Reminiscing over our old sports stars. That’s one of the things we do best in Pittsburgh. For example, I took a phone call on the radio Sunday from a listener who was advancing the notion of keeping Landry Jones on the Steelers roster because “you know, Mike Kruczek and Terry Hanratty.”
Valid point, sir. But I had to laugh because that phone call couldn’t have been “anymore-Pittsburgh” even if he dialed while drinking an Iron and eating a Primanti’s ‘dahn in front the Warhol museum after whistling Mr. Rogers’ theme song.
What?! Sighting Charlie Batch in 2010 was too “new school?”
I should’ve asked how old he was. If it was anything under 45 he probably couldn’t even remember watching those two play. But age is irrelevant because for most Pittsburgh sports fans, even if you can barely remember the 70’s (myself included here) any reference point to those days of yore is low hanging fruit today because guys from the past are still so romantically discussed.
That regional charm of basking in the past is great for local fans to have. It’s how traditional enthusiasm is passed on. But it’s not as endearing of a quality for the TEAMS THEMSELVES to have. Yet the Steelers and Penguins are both currently doing it by employing 37 year old James Harrison and 41-year old Sergei Gonchar.
Let’s start with Gonchar who was recently extended a tryout contract with the Pens. It’s just a try out. So nothing risked.
But the majority of us felt Gonchar was washed up when he left the Penguins five full seasons ago. For the most part, we were right. He strung together three marginal seasons in Ottawa, topping out at seven goals in ‘11 and 37 points in ‘12. He has split the last two years between Dallas and Montreal totaling a meager three goals and 36 points in 124 games with a -6 along the way. His former Penguin coach Michel Therrien scratched Gonchar for every Canadiens’ playoff game this season.
So why do the Penguins want to bother kicking the tires on Gonch? Your guess is as good as mine. And we are all probably guessing the same things. To be a power play mentor for Derrick Pouliot? To resume his Russian big brother role for Evgeni Malkin? To be a clubhouse leader?
That all sounds good. But does Pouliot need to be mentored? Or does he actually need the experience of running the power play himself instead of watching an aging Gonchar do it? Should Gonchar be wet nursing Malkin again? Or should Malkin, at his age, be the one playing that role for Sergei Plotnikov? Should Gonchar be the veteran locker room leader? Or shouldn’t the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Kunitz, Dupuis, Letang, and Scuderi have enough rings around their collective hockey tree to be capable of emotionally guiding their own team?
In each case I’ll go with the latter.
Look, if Gonchar can provide all those positive influences in one training camp, and then get cut and hired on as a coach, a consultant, or the team’s 11th assistant general manager…awesome! But if he actually makes the team as anything more than a nightly healthy scratch, isn’t he continuing the pattern of veteran Penguin D-men being acquired that clog the pipeline for the many assets that have allegedly been brought into the system as a future blue line core?
We never saw what Joe Morrow or Scott Harrington were supposed to be. Did the club ever give Simon Despres the sink-or-swim extended shot most first rounders get? Instead of fully committing to these players on the NHL level, the team seems more inclined to reach into the recycling bin to reacquire the Gonchar’s, Scuderi’s & Lovejoy’s of the world. Or they want to sign a Zbynek Michalek or Christian Ehrhoff.
But hey, Mark Recchi and Kevin Stevens came back a couple times. And that second Alexei Kovalev stint was legendary. Plus round two of Scuderi has been a smashing success. So I’m sure Gonchar will turn out just as well.
Meanwhile in Steeler-land, before the Hall of Fame Game I asked defensive coordinator Keith Butler if his best case scenario was to have young outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree show enough in the pre-season that he would want to start them in the regular season and spot in veterans Harrison and Arthur Moats.
“No. I’d do it the other way,” responded Butler. “We’ll put the older guys in and let those younger guys play a lot and see where things go.”
Wow. If, entering his third camp, Jarvis Jones isn’t ready to displace a 37-year old you’ve ditched once and thought was retiring a second time, you’ve got problems. And if a cast off from the Bills is positioned solidly in advance of this year’s first round pick, Dupree may be even more of a project than we thought.
Harrison’s impact a year ago should be remembered more for his comeback story that his actual on field production. He failed to register a sack in his first four games and only tallied 1.5 sacks in his last six. Yet he’s still apparently the clear cut front runner to win the ROLB job over an alleged cable-ready first rounder with three years of S-E-C experience. Even with injuries being a reasonable excuse for his slowed development, that’s either an indictment of the pick or an indictment of the Pittsburgh’s willingness to move on from Harrison.
Harrison and Gonchar were both standouts on championship teams in Pittsburgh. But they shouldn’t be getting roster spots and playing time over important members of their respective teams’ futures based on legacy. It’s natural to remember good times fondly and fret about the future. But in both the cases the Steelers and Penguins are either guilty of holding onto the past too long, or doing a lousy job finding people to better accept the torch being passed.