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Guerin Goes From Expendable to Dependable

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Call it a tale of two cities. The best of times and the worst of times. One city reloading, the other rebuilding.

The story of Pittsburgh, Pa. vs. Uniondale, N.Y. -- the teams that dominated the NHL in the early 1980s and 1990s -- centered around the talents and skill remaining in the 6-foot-2, 220-pound power forward frame of Bill Guerin. It became an epic Shakespearian play the other day when Islanders coach Scott Gordon said his young team was better off having traded its former captain, whom he intimated had become bitter and was sending off bad vibes to an impressionable group of youngsters.

"We had a couple of bad apples that we got rid of," Gordon said. "As a result of that, the chemistry in the room is what you would expect from a team that pulls together."

The comments turned a deadline-day trade into drama after the fact. But those same comments became more and more curious when you consider the way Guerin has played for the Penguins. He has become an integral part of the Penguins' return as a contender for the Stanley Cup after being eliminated in the Final by Detroit last spring.

Can two stories involving the same player be so opposite? Interesting dilemma, isn't it? Well, it needn't be. I agree with Shakespeare, who loved to throw slings and arrows around in his plays for cause and effect. But he also coined the phrase, "Much ado about nothing."

Hey, I covered Bill Guerin when he played for a bad St. Louis team. He left in a trade deadline deal looking for a Stanley Cup in San Jose just two short years ago. He didn't find it there, but there were no hard feelings. None were needed. It was business -- one team out of the playoffs looking for futures, the other one looking to win a championship.

I also seem to remember a similar situation in Hartford in 1996-97 with Brendan Shanahan, who often commented like he was Napoleon in exile on an island away from the rest of the hockey world with the Whalers. Some in Hartford said he was jaded. Bitter. Wanted out. Fine. He moved on. All he did was go to Detroit and win two straight Stanley Cups and three in six seasons.

In a world where we have all of these CSI episodes, the DNA doesn't change. Yet on Long Island, we had a problem. With the same player in Pittsburgh, we have an awakening, where Penguins fans are wondering if this team could possibly be better than the one from last year's Stanley Cup finalists.

Two very different stories basically revolving around one player. Leaderless in one. Leader in the other.

Listen to new Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma on Guerin's ability to make a play for the team ... without his stick.
"Billy lost his stick and figured out he didn't need a stick to do what he was supposed to do, which was stand in front of the goalie and be presence in front of the net, create a screen," Bylsma said. "When you have that kind of presence, shots from anywhere become dangerous."

Did Bill Guerin all of a sudden transform from bitter to productive overnight? Of course not.

This is a story of two cities. Two situations. Two cultures. We didn't need Shakespeare's slings and arrows.

Can't we just sit back and hope that Gordon and Garth Snow are the playwrights for a Long Island rebirth similar to the previous Islanders dynasty, while we also root for Bill Guerin perhaps finding the right part in the play he's now a part of in Pittsburgh?

Author: Larry Wigge | Columnist

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