Posted: Tuesday January 24, 2006 1:44PM; Updated: Tuesday January 24, 2006 2:07PM
Lemieux took Crosby under his wing this season.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Submit a comment or question for Allan.
Mario Lemieux's retiring today.
You'll have to forgive the average fan for offering nothing more in reaction than, "Yeah, that's too bad."
On the surface, the lack of shock/horror/disappointment at the denouement of a career that ranks among the top five all time might seem surprising.
But this isn't like, say, Steve Yzerman, a player almost certain to make his own retirement announcement after this season.
We've been through this before with Mario. A couple of times. He has been finished and then come back more often than Freddy Kreuger. This time there'll be no resurrection. No Mario 3: Dream Warriors.
Typically, this is a time for reflection. But we've already celebrated Mario's magnificent career and his legacy of accomplishment. Heck, he's already in the Hall of Fame. We've made our peace with it.
So what about the Penguins? How will this impact them?
Honestly, not much. They were bad with him in the lineup, and just as bad without. They'll continue to be bad as they play out the string of this season.
Even if the 1989 version of Lemieux -- he of the 85 goals and 199 points -- had returned for the stretch drive, it's unlikely he could have propelled this club out of the lottery.
As it was, Lemieux's numbers were fair this season -- seven goals and 22 points in 26 games -- but his play was inconsistent at best. Most nights he appeared slow, as if he were simply going through the motions. His timing, his release, his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time ... those were gone, victims of age, pain and maybe the realization that, no matter what he did, it wouldn't be enough to salvage this team.
But he was still Mario. He still had presence and, simply by being on the ice, he forced other teams to plan their games around him. That created a bit of space in the early going for his young protégé, Sidney Crosby, space that has disappeared in the last 20 games.
We've already seen Crosby struggle under the weight of that extra attention. Chalk that up to growing pains. Perhaps things will be different for him now that he's out from under Lemieux's shadow. The Pens are Sidney's team, now and for the next seven years (or more).
With Lemieux's salary off the docket -- along with the bucks that would have been eaten up by last week's retiree, Ziggy Palffy -- the Pens have the financial wiggle room to get Sid some help of the veteran, long-term variety. We'll see if GM Craig Patrick is up to the challenge. He has failed miserably thus far.
Perhaps Mario can use his free time to offer Patrick some advice. While he's absenting himself from on-ice duties, Lemieux will continue to take care of business off it. In fact, it's a fair bet that his desire to get as much out of his investment in the team was a driving factor behind today's announcement.
Without having to deal with the pressure of another recovery process, Lemieux can devote himself to finding a suitable buyer for the Penguins and ensuring that a new arena deal is in place. While those won't be romanticized like his 690 goals and 1,723 points, his successes -- or failures -- off the ice will play a major role in his final legacy.