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Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com

Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution

April 23, 2003

Whether you want to call it 'regime change,' a 'coup d'etat,' or whatever the popular phrase of the moment may be, you might as well be honest. What you're really talking about is a revolution, so why not be up front about it? After all, a revolution isn't necessarily a bad thing. However there are a few significant points that need to be remembered in any revolution, be it armed or otherwise.

Revolutions don't normally occur until things have gotten pretty intolerable for one side or another. A situation has generally got to get pretty desperate before you get a bunch of your buddies together and blurt out, 'hey, maybe we should just off the guy.'

But believe it or not, the battle is the easy part.

Revolutions are often over long before they begin—just ask the British about any of half a dozen places. Therefore, what's far more important than the actual fighting is the fallout. It's what you do once the shooting stops and you have to run a country—that's the hard part.

This is why it was so easy for the Pittsburgh Penguins to fire Rick Kehoe and, in turn, why it's all but official that Mario Lemieux won't be back on the ice in Pittsburgh next year.

When Rick Kehoe was unceremoniously ousted as head coach of the Penguins just after the end of the season he was simply taking the bullet for the team (again). Kehoe was little more than the warm body in the chair when the guerillas got past the gates, not the man who originally made the mess. Still, any legitimacy Kehoe had as an NHL head coach was completely washed away by the three ten game losing streaks the Penguins turned in on his watch and, if for nothing more than the sake of appearance, Kehoe had to go. But it's what the Penguins have to do next that will be difficult, it's why Mario seems so tentative right now.

This new Penguin nation that's going to be young and fast, the one that's going to have a work ethic and bring a hard hat to the arena every night; the squad that will replace all the weathered signs which read, 'Pittsburgh Country Club' with bright placards which caution, 'men at work,' all sounds so very impressive. But starting from scratch won't be a walk in the park.

That's why Mario Lemieux used up so many sticks during the Penguins' last home game of the season, because he's hoisted the franchise on his back before and he knows how hard it is to pull off. What he doesn't know—or won't yet say—is whether he can, or wants to, force himself to be on the front lines of this kind of nation building once again.

For any revolution to succeed the people must believe it's genuine. The idea may start as a seed deep within the will of the revolutionary, but it must finish as a fundamental belief inside the mind of the masses. The people have to believe that it's just, it's right, and most importantly, that tomorrow will be better than today. If they doubt that, your revolution is finished.

But changing the minds of the many is a long, arduous task and it's one which Lemieux knows all too well.

When Mario Lemieux showed up in Pittsburgh, the Penguins had just failed to win twenty games in each of their previous two seasons. At the time, Mario was just about the only player who could save the team from going out of business. Later, he was just about the only captain who could bring Pittsburgh two Stanley Cups. After that, he was just about the only owner who could take the team out of bankruptcy and keep them in Pittsburgh. All this took nearly twenty years and yet there are still those who don't believe that Mario genuinely cares for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And now you want him to start over?

Sadly, much as Mario might be willing to do it all again, he simply can't. Certainly not the way he once did. For Lemieux's first four playoff-less years in Pittsburgh he never totaled less than one hundred points a season. This year neither Jaromir Jagr nor Joe Sakic got close to one hundred points. Neither did last year's points leader, Jerome Iginla, who has yet to tally one hundred points in any of his first seven years in the league.

So to think Mario is going to come off the bench with another 141, 123, 168, or 199 point season at this point in his career is little more than wishful thinking. For once, Mario needs the rest of the organization to pull its own weight and help him out—and that's something the Penguins have hardly tried in earnest in over a decade.

Thus, what is of paramount importance this offseason is not Mario's decision to play next year or not, but rather Mario's role in establishing a viable blueprint for the future of the Penguins for years to come.

Mario has earned the right to play if he feels like it. He obviously enjoys teaching kids how to succeed at this level and since there will be little if any pressure next season in Pittsburgh for the youth to do anything but develop and come together as a team, it's hard to say that Mario would be an unwelcome presence on the ice.

However, the answer to that question—should he or should he not, will he or will he not—that answer will reveal itself naturally once the larger plot unfolds.

Meanwhile the Penguins need to underscore that the plan for this team is legitimate, that the leaders of this franchise will be competent and qualified. The Penguins need to give their players and fans the ability to believe, in no uncertain terms, that tomorrow will be better than today.

If they can do that we won't need to call this a revolution, we'll be able to call it a step toward Pittsburgh's third Stanley Cup instead.

Brother Karsh appears at LGP.com weekly during the season and believes that revolutionary thinking involves more than suggesting Monica Lewinsky host a primetime television show.

Back to Karsh's Column List


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