It's no fun finding out that your team is, well, no good. Nonetheless, it seems obvious that the Pittsburgh Penguins have finally established just that. Now maybe the real work can begin.
For the last few years Penguins' General Manager Craig Patrick has taken a lot of heat, from the fans, from the press, even from players he's dealt away. He's been accused of lying to the fans and the town about what the team under his charge was really capable of and, honestly, a lot of that criticism has been warranted. But consider this, for all the lying Patrick purportedly did to the fans, it might be that he lied to himself just as much, if not more.
If you came to work every day and found varying combinations of Ron Francis, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Alexei Kovalev circling the ice, you too could delude yourself into thinking you were in command of a Cup caliber squad. You wouldn't even have to try hard. You'd probably even laugh out loud at the thought that you were essentially only one or two trades away from being the worst team in the league. Not with that kind of talent on the roster. Especially not with that kind of talent to trade. Not a chance.
Cast in this light, all the Wayne Primeaus, Pat Faloons, Dan Trebils, Rene Corbets, and Jeff Toms make so much more sense. They still may not have been the smartest acquisitions in the world, but at least one can now see the larger picture.
In the mind of the guy in charge, the Penguins honestly seemed just a role player or two away. Call it a case of being too close to the trees to see the forest. But now that the veil has finally lifted on the Penguins talent pool, it should be lifted all the way.
When the Penguins begin training camp in six months, despite what Patrick says, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins should not be Rick Kehoe.
The organization loves 'Chico,' and they should for all he's given this team, but it's time Kehoe was again reassigned. Jaromir Jagr gave a lot of credit to the work Kehoe did with him in his early days in Pittsburgh and now that the Penguins have a new batch of young skill players who need to know the ins and outs of how to take their game to the next level in the NHL, Kehoe should return to the individual instructional role he's better suited for.
It's not Kehoe's fault the Penguins missed the playoffs these last two years, but Kehoe getting consistently out-coached hasn't helped this team either. It's easy to see why he was brought in, just as it's easy to see why any number of coaches have come in and out of Pittsburgh over the last few seasons only to have little to no real impact. With the likes of Jagr, Lemieux, and Kovalev on the ice, real coaching hasn't really a top priority in Pittsburgh for yearswhich is entirely understandable.
By the time Lemieux retired Jagr didn't need a coach, he needed a shrink, a babysitter, and a gambling consultant. Meanwhile Alexei Kovalev simply needs someone who'll give him the room to take two and a half minute shifts when he feels like it and Mario's never needed much more than two guys who can create space and keep their sticks on the ice.
However two thirds of that trio is history in Pittsburgh and now it's time for the Penguins to become an actual hockey team once again. The Penguins seem dead set on finding the character that is going to carry them into a new era (and new Igloo) of Penguins' hockey and it couldn't come at a better time.
But the only way this metamorphosis will be complete is to start over behind the bench as well as on the ice. That's the only way players and fans will truly take this transformation seriously.
If the Penguins are going to invest in their youth and not spend real money on players until 2005, they should back that stance with a commitment to growing the players they have. This means getting rid of the coaching staff in Wilkes-Barre that, by all indications, lost the trust of Penguin players long ago. It also means bringing a head coach to Pittsburgh who can turn this group of kids into a solid, hard-working team over the course of the next year.
That is not what Rick Kehoe was brought in to do. Rick Kehoe is an auto-pilot and there was a stretch where that would suffice, but those days are supposed to be over.
If the organization is truly ready to rebuild, they should realize that a caretaker coach is a remnant of the Penguin team Pittsburgh used to be, not the embodiment of the Penguin team Pittsburgh would like to become. It might be tough for the team to move on, but it's the only way the Penguins will be able to honestly finish what they've started.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season when he's not on the phone harassing Craig Patrick as to why the Anson Carters of the world never end up in Pittsburgh.