Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com
The Virtue of Selfishness
August 1, 2003
It hasn't officially started yet, but it will. Right now it's still gathering strength, finding its legs, its voice. But don't worry, eventually you'll hear it.
Mario Lemieux only cares about himself.
All he wants to do is make money, from Pittsburgh, from the Penguins. He thinks he's above the game, above the town, and above the fans.
Mario Lemieux is selfish and it is precisely that selfishness which will ultimately ruin hockey in Pittsburgh.
Maybe it won't be that direct, maybe the pundits in and out of Pittsburgh will find more tactful, more respectful ways to put it so they won't incur the wrath of die-hard fans. But that's what they'll mean.
He pays himself too much. He takes ice time away from the next generation of Penguins who so desperately need NHL experience. He's too focused on Mario and Mario alone.
Yet before Mario's band of loyalists spark up their favorite torch and head down to Ye Old Pitchfork Shoppe to take up arms against another media sling so egregious it's worthy of a duel to the death, they should take something into consideration.
What if this particular slight is right?
What if Mario is selfish?
As it stands right now, only a select few teams are gearing up to take a run at the Stanley Cup this year. The rest are just looking to survive the lockout that is tentatively scheduled to begin the day after the Stanley Cup is awarded to the team that spent the most money to obtain it.
(Off-season update: For those who might be out of the loop on this one, the Penguins are not one of those teams writing the checks that will give them a shot to bring Lord Stanley in for an extended stay.)
Thus, with no chance at the Cup and little chance at the playoffs, the reasons for watching this team are few and far between. But with Mario Lemieux playing that changes things.
With Mario starting at center, the Penguins have a far better chance of being an entertaining team you'd actually pay to watch.
With Mario in the lineup, Penguin fans will get somewhere around three dozen more chances to see arguably the best player in the history of the NHL lace 'em up one last time at the Igloo. More than that, with Mario on the ice, the Penguins will sellout more home and more road games this year. This means more exposure to the team (read: more potential fans) and more gate revenue.
With Mario playing, the Penguins' youth movementbe it real or imaginedwill have daily access to learn by example if not via individual instruction from a two-time Conn Smythe winner, a six time Art Ross winner, and a three-time winner of the Hart Trophy.
With Mario on the bench, rookie head coach Eddie Olczyk immediately has someone to take the pressure off his back and supplement his teachings with an immensely respected knowledge of the game.
If Mario is truly being utterly selfish, if he's only out for himself, it would mean that he's trying to make the Penguins the most financially successful franchise they can be in order to protect his own investment. Maybe that means less ice time for Toby Petersen. Maybe that means he'll continue to draw the paycheck that made him 41st on the list of NHL player salaries last season. But it definitely means finding a way to secure a new Igloo for the Penguins.
A new Igloo would mean more revenue, more revenue would mean more money to put better players on the ice, better players on the ice would most likely mean more fans coming through the turnstiles. In short, it would probably mean a better team in the long run.
If Mario only wants to play for himself, he finished eighth in the league last year in scoring and is still one of the most dangerous individual players in the league. That means he can still get it done, that he can still put on a show with the best of them. That means more exciting hockey, not down the road, right now.
Therefore, if you believe that Mario's primary concern is himself then you should expect that he will get out there and do whatever he can, every night, to put wins on the board and goals in the net. If all Mario cares about is Mario the individual, history suggests that he will do exactly what he's done every year for the last fifteen years on the Igloo ice.
He will play through bad calls and he will play through pain. He will demand as much from himself as he will from his mates. He will find a way to make himself and his teammates play as good as they possibly can, and then he will ask himself to play better.
In other words, if Mario is selfish and nothing more, the announcement that Mario will return to the ice this year simply means that Mario Lemieux will continue to represent the Penguins and the city of Pittsburgh with skill, with grace, with character, and with class for at least one more season.
We should all be so selfish.
Brother Karsh appears weekly during the season at LGP.com and when he's not channeling Ayn Rand or openly campaigning for a California-esque recall of Gary Bettman in the off-season.
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