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Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com

Not Standing Up For Falling Down

March 20, 2003

Question: How many Pittsburgh Penguins does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: We'll let you know as soon as Pittsburgh can afford the light bulb.

Question: What's wrong with the Penguins' AHL team?
Answer: Your AHL team would be losing too if you kept making it play in the NHL.

Ah, yes, the jokes. They'll be here all week—or, more accurately, they'll be here until Saturday April 5th when the Penguins' season finally ends. They're not funny, but they're plentiful, and they'll be back next season so you might as well get used to them.

Question: Did you hear that Pittsburgh wants to petition the league?
Answer: You mean so they can change their name to the Cincinnati Bengals?

That's right, yuk it up.

For too many years now the Penguins have lived by that ever-present American philosophy of "they'll like us when we win." At times it's even worked. After all, people love a winner and we are a nation that can't scream "scoreboard" loud enough. Besides, when you win a lot can be forgiven.

But when the scoreboard stops being your friend and when the wins become more scarce, the means matter more than the ends. Suddenly, subtlety becomes important.

Pittsburgh hasn't looked too far down the road with development for some time, mostly because they haven't exactly needed to. For teams that live in the now, prospects who might pan out in a few years deserve far less attention than the trades that could put you over the top right this instant. If you're rebuilding you concentrate on the fundamentals, if you're a Cup contender you take them for granted.

However, now the Penguins are rebuilding and now they're going to have all the time they need to teach their youth everything they skimmed over in the past. It's just that, regrettably, the Penguins will look like a laughing stock while they do it.

Every league needs a punchline and it would seem, for a while anyway, that the Penguins will play that role in the National Hockey League. Think of the NFL's Bengals, or the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers if you want to imagine what the pundits will crack.

In fact, thinking about these teams in particular might be more prudent than thinking about sport's current elite because these two teams are a veritable blueprint of what not to do once things go bad.

Teams like the Bengals and Clippers are overwhelmingly regarded as the worst sports franchises going and while they may have become truly horrid due to circumstances beyond their control—injury, money, what have you—these teams stay bad through rampant mismanagement.

The Cincinnati Bengals are run so on the cheap that instead of having a full scouting department, the team forces some front office employees to double as scouts during the offseason. 'Yes, Ms. Jones, if you could drop this at FedEx then cover the Mountain West Conference for us, thanks.'

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers are so steadfastly set against paying players market value that many of their draft picks consider playing in L.A. "doing time" until they're free agents and can leave.

For both these teams, and other poorly run teams like them, screwing up good draft picks regularly and consistently nickel and dimeing their coaching hires is also the norm. For some reason many bad teams in professional sports seem all too ready to forget the axiom that you get what you pay for.

A solid organization is something that can help a bad team become good and a good team become great. A weak organization is what takes good teams and makes them bad, and what takes bad teams and makes them the Denver Nuggets.

It's about investing in yourself and your future and now that the Penguins are ready to believe in development like never before, they should find the money to do it right. It really doesn't have to be that long a road back to the top, consider the turn around of baseball's Anaheim Angels.

When the Angels were officially turned over to the Disney corporation in 1998, Jackie Autry, widow of late Angels' owner Gene Autry, made a plea to the new owners of the team. She begged Disney not to turn their backs on the farm system the Angels had finally invested in. She told them that it might take an extra million or two dollars a year to run a first class farm system, but that if Disney would only stick with it, such a farm system would provide the players capable of winning the first World Championship in Angels' history.

Say that baseball has become a mockery if you will (it has), but despite finishing 25 games back in their division in 1999, the Angels will open the 2003 Major League Baseball season as World Champions thanks in large part to players they themselves developed.

Yes, the Penguins may be the worst team in hockey right now, but everything's cyclical and the Penguins will get their shot at greatness again—assuming they want it.

The Penguins have started to retool on the ice. Monday they even started to do the same in the front office. The hope here is that this is all only the beginning and the overhaul will continue through the offseason with changes in both Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre.

If so, the joke that's on Pittsburgh today could quite quickly turn into a joke that's on the rest of the league sooner than you think.

Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and finds reasons to paraphrase Elvis Costello songs to make his point as often as possible.

Back to Karsh's Column List


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