Tim Benz: Will addition by subtraction actually work for Steelers, Penguins? | TribLIVE.com
Tim Benz, Columnist

Tim Benz: Will addition by subtraction actually work for Steelers, Penguins?

Tim Benz
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AP (Brown, Bell); Tribune-Review (Kessel)
The Steelers and Penguins are banking on addition by subtraction. Will the Steelers be better without the distractions of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell? Can the Penguins replace Phil Kessel’s production?

We sure are big on the concept of addition by subtraction around these parts, aren’t we?

The Steelers will be better because Antonio Brown is gone. Ben Roethlisberger won’t force the ball to a single receiver anymore. Brown’s ridiculous social media behavior will be happily absent. The game-planning to help Brown’s stats was holding back the Steelers this whole time.

The Steelers will be better because Le’Veon Bell is gone. All that speculation about his contract — and the cap room he kept hostage — is now a thing of the past.

The Steelers will be better because Joey Porter is gone. He was nothing but a loudmouth assistant coach who thought he still was a player.

The Steelers will be better because Mike Munchak is gone. After all, he … uh … well …

…we’ll come up with something for him later, I’m sure.

But the Penguins will be better because Phil Kessel is gone!

All those turnovers. That bad defense. That lack of coachability. Oh, and he was a bad influence on Evgeni Malkin, too, in case you hadn’t heard.

And don’t get me started on Olli Maatta. If only they could ditch Jack Johnson next.

Yup. Addition by subtraction sure has become the siren song for optimism on the Pittsburgh sports scene.

It has to be. Unless of course you consider the addition of a Donte Moncrief here and a Dominik Kahun there enough to offset the departures of such superstars.

Because they aren’t. And if you think they are, you are kidding yourself.

However, Moncrief, plus an improved James Washington, and a potential draft sleeper in Diontae Johnson, and better slot play from Eli Rogers or Ryan Switzer, and 16 healthy games from Vance McDonald? That could help balance out the loss of Brown.

All of that. At once. Coalescing. Perfectly.

Similarly, Kahun blossoming in Pittsburgh even beyond his surprising results in Chicago, plus Alex Galchenyuk finally reaching his potential, plus Brandon Tanev equaling his scoring surge a year ago could erase the loss of Phil Kessel’s 82 points in 2018-19.

Could.

But forget all that. The easier thing to do is just say: “We’re better off without ‘em! We never needed ‘em anyway!”

And leave it at that.

Jilted-ex syndrome. Bask in it. Wallow in it. Say it loud enough, long enough and it may become true. You might just believe it.

Look, there are merits to lots of those points. Roethlisberger really might throw fewer interceptions this year without trying to appease Brown. The passing game may become more diversified. The locker room will certainly be quieter.

Without Kessel, the Penguins likely will take better care of the puck. Malkin’s line will be more defensively responsible. The occasional one-timer from the left wall on the power play might be a welcomed change. Mike Sullivan’s message will be more easily heard.

However, ask yourself this. About 365 days ago, would most of Pittsburgh have said, “Please, let’s give away Antonio Brown and Phil Kessel as fast as possible, regardless of return?”

No. What we are doing now is rationalizing after the fact. That’s all.

We should just admit it.

Brown, Bell, Kessel. They are all amazing talents who became enormous pains in the backside. For as good as they were athletically, they weren’t worth the price in terms of cap cost or chemistry.

Those were choices the teams made. The positives of those decisions may outweigh the negatives in the end. The Steelers and Penguins are banking on that.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Those are three amazing talents, and we are trying to spin the yarn that Pittsburgh is a better sports city with them playing elsewhere.

Oh, by the way, technically, Bell wasn’t here last year, either. And the Steelers weren’t better without him, even though his replacement (James Conner) was pretty good.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, we mock Browns fans for being optimistic over all the additions they have had since the start of 2018.

Pfft! Stupid Browns. It doesn’t matter how much you improve your roster. You’re still the Browns. You’ll never win.

Funny, right? Imagine the Steelers getting rid of an idiot coach, improving at quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, linebacker, running back and pass-rusher. Then having Cleveland tell us the Steelers weren’t going to be any better.

Ha! We’d laugh in their faces.

Yet that’s exactly what we are doing here. All the while, pumping our own team’s tires based on “improved intangibles.”

It could go down that way. In both directions. The Browns could regress, and the Steelers could find themselves atop the AFC North once more.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than the football/hockey version of “Bye, Felicia” to have that hope pan out.

And I still don’t have an answer for Munchak.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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