Hey Scott, why do you have a job?

by Ryan

In my brief time as an actual journalist I’ve learned two things. The first is that if a homeless man approaches you claiming he’s from Canada and needs money to get back across the border, don’t ask him a question about gas prices. The second thing is that many times you don’t get to pick the headline attached to your story. I’m guessing that this isn’t one of those times.

Hey Mario, why haven’t we heard from you?
by Scott Burnside

PITTSBURGH — On Sunday night, the NHL gathered members of the Detroit Red Wings dynasty of the 1950s. Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Marty Pavelich and Marcel Pronovost regaled a crowd, including the top prospects in this summer’s NHL draft, with terrific stories from their glory days.

The event provided a lovely bridge between the young stars populating the current Pittsburgh Penguins-Detroit Red Wings series and the game’s rich past.

The NHL did the same thing last year with a wildly successful night involving former Montreal Canadiens greats.

They did that during the Cup Finals? Because, uh… the Habs didn’t make the playoffs that year. Carry on…

And why not?

Maybe because they didn’t-

This is the Stanley Cup finals, the great showcase for the sport on the game’s grandest stage. The NHL has worked hard to fill the finals with all kinds of opportunities to tell the game’s stories and increase the league’s profile. There are opportunities to talk to the top draft picks and some of the NHL’s award winners from the regular season. The GMs will meet in Detroit next week if the finals go beyond four games. Commissioner Gary Bettman always provides his state of the league address before Game 1 of the finals.

Yet there is one hockey great who will remain strangely, inexplicably mute through these Stanley Cup finals —

Hasek?

Mario Lemieux.

Totally my second guess.

The Hall of Fame captain of the Pittsburgh teams that won Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, and who later revived a franchise that seemed destined to wither on the vine in Pittsburgh, maintains his self-imposed media blackout even though his team is in the finals for the first time in 16 years.

When requests are made to talk to Lemieux, either in a one-on-one setting or in a group format with reporters covering the finals, word politely comes back through the team that the man who is the Penguins’ part-owner doesn’t want to take the spotlight away from his young team.

That sounds just a tad bitter, doesn’t it?

What a load of hooey.

Okay, now it sounds bitter.

This has nothing to do with taking any spotlight away from his players. They have been playing in the spotlight for weeks now. And since Sidney Crosby became a Penguin three seasons ago, the spotlight has never been far from this Penguins team.

Absolutely, there must be evil afoot.

No, this is more about Lemieux’s detachment from the game or, at least, detachment from having to share his thoughts and feelings about the game.

EEEEEEVIIIILLLLL!!!

Wouldn’t it be interesting, as these finals goes on, to hear what Lemieux has to say about the rise of a team that looked to be on the way out of town less than two years ago? What does he recall from his first trip to the Stanley Cup finals? What has he said to tenant Crosby about playing in the event?

We’re not talking earth-shattering stuff here, but it is a natural sidebar to the main proceedings here. And what are we talking about, 20 minutes out of Lemieux’s wildly busy schedule? Surely he could make room in one afternoon to talk about the game he made such a handsome living from, and still does to this day.

He’s right, Lemieux owes us the favor. Don’t forget he made money playing hockey, so that means he’s obligated to talk to the media at all times. Hell, let’s go dig up Gump Worsley’s corpse and ask him about the octopus toss. He had a whole list of things he saw Ranger fans toss on the ice back in the day. Soup cans, chairs, a persimmon…

Lemieux’s sole contribution to the finals has been appearing with former Detroit captain Steve Yzerman to drop the ceremonial first puck before Game 1. Lemieux presumably was able to squeeze that into his schedule, and it didn’t deter him from hustling back to his private box to watch Detroit’s 4-0 win.

Should he really be sprinting around to the media inside the Joe during the game? He is an owner that actually, you know, likes hockey. Man I wish we had one of those…

It is both convenient and predictable for Lemieux to hide in the background at a time when the game most needs its relevant stars in place, because it’s always been about convenience for Lemieux.

It’s curious how suddenly available and accessible Lemieux was when he took an ownership stake in the team because he was owed millions of dollars in the late 1990s. The more attention focused on the Penguins meant more ticket sales and a better chance at either a new arena deal or a deal to sell the team.

So he is supposed to be as available as that at all times? At least Mario is in the city the majority of the time. Some owners don’t even sign Paychex in the same area code. Aside from that, doesn’t a good owner fight for the spotlight at that time in order to get an arena deal? Isn’t that when he should be most visible?

Then, when Lemieux decided he was going to play for Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and was named captain of the squad, he couldn’t have been more gracious; but, after that was over, when he didn’t need the attention, not so much.

So was he less gracious or less captain-ey? Less of an olympian?

Later, when talks to build a new arena in Pittsburgh broke down and Lemieux was at war with local politicians and officials over funding for the project, he was once again available to discuss the issue. He was prepared to sell the team to whoever walked in the door. A couple of suitors, including Jim Balsillie and William “Boots” Del Biaggio, would undoubtedly have tried to move the team as quickly as possible to Southern Ontario or Kansas City, but that fact seems lost in the renaissance of the team.

Not that anyone could blame Lemieux for trying to get the most out this team financially. He’s done his time and served the team and the city well.

Wait, where did all that obligation go? Suddenly he’s “done his time”? CONUNDRUM!

But let’s not paint this with any other brush than what it deserves.

The brush of contradiction?

The only reason Lemieux isn’t making himself available during these finals is because there’s nothing in it for him.

And that’s more than a little sad.

What’s really more than a little sad is the fact that Scott is bitter about not getting his story and so he writes a smear article about the owner in question instead of looking elsewhere for a better story. I guess there are only so many angles to a Finals that currently sits at 2-0, but trashing a hockey legend that doesn’t beg for attention seems like a step in the wrong direction.

For someone claiming that Lemieux doesn’t properly promote the game, implying that a hockey icon is selfish and irresponsible to his duties as ambassador doesn’t bode well for Burnside’s duty to promote the game with his “stature” in the medium. When dealing with the mainstream media, under-reported sports need strong writers to give a voice to something they feel is worth spending time on. Good writers, no matter what the situation, find a way to write a story worth reading.

Scott Burnside just proved that he isn’t a good writer, and that’s more than a little true.

One Comment

  1. Heather B.

    I would like to hear what Mario thinks about the team and certain other issues but yeah, this column smacks just a little of, “That guy wouldn’t talk to me! Waaah!”