He was called Super Mario but he has become the man with no integrity. Mario Lemieux - he had a chance at being the greatest attacking force in NHL history. Except he fought injuries and illness for much of his career so at the age of 38 he`s played in 879 games to Wayne Gretzky`s 1487. Lemieux had a better points/game scoring rate (1.925 vs 1.921) and slim though it may be, if he`d managed nearly 1500 games then the total points record would be his. This September Lemieux began banging the drum in Pittsburgh, trying to rope in a couple more season ticket sales.
He announced just before training camp he was in "the best shape of my life." A bulky meathead, or personal trainer, concurred. They even provided a tape of Mario`s exertions. As the two burbled over his great shape the video showed Lemieux in full gear, leaning against the boards.
Call me naive, but that tape sure had me convinced.
Then came a pronouncement that he intended to play 82 games this season. Rubbish - he`s never played 82 in one season in his career. For good measure Lemieux also said he wanted to play for Canada in next summer`s World Cup or whatever it is called. Boy, gasping for air while propped up against the boards sure makes a player optimistic.
Lemieux was left high and dry when the Penguins floundered. He had millions in deferred salary which would have been lost if Pittsburgh went bankrupt. Technically they probably did. But with Mario taking shares in lieu of dollars the team was barely afloat.
Lemieux`s idea had merit - bring back Mario, bring back success, bring back the crowds and presto! the Magnificent One has his money. The plan has floundered because Mario has one particular character flaw - his self-interest, or selfishness, shines brilliantly like a powerful searchlight on a clear night.
He sold himself to Pittsburgh hockey fans in 2001-02 as being in the best shape blah, blah - a fib but it sold tickets. He played 24 games, none after the Salt Lake Olympics. Fans were restive in Pittsburgh. Then he stupidly said he had only been using the season as an Olympic tune-up - bye bye credibility.
Pittsburgh`s roster is littered with old players who work cheaply. Marc Bergevin is 38, Mike Eastwood and Kelly Buchberger 36, and Drake Berehowski is on his seventh club, second time in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Penguins are broke, they are 29th in league attendance (12,075/game), and on Sunday they dumped another salary. Martin Straka has been dealt to Los Angeles where at least he`ll be playing on a competitive team. For the rest of the hapless Penguins their season is officially over. For them, as with their boss, from here on in it is all about the money.
The NHL should pull the plug on this lot. Let the team go bankrupt, sorry about the 26-million Mario, award the franchise to someone who thinks lots of fans is a good thing, or move it somewhere else. Then we wouldn`t have to put up with the Expedient One`s little white lies.