Dave Molinari on the Penguins: Banners meant for rare air

Do division and conference championships deserve to hang in the same heavens as Stanley Cups?

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There were some new banners hanging in Mellon Arena when the Penguins played their first home game -- the first one actually in their home rink -- of 2008-09 against New Jersey last night.

Enough that the people paid to hoist them into place probably picked up some nice overtime pay during the past few days.

There were two representing the Penguins' regular-season championship in the Atlantic Division and their playoff triumph in the Eastern Conference, a couple more celebrating the dozen NHL scoring titles won by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby and a fifth commemorating the five MVP awards those three claimed.

For good measure, the ones the franchise had earned during the previous 40 years -- which actually means, since the 1990-91 seaason -- were replaced so their appearance could be standardized.

There's nothing wrong with any of that, of course. What the Penguins accomplished in 2007-08 -- they hadn't won a division since finishing first in the Northeast in 1997-98, or a conference since capturing the Wales in 1992 -- was remarkable.

And it's not as if the Mellon Arena ceiling is cluttered with a lot of banners of dubious significance. Like, say, those found in some venues toasting the number of times a particular artist sold out the building.

Nonetheless, the belief here is that banners, like retired numbers, are a tribute that should be reserved for the most extraordinary accomplishments or players. And that means Stanley Cups, not conference championships or first-place division finishes.

The Penguins, to their credit, have resisted the temptation to retire the numbers of some wonderful players who contributed greatly to the success of the organization, reserving that honor for greatest of the franchise's great players, Lemieux. (Michel Briere's number was retired more because of his promise and tragic, untimely death than for what he accomplished on the ice. It's worth noting that he hasn't been deemed worthy of induction to the team's Hall of Fame.)

That same standard should be applied to banners, at least those that celebrate team achievements. They should be raised for Cups. Period.

That doesn't mean winning divisions or conferences or Presidents' trophies is easy, or not worthy of recognition. It just shouldn't done with a banner.

Breathe, Paul, just breathe

Paul Bissonnette got a nose job this summer.

Not because of vanity or because he was contemplating a second career in films, but because he had grown rather fond of breathing over the years, and was finding it increasingly difficult.

That happens if you get it broken often enough.

In Bissonnette's case, it has happened three times during hockey fights.

Sounds like reason enough to explore other career options -- or at least to make one a bit more selective about dance partners in the future -- but the simple truth is that Bissonnette has no interest in changing jobs, or altering the way he goes about his current one.

Fighting is an integral part of his repertoire and even though, at 6 foot 2, 211 pounds, he is not to be mistaken for a heavyweight, he insists he has no qualms about trading punches whenever -- and with whoever -- it becomes necessary.

"I'll do anything to stay here, and anything to help the team," Bissonnette said. "Obviously, we have [enforcer Eric] Godard, but if it came to a situation where he wasn't on the ice and I was and something happened ...

"If he hurts your face, that's life. That's the risk we take. You could get hit in the face with a puck. It's just a little different when there are huge fists coming at you."

That's a view Bissonnette has had more than a few times during his career, because he's traded punches with the hulking likes of Lane Manson (6-foot-9, 250 pounds), Kevin Westgarth (6-foot-4, 245), David Koci (6-foot-6, 238) and Ryan Flinn (6-foot-4, 221), among others.

Those experiences have given him an opportunity to develop a strategy, of sorts, for fighting oversized opponents. One that, surprisingly, does not revolve around intense prayer.

"Against big guys, you just throw [punches], and hopefully you don't get hit in the face," he said. "I've broken my nose a few times, but it wasn't like I went down. I just took it, and kept fighting."

McConnell with Thrashers

Matt McConnell, the former Penguins' play-by-play man whose NHL resume includes stints in Anaheim, Atlanta and Minnesota, has resurfaced with the Thrashers after spending a little time away from the league.

He is the designated fill-in for J.P. Dellacamera, the Thrashers' TV play-by-play man who broadcast Pittsburgh Spirit games in a previous lifetime. McConnell is penciled in to do five games in October and November, the first of which was last night at Florida, when Dellacamera has scheduling conflicts.

McConnell, like so many in the information industry, no longer limits himself to one medium. He has a hockey blog that specializes in Atlanta information and perspectives and can be found at 247hockey.blogspot.com.

Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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