground since this momentous event based on all the talent that no longer calls the Steel City home and the team's continued, basically isolated, reliance on Mario and Mario alone?

Currently the Penguins languish right around a -20 in plus/minus ratio and are considered a conference contender only if you're feeling generous. If the Penguins' resolution was then (and remains now) to get back to the NHL's top tier, it seems only fair to ask if the Penguins are still in that phase where they take two steps backward before they can pretend to take one or two forward.

This is not to make the case that success in the National Hockey League is easy since simply looking at the NHL landscape shows how unhealthy the league is. The conference-leading Ottawa Senators will officially file for bankruptcy protection his week and the team with the league's highest payroll is doing little more than a renovating the Atlantic Division cellar. Then there's Buffalo, the team the NHL has already taken over, and even in the city where Mario Lemieux continues to write one of the greatest hockey stories ever told, Penguin attendance struggles.

But as Mario's on-ice performance continues to demonstrate, greatness rarely exists without adversity. Be honest, how much greater does Mario's league-leading point total look when he's surrounded by the likes of Hans Jonsson and J.S. Aubin as opposed to a Rob Blake or Patrick Roy? Still, saying the league is structured so teams like the Penguins mire in mediocrity is cheap and easy—it's accurate as well, but it hardly makes fans line up around the block to get another look at Jan Hrdina.

Truth is, the only fate the Penguins can control is their own and if their goal is to thrive in spite of the NHL landscape, then perhaps it's time this team get a check up to see if they're on course before the money runs out again. Because the next time an independent auditor shows up, he's not going to be someone who cleans house on the ice, but rather someone who's there to count the pencils in the front office for the liquidation sale.

Right now, the Penguins are fighting for the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, that is, even though the playoffs are still over three months away. And this seems to be just about the extent of what Pittsburgh can afford as far as hockey teams go. But is that really what this team intends to be?

Is a team whose best player literally owns the franchise and whose second best player is basically beyond their budget honestly what this franchise strives for?

Mario has conditioned this town for the sublime, only now that Pittsburgh cannot afford it across the board the team almost twists in the wind as it wrestles with how to comprehend the concept, let alone deal with it. Penguin fans should still certainly support their team, but should they also just blindly accept this organizational lack of focus?

In essence, the question seems to be this. Is the Penguins' plan simply to put on a happy face while the team treads water until the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out in 2004? At which point, is the hope that the NHL then fixes itself? And, if that is the Penguins' plan, in what way does that "rebuild the Penguin dynasty"?

Or was that simply the kind of resolution that nobody ever really intended to keep?

Brother Karsh appears at LGP.com weekly during the season and his resolution for the new year is to keep the status of his strained groin muscles day-to-day—at the very least.

Back to Karsh's Column List


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