Can You Blame Them? by @BrianK_PI - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Can You Blame Them? by @BrianK_PI

Mathew Barnaby dropped a bombshell on the air when he reported that multiple sources had confirmed to him that Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby had a "big falling out" and that there was a huge rift between them. You're talking about the current face of the franchise in Sidney Crosby - long considered the best player in the NHL, team captain, Stanley Cup Champion, Hart and Art Ross trophies to his name - and THE face of the franchise in Mario Lemieux - he's done all those things Crosby has and then some, he's saved the team from leaving Pittsburgh on multiple occasions, and it's harder to be a bigger face of the franchise than as a iconic hall of fame player on the short list for greatest player who ever lived who now owns the team he dominated for on the ice. Naturally Lemieux has come out to refute the rumor, but whether true or not - can you blame them?

Can you blame Sidney Crosby for being upset at the direction of this franchise? Not being able to take the ice while sidelined with a concussion had to have taken its toll on him, but for such a fiery competitor to come back and repeatedly see his team favored to win the Stanley Cup and continue to fall short, often in embarrassing fashion, it had to have been brutal. For a guy that has left countless dollars on the table to allow for a strong, championship contending team around him seeing the direction the club was headed during the 2014 offseason repudiated the monetary sacrifices he made to help the team. In came an incompetent political adviser to run the hockey operations. In came a retread GM with a long history of mismanaging the team under his control. In came a junior hockey coach who has so far proceeded to oversee the two worst seasons in Sidney Crosby's Hall of Fame caliber career. Crosby can't do much to stop Father Time from closing the window on his career when he reaches that point in his life, but keeping the team's Stanley Cup window open is something that's entirely within control and has been mismanaged for years now. The team on the ice now is poorly coached with a gutted defense and has little assets to be a player on the trade market. It's not unreasonable to wonder how much better things can actually get, and that's a hard transition to take for a team that had perennially seen itself at the top of the standings.

Mario Lemieux almost certainly never would have thought he'd be in this position still, owning the Penguins as the calendar gets ready to flip from 2015 to 2016. His ownership stake stems from over $30 million in deferred salary that he potentially would never see otherwise being converted to equity in the team in bankruptcy court. The plan wasn't to be a long term owner for the team but rather get them back on solid financial footing and ride off into the sunset. And attempts to put that plan into action were made, with Lemieux twice trying to sell the team, first to William del Biaggio in 2005 and then to Jim Balsillie in 2006, with both deals falling through. But a funny thing happened along the way - the team started rapidly improving, first with a 47 point improvement that propelled the team back into the playoffs in 2007, then with a finals appearance in 2008 before winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. The team was on top of the hockey world and looking at a long dynasty - throw in a franchise value that could only skyrocket upwards and it's a nearly impossible situation to walk away from. Lemieux didn't, but surely the flameouts in the playoffs took their toll on him in the owner's box too. One of the key points of the big shakeup that followed the 2013-14 season was that new GM Jim Rutherford wouldn't have the access to ownership that previous GM Ray Shero had, and it's hard not imagine Lemieux getting disenchanted with the constant playoff failures and in a position to be willing to hand the reins off to someone clearly incapable if it meant he could take a step back. And after a season that was the worst for the franchise since Sidney Crosby's rookie season, coincidentally the last time Lemieux was considering a sale, the team again went back up on the market.

Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux might have had a falling out, they might be as close as ever, but it's not hard to see how an issue could exist given the rocky road the team has been on. The constant playoff exits, the talk about how the locker room had done a 180 since the team won the Cup, and the crushing expectations point to something not being right in the organization regardless of whom it's between and what it's about. Winning cures all issues, and the biggest problem is that the team hasn't been winning at the rate everyone's expected and grew accustomed to.

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