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Starkey: Lemieux faces offseason conundrum

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

Mario Lemieux might well give the angry mob what it wants: the heads of general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma.

Might be necessary, too.

But it won't answer The Question.

Mario can't run from The Question.

If he really wants to fix what ails this franchise, he and fellow owner Ron Burkle must determine the right answer to The Question.

What kind of team do we want?

After Game 7 on Tuesday, USA Today's Kevin Allen wrote that the Penguins are looking to adopt to “a more-defensive, grittier system.” That seems to be the popular sentiment. But when your best players are addicted to offense, is it realistic?

The boys apparently weren't having enough “fun” under Dan Bylsma, according to Rob Rossi's report in The Trib on Wednesday. Now you want to make them accountable to a stricter coach and system?

We've seen what happens to defense-first coaches around here. Ask Michel Therrien or Kevin Constantine.

Yeah, Mario could try to make his team more like the Boston Bruins. But the Penguins aren't the Bruins, whose three best players are a defensive defenseman, a goalie and a Selke Trophy winner.

The Penguins' three best players — theoretically — should be Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. So good luck with that defensive, gritty system thing.

And welcome to ownership's conundrum.

Mario surely prefers an entertaining, high-scoring, star-centric team built in his image.

But is that the way to win?

That kind of team is what the Penguins had in mind coming out of the lockout 10 years ago, when the NHL opened the spigots. Those Penguins, flush with two new superstars and determined to draft as many smooth-skating, offensive defensemen as possible, were going to thrive in an obstruction-free world. And for a bit, they did.

But like a big, ugly python, obstruction crept back in and strangled much of the fun from the sport. The “garage league” made a comeback. The Penguins were stuck. They are stuck. It's as if they bought a beachfront mansion only to see the floodwaters roll in.

The conundrum thickens.

Ideally, you'd like a team with perfect balance. One that can prevent goals, score them when it matters and keep the paying customers entertained. You'd like to be the Chicago Blackhawks.

But Chicago's best player (Jonathan Toews) is a two-way demon with a Selke Trophy on his shelf. The Penguins don't have a guy like that or like Marian Hossa, another elite two-way forward. Chicago also isn't bogged down with a top-heavy cap situation (although they soon might be).

The Penguins tried to become more rounded this season. Bylsma adopted a more conservative system and brought in Jacques Martin to work beside him. It didn't translate at playoff time.

Maybe this franchise lost its best chance at real balance when Jordan Staal — a player Shero said he never would trade — was traded. Maybe the best scenario would have been Crosby centering the first line with the big-bodied Staal centering the second and the rest of the roster fleshed out with the massive return on a trade for Malkin.

Now, for better or worse, the Penguins have a top-heavy roster without a ton of flexibility. So whether he hires a new GM or not, Mario might start by working with the material on hand. He can help shape the team he wants.

This would be an excellent time for a long talk with Crosby on how to lead this team into a new era.

For starters, Mario could remind the captain that nobody wants to hear any more whispers attributed to Sid's camp — i.e., ever-present father Troy and agent Pat Brisson — about Sid needing more help. The Penguins signed his two wingers, including Pascal Dupuis, the guy Sid wanted on his right for last year's playoffs instead of the newly acquired Jarome Iginla.

Mario also could implore Sid to play along the goal line on a power play that has torpedoed this team in the past two playoffs. Give Malkin the half-boards.

Look, Mario authorized every big move Shero made. This is his baby, too. If people wonder why Shero's latest rosters had less edge, maybe it's because the Penguins — starting at the top — fancied themselves the flag bearers of a cleaner NHL after Crosby's concussion issues and Matt Cooke's meltdowns.

So what kind of team does Mario want?

Man, that's a tough one. When he finds an answer, it'd be nice to hear from him.

It's been awhile.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at




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