Sidney Crosby is the perfect man to save the NHL.
Saving the Penguins? Not so easy.
The Pens have the second-worst record in hockey. The team with the worst record, the St. Louis Blues, throttled them Tuesday night in a 3-0 shutout, a game in which goalie Marc-Andre Fleury actually got second-star honors for keeping his team from the mercy rule. That debacle came one night after a loss to the Red Wings, which general manager Craig Patrick called "very disturbing," and a week after a similar loss to the woeful Wild, which may have been the ugliest loss in the history of ice.
How can this team be so bad? Isn't playing on the same team as a teenager who can embarrass you and an owner who can fire you enough to inspire -- or at least terrify? Mark Recchi, who has seen it all, said, "We couldn't compete every night. It's baffling to me."
And to everyone else. Asked Patrick: "We look pretty on paper, but what are we?"
The GM fired coach Ed Olczyk on Thursday morning and explained the decision in a press conference that would have felt funereal, except usually somebody says something nice at a funeral. He promoted Michel Therrien from the AHL, where he's won 21 out of 25 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The move got one Penguin to sidle up to a reporter later on in the locker room and ask, "So who's the new coach at Wilkes Barre?" No one knows.
In other news, the team's owner/captain/legend/prodigy babysitter, Mario Lemieux, has missed several games because of heart problems and plans to return Friday. Even he has no idea where his team will be playing in one year or two years or five. "Who knows what will happen to this franchise," he said.
Good luck, Sid!
Truth is, this isn't on Crosby. He's been the best and hardest-working player on the team all season. He's scored, sparred, spat, shone. All he can do is keep it up.
Meanwhile, Therrien has plenty to do. He started Thursday with a heavily-scripted practice that looked more like a hockey clinic than a day-before-game skate. Lots of pointing, lots of talking, lots of teaching.
"A lot of structure," Lemieux said afterwards. "Where to stand on the ice, where we should be."
Amazing how even a team with names like Lemieux, Gonchar, LeClair, Recchi, and now Crosby, still needs a swift kick in the breezers. Maybe Eddie O was simply too nice.
"We want to be pushed in the right direction," said Recchi. Underscore the word "pushed."
Hockey stands alone in this way. Coaching truly matters, maybe more than anything else in the sport. (See: Rangers, New York.) Pittsburgh has a wonderful mix of vets and kids -- nearly all of whom have won some championship or another -- and yet here they are, desperately in need of a whistle. Just like the Lightning needed John Tortorella, and the Red Wings needed Scotty Bowman, and the Penguins needed Bob Johnson.
"Sometimes," Crosby said, "this is what you need to kickstart a team."
Always nice to have a Mario and a Sidney. But maybe just as crucial to have a Michel.
Eric Adelson is a senior writer at ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.