News of the Penguins' unconscionable upturn has reached the desk of a particularly interested financial advisor and stock broker with H&R Block in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
So a man who knows about profitable losses offered keen planning advice and stock assessment.
"Obviously, somebody's not doing their job right," Lou Angotti said over the telephone. "They should fire the son of a ditch."
Twenty years ago, Angotti did it right as Penguins coach. He got those boys of 1983-84 to go down in inextinguishable flames, losing their final six games (by a gaudy 36-15), losing 12 of their final 14. He put the club in prime position to nab The Original Mario Lemieux.
Now, an X Generation later, come Eddie Olczyk and the boys of 2003-04, winning 10 and tying two of their 15 games before this weekend set with Buffalo after an 18-game winless skid.
What's the big idea, putting the Penguins precariously close to missing out on The Next Mario Lemieux, Russian star Alexander Ovechkin?
"Well, they're not doing a very good job," kidded Angotti, who is 66.
"We got to the point, if we won one more game or two, Mario Lemeiux would've been in New Jersey. That's how close we were."
The old coach admits it all now, even if the old GM hedges. They tanked it.
"If Pittsburgh hadn't gotten Mario Lemieux that year, I think the franchise would've folded," Angotti said. The plan was hatched over a midseason lunch between him and E.J. Forget gold, they were going for the mold. "We didn't actually try to throw games. But, you know, we went in there with the understanding ... we weren't going to be upset if we lost."
Starting at New Year's Eve, the club went into a spectacular nosedive, or, using Angotti's terms, they weren't upset 35 times, were upset seven times, were fit to be tied once. That's how you finish 16-58-6 overall.
Their best goaltending prospect, Roberto Romano, was demoted to the minors and up came Vincent Tremblay, who graciously allowed 24 goals in four starts, all losses. Their locker room needed a revolving door, with 48 players shuffling in and out, the likes of Rocky Saganiuk, Tim Tookey, Dean DeFazio and Mitch Lamoreux. Most of their stars were hurt: Rick Kehoe, Paul Gardner and Randy Carlyle -- whom E.J.expertly traded for nothing up front.
Angotti remembered a 3-1 lead against the Rangers that prompted E.J. to barge into the coach's office amid the first intermission, "What are you doing?" They lost, 6-3.
"When we sat down to see what we had to do to get the first draft choice, E.J. said it would cost us both our jobs," laughingly recalled Angotti, who never coached again and retired to Florida after that summer. "Obviously, it turned out to be the right thing, because look what it did."
If you didn't know any better, Edzo and GM Craig Patrick appear to be down to similar shenanigans. They demoted their best goaltending prospects, Marc-Andre Fleury and Andy Chiodo. They likewise sent down serviceable players, under the auspices of helping Wilkes-Barre make a playoff run. They called up a Healthy Scratch Du Jour with two goals this minor-league season, although who knew Matt Hussey would then pot two in his first two NHL games and prompt his own demotion. The coach put goal-less Kelly Buchberger on the power play, put newcomers Landon Wilson (one goal in 35 previous games) and Lasse Pirjeta (two in 57) on the power play, put anybody but point-giddy defensemen Dick Tarnstrom and Ric Jackman on the ice for the Penguins' first man advantage Tuesday in New York, and still that special team keeps on scoring.
All of the sudden, the Penguins just cannot lose.
And it's endangering their chances of landing The Next Mario Lemieux.
We have seen purported Lemieux IIs before: Eric Lindros, Vincent Lecavalier and Alexandre Daigle, for crying out loud. Yet the scouting consensus on Ovechkin remains that he is a prospect unrivaled in 20 years. It would be foolhardy to let him elude the Penguins' grasp, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding the club's economics and forwards.
He is perfect to thrive in this city, in this system, as every other Russian Alex -- from Kovalev to Morozov -- can attest. He is a box-office attraction the Penguins desperately need to eventually supplant Lemieux. He is a potential star who'd forever pain you if he burned brightly for Washington or Columbus instead.
Finishing last means only a 42 percent chance at the first overall choice, thanks to Gary Bettman's NBA-trash draft lottery. The Penguins somehow have to slip through that crack in the window of opportunity, even if the past four NHL cellar-dwellers failed to win this lottery. Just in case, Patrick knows how to trade for the winning ticket, getting last June's top pick from Florida that brought the best goaltender in draft history, Fleury.
Make it your mission this June: You've got to get Ovechkin.
Pay no heed to Angotti's kidding; Edzo is a good coach, the right coach for the Penguins' future. Alas, their future's best hope is neither The Next Kirk Muller nor The Next Eddie Olczyk, the picks to follow in that famed 1984 draft. This coach just has to bring home a 2004 loser.
As Angotti put it, "I have a pretty good idea how he feels."