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Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Bill Guerin celebrates his second period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes. (SHAUN BEST)
Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Bill Guerin celebrates his second period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes. (SHAUN BEST)

Well-travelled Guerin relishes 'last chance' Add to ...

At first, he seems out of place here; on second thought, perhaps not so much.

Bill Guerin is walking in the sharp early June sunlight beside a small park that serves as a refuge for the homeless. One man is standing on the curb between two lanes of traffic, begging for change when the light turns red; another man is bedding down on newspapers for a midday nap.

And yet Bill Guerin - drafted 20 years ago this month by the New Jersey Devils, traded by the Devils to the Edmonton Oilers in 1998, traded by the Oilers to the Boston Bruins in 2000, signed by the Dallas Stars as a free agent in 2002, bought out by the Stars in 2006, signed as a free agent by St. Louis Blues that same year, traded to the San Jose Sharks a year later, signed as a free agent by the New York Islanders and, only three months ago, traded by the Islanders to the Pittsburgh Penguins for next-to-nothing - has never felt more at home. Or happier.

"This," the grey-bearded 38-year-old says, before heading for the nearby Mellon Arena and an off-day press conference, "has been awesome.

"Absolutely fantastic."

He has decided to live in the "now" rather than dwell on a list of dwellings that have made him one of hockey's most-travelled players. Enjoy the moment, he says, for it might not come around again. He even has an example to prove the point: himself. Fourteen years ago, Guerin won his one and only Stanley Cup championship with the Devils. He has not been back to the Stanley Cup finals since. Most hockey players, statistics will show, do not get a second chance. Most, in fact, do not even get that first chance.

"You never know that the future holds for opportunities and chances to win the Cup," Guerin says later at the rink.

"I know where I am in my career. I know they're going to have to kick me out of this league because I want to keep playing as long as I can. But the opportunity is now.

"You know, the opportunity is now for a 38-year-old and it's now for a 22-year-old and for a 28-year-old. The opportunity is now and you have to take it … because, you know, it could be 14 years before you get the next one."

It is difficult to conceive - and he himself does not believe this - but if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were to fall short of a Cup ring this year on a second consecutive try against the defending-champion Detroit Red Wings, they might never win the trophy that defines a career.

"Nothing is permanent in this business," the great coach, Tommy Ivan, once said, "until you have the Stanley Cup perched on the trophy shelf."

Some great players never win: Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perreault, Dale Hawerchuk, Brad Park, Pat LaFontaine, Darryl Sittler - the list goes on and on …

Some greats make one late-in-career effort to join a strong team in the hopes that it will finally happen. It worked for Raymond Bourque and Dominik Hasek; it didn't work, this year, for Mats Sundin.

And some players are just stunningly lucky: Henri Richard won the Stanley Cup in more seasons (11) than he did not win (seven).

And one player, Marian Hossa, made what will go down as one of the game's most fascinating gambles when all this is over later this week. A year ago, Hossa starred for the Penguins but came up short. Last summer, he decided he would have a better chance, even for a lesser contract, with the Red Wings. If the Penguins were somehow to come back and win this thing, Hossa's name would become synonymous with "bad idea."

Guerin, however, counts himself lucky no matter what. He is in the Stanley Cup final after having been written off by the Dallas Stars (they bought out his contract after a weak 2005-06 season) and having been pronounced a bit of a "rent-a-player" flop after joining the ever-failing San Jose Sharks in 2007.

He has always been an attractive commodity - admired for his shot, liked for his dressing room personality - and it seemed he might be winding down his career as captain of the last-place Islanders when, at the trading deadline, he suddenly found himself on his way to Pittsburgh for a conditional draft pick in one of hockey's greatest insults.

Once here, however, he found his game again playing with the brilliant Crosby. And in the playoffs, he has been superb, if rather overlooked among the many stars the Penguins and Wings can ice in a single shift. In 22 playoff games, he has seven goals and eight assists for 15 points, third best on the team. One of his winning goals came in overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 1.

It will require heroics at that level if the Penguins are going to tie the series at three games apiece here tomorrow night and force a Game 7 back in Detroit.

No matter what the outcome, however, Guerin is convinced these young Penguins are no flash in the pan so far as playoff history will be concerned.

"I think this team's going to be sniffing around for championships for a long time," he says.

"But, you know, you can't take opportunities for granted.

"You can't think they're going to come around every year because you can ask other older guys - they just don't."

 

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