Dave Molinari on the Penguins: Guarantee this!

Premature declarations of victory -- Steelers safeties aside, of course -- aren't remembered if they aren't backed up.

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There are no guarantees in hockey.

Including that there are no guarantees in hockey.

Oh, there aren't many -- and they certainly don't attract the attention of safety Anthony Smith's oh-so-close promise that the Steelers would defeat New England a few weeks ago -- but they do happen now and then.

Heck, Mark Messier cemented his place in NHL lore during the 1994 playoffs when, with the New York Rangers trailing New Jersey, 3-2, in the Eastern Conference final, he promised anyone who would listen that New York would win Game 6, then went out and rang up a natural hat trick to make sure that it happened.

Of course, if the Devils had won Game 6 and the series, Messier's guarantee likely would have been forgotten long before Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson went public with some of his own a few years back.

What, you don't remember Alfredsson's guarantees? You might if any had actually worked out the way he said they would.

Like the one Alfredsson made when he vowed to the Ottawa Sun that the Senators would win the Stanley Cup in 2004. "Go ahead and write it, I guarantee we'll win the Cup. I strongly believe this team will do it. No question about it."


That guarantee fizzled in conjunction with another Alfredsson made. After Ottawa fell behind Toronto -- which had knocked the Senators out of the playoffs in three of the previous four springs -- 3-2, in the first round that year, Alfredsson assured the world his team was on the cusp of a comeback.

"I don't think you've seen the last of us yet," he told reporters. "We're going to go home, win and force Game 7. Then we'll come back in here and win the series."

Turns out he got it half-right. Ottawa won Game 6, but the series finale had all the suspense of a Cuban election as Toronto ended the Senators' season -- and reduced what could have been a legendary guarantee if it had panned out to so much verbal flotsam, all but forgotten after a few days.

As most of them are.

"The only one I've ever heard of is Messier, except for that guy on the Steelers," Penguins right winger Colby Armstrong said. "You don't hear about the ones that don't work out."

People might take guarantees more seriously if the athletes who issue them would have more than their image and pride at stake during the game or series in question. If a guy pledged to donate, say, a week's pay to a charity of the other team's choosing if his guarantee doesn't work out, his words might carry a lot more weight. Assuming he still was inclined to utter them publicly, of course.

Unless that sort of commitment catches on, however, guys who give public assurances won't suffer any consequences more severe than disappointment and perhaps a day or two of taunting when they talk a better performance than they and/or their teammates can produce.

"Anytime there's a guarantee, you'd like to see it backed up with more than words, like a Messier or a Joe Namath," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "Guys who go out there and dominate a game, as opposed to just saying it and hoping for the best."

Throwbacks could throw viewers off

It's not hard to understand why the NHL decided to have the Penguins and Buffalo wear retro uniforms for their outdoor game at Ralph Wilson Stadium Tuesday.

There's a lot of money to be made by selling replica sweaters to the true believers on both sides.

What isn't clear is how much anyone at the league considered the potential downside of that idea.

A big part of the motivation for staging a novelty game like this one is to attract casual fans who might have limited familiarity with, say, Sidney Crosby. Or the participating teams. Or the sport, for that matter. Why present those people with uniforms they likely never have seen and might never see again, at least for a number of years?

Does anyone really think that a first-time fan who stops by NBC while channel-surfing is going to care that the teams are wearing "heritage" uniforms, let alone know (or care) how the clubs' sweaters have evolved over the years?

Wouldn't it make more sense -- short-term profits aside -- to have the players in uniforms those casual fans will recognize the next time they see them on, say, a national highlights show? As it is, people in non-traditional markets whose interest might be piqued by something they see Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or Thomas Vanek do during the outdoor game won't necessarily make the connection when they see those players on TV again in the future.

That's particularly true of those playing for the Penguins, whose powder-blue uniforms will be unlike anything the team has worn in nearly three decades. That the NHL, which puts such an emphasis on "branding" its product, introduced new uniforms for every team this season makes the decision to put the Penguins and Sabres in sweaters that will be worn just once even more perplexing.


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