NHL, not Crosby, deserves heat
By Joe Starkey
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Somehow, the NHL's feel-good story of the season has become tinged with negativity.
We're talking about Sidney Crosby, who has established himself, at age 19, as the best hockey player in the world and an even better ambassador for an embattled league.
Yet, the league, through blatant inaction, has endorsed the abuse of its marquee attraction.
"Honestly, it's very difficult to understand, the way Sidney's been treated since the beginning of his career," Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, said Tuesday. "In my opinion, it hasn't been fair. This is someone who gives 100 percent on every shift, on and off the ice, for his team and his league."
Brisson's biased, of course. He's also right.
Within the past month, we've seen Crosby speared in the abdomen (Jason Blake), butt-ended in the gut on a game-opening faceoff (Maxim Lapierre) and cut in the face with a high stick (Francis Bouillon), without any of the infractions drawing so much as a minor penalty.
Crosby also absorbed a cross-check to the face from Philadelphia's Alexei Zhitnik -- on national television -- and somehow wound up with the extra two-minute penalty.
How is it, exactly, that two officials can consistently miss obvious fouls perpetrated against the most prominent player on the ice?
One logical explanation is that officials have conspired to make things tough on Crosby, perhaps because some believed he whined too much last season.
If that's the case, shame on the officials and their Neanderthal code. Their job is to call the games on a case-by-case, infraction-by-infraction basis. If they're not doing that, the league needs to crack down on them. Hard.
Crosby doesn't necessarily merit special treatment (though one could make a case for it). He simply deserves equal treatment.
Stephen Walkom, the NHL's vice president and director of officiating, insists that already is the case.
"I think you can assure your readers that our guys don't get together and say, 'Let's miss a bunch tonight on this player or that player,' " Walkom said. "Unfortunately, Sidney's in the public eye, and when anything gets missed on him, it gets noticed."
Do officials view him as a whiner?
"I think it's time to stomp that rumor," Walkom said. "I think Sidney was a new player in the league last year. Did he talk more to the referees last year, in a way that maybe some of the fans perceived as whining? He could have. I can assure you this year, he's been a pro on the ice. All I've heard from my guys is how grown up he is for his age, and how much respect they have for him for how he talks to them on the ice."
Unfortunately, that respect has not translated to an even shake. The fact players are allowed to treat Crosby like a pi?ata creates, in the words of Brisson, a "domino effect." Everyone wants a piece of the action, including fans and media members who label Crosby a "whiner" when he wonders aloud to an official why the guy who just tried to gut him wasn't penalized.
It also creates talk of the Penguins needing to acquire an "enforcer" (i.e., a guy who can fight but can't play) to "protect" Crosby.
All of which turns what should be a positive story into a negative one for the league.
If officials simply called the game properly, none of this would be an issue.
The league office needs to upgrade its game, too. When I asked a league spokesman why Blake wasn't suspended - he was fined $1,000 - the spokesman said, "Usually, (a spear is) a fineable offense as opposed to game offense unless it is of the most severe nature and ends up causing injury."
OK, so if I swing my stick at someone's head and miss, I'll be treated differently than if I connect?
Who's dispensing justice around here, the Geico caveman?
"It has a domino effect," Brisson said. "The spear from Blake, nothing happens, so you have the butt-end from Lapierre - the stick was coming out eight inches into (Crosby's) stomach. These are the things that will occur."
If they keep occurring, Brisson should think twice about making Crosby so readily available for all those NHL-boosting promotions.
"If you want him on the cover of Vanity Fair and all that, well, it goes both ways," Brisson said.
Actually, for the NHL, it goes one way all too often: downhill fast.
Good grief...yet ANOTHER "hockey writer" who doesn't understand the game. Um, Joe - if the Pens had one of those "guys who can fight, but can't play," then opposing teams would be hesitant to run and take cheap shots on Crosby or anyone else for fear of that "guy who can fight, but can't play" retaliating by either hitting one of their better players or rearranging the face of the guy who hit Crosby, or Malkin, or Staal, or Fleury...etc. It's called protecting your teammates. They've been doing it ever since the game began, but more and more of these wussies behind computer keyboards who call themselves "hockey fans" fail to grasp this. Meanwhile, Crosby will continue to take abuse from other teams and not a damn thing will be done about it - because they don't have any fear of guys like Thorburn, Ruutu or Petro. Sorry to inform you, Joe. Let the players police themselves, and this kind of crap will not happen nearly as much. Plain and simple.