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Savran: Masterful Mario still needs to line up help

Saturday, August 02, 2003

"Ask not what Mario can do for you. ... Ask what you can do for Mario."

The greater than the Great One has decided to return, and we all understand what that means. He energizes hockey in Pittsburgh, permeating every level surrounding the team and the sport, from player to coach to fan, and even the media.

Mike Lange said it best. When he just touches the puck, there's this little jolt of electricity that runs through you, heightening your awareness, alerting you to the possibility that something special is a flick of the wrist away.

But the Penguins must also be aware that Mario Lemieux is no longer the one-man show he once was.

As an elder statesman, he no longer will provide the electrifying, death defying, coast-to-coast rushes that once turned defensemen into insomniacs.

He needs quality linemates who are capable of demanding attention, thus creating space not just for themselves, but for Lemieux as well.

All of that tells me that Martin Straka will return. Perhaps there was no doubt on that, as Pierre Creamer was wont to say, but the Penguins were known to have shopped Straka, at least to discover if the fish were biting.

More than $4 million for a player of his caliber might not be an exorbitant figure in New York or Detroit, but down here in the lower-middle-class neighborhood of the NHL, it's a boatload of cash for anyone not named Mario.

But you've got to give Lemieux someone to play with. The days of Warren Young and Doug Shedden are long gone.

I fully understand what the additions of Kelly Buchberger and Mike Eastwood will bring to the team. Grit and character go a long way in hockey, especially when there's a shortage of skill.

And that's exactly the point.

With these signings, aren't the Penguins telling us that the "bounty of young talent" they profess to possess might be just a bit less than that?

It certainly wasn't manifested by the minor-league performance at Wilkes-Barre.

There wasn't a player whose performance screamed out, "I should be playing at the NHL level!"

Adding two graybeards might be more than just adding grit and veteran leadership.

It might be the Penguins need competent NHL players.

I would have had absolutely no problem if the Pirates had traded Jeff Suppan even up for Freddy Sanchez.

This is exactly the type of trade teams like the Pirates make with teams like the Red Sox.

I wouldn't have had a problem with trading Suppan and Scott Sauerbeck for Sanchez and Brandon Lyon. But when you trade Suppan and Sauerbeck and receive only Sanchez in return, that's a problem.

I understand the age and salary issues, but the truth is they traded Sauerbeck for absolutely nothing.

Obviously, they felt Mike Gonzalez was a much better pitcher than Anastacio Martinez, the other minor-league pitcher involved in the original deal. But apparently they had to include Gonzalez in the package to get Lyon.

But if they wanted Lyon that badly, why not keep him, even if he wasn't able to pitch until next spring?

He's only 23. And if they believed his elbow injury was debilitating, why didn't they demand someone else in return, rather than just negate the original trade, with the notable exception of Boston keeping Sauerbeck?

Perhaps they thought getting Gonzalez back was enough. But if you liked him that much, why go after Lyon in the first place?

If Sanchez ends up being the Pirates' second baseman for the next 10 years, we'll barely remember the particulars of the trade.

I strongly believe that had Kris Benson's shoulder injury not become an issue, the Pirates would have moved him and were fully prepared to take the $6 million he's owed next season and give it to Suppan to pay the $4 million option in 2004 or extend a longer deal.

Did you realize that Suppan is younger than Benson?

I didn't until Dave Littlefield mentioned it to me. We have this perception that Benson is still the wunderkind bonus baby, and that Suppan is this grizzled veteran. With both eligible for free agency after next season, on whom does it make most sense to lavish those dollars?

The uncertainty surrounding Benson's injury, which made him untradable at the deadline, forced the Pirates to trade Suppan rather than Benson.

A whole notes column without one mention of the Steelers? Does that count as a mention?


Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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