Opinion: Crosby could match Gretzky's greatness
Reigning MVP can't elevate NHL alone ? no one can ? but he is special
By Kevin Dupont
Updated: 3:53 p.m. ET Sept 26, 2007
We now get to see the Sidney Crosby follow-up act, year No. 3 for the phenomenal, sensational Pittsburgh center. A new NHL season underway, the 20-year-old with the angelic looks, killer wheels and devilish skills returns as the defending scoring champion and Hart (MVP) winner.
In other words, there really is no following up for Crosby, not in the sense that he needs to show more, or better, or bigger, or shinier. He has delivered as advertised. He's the package, the bomb, already with a maturity and consistency in his game that there is every reason to believe he could match Gretzky's treasure trove of nine MVPs before he packs up and returns for good to his Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, environs.
Sid the Kid.
No reason, good or bad, to think he won't keep bringing it for a long, long time.
Ah, but the game will want more, of course. Or perhaps better to say, those who watch the game, and want more from it, will want more from Crosby. The folks around the NHL ? the owners, the management, the agents, the marketers, the fans ... heck, even the stickboys and Zamboni drivers ? will want more from him.
Why? Because, sadly, that's just the way hockey is, at least in America.
That's not to discount the Canadian viewpoint here, which I often think is more realistic and, frankly, far easier on the stomach.
Canadians believe hockey is their game, their heritage, and therefore they are fine with it. They're beyond fine. They actually like the game the way it is. Some of them even stay home Saturday nights just to watch it on the family room TV. They don't think it has to be better, bigger, more appealing, more television-worthy, more anything. They freely acknowledge its warts and its humble standing at No. 4 on the North America's sports totem pole, and they somehow go about their lives able to eat O.K. and get a good night's rest.
Ain't that totally awesome?
Admit it, you'd like to pack up and move to Cole Harbour, too, especially now that the Polar Ice Cap is receding and the Cole Harbour DPW is probably putting palm trees and beach umbrellas outside every rink in town.
No doubt that some of that overall good naturedness and sense of well being up north comes from the fact that Bobby Bonds plays in San Francisco, Michael Vick soon will play in the backyard of a penitentiary, and that Steve Nash plays in Phoenix.
Since Nash is Canadian, via Johannesburg, he no doubt feels compelled to keep a key under his doormat as an informal invite for any of the 33 million Canadians to come visit any time they want. He also knows that there aren't 33 people in Canada how care about basketball, which makes that invite a bit of a red herring. But, still, he's Canadian, eh?
Crosby, as good as he is, and as many points as he'll put up, is not going to be the NHL's savior. And again, in his home country, the obvious follow here would be, ''Uh, saved.....from what, you hoser?''
Well, contrary to all the hype that preceded his arrival following the 2004-'05 lockout, he is not going to carry the NHL to a new day. And that's O.K.
Gretzky, the greatest scorer in league history, didn't do it.
Crosby's boss in Pittsburgh, Mario ''Magnifique'' Lemieux, didn't do it.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who helped design and implement the league's expansion of the '90s, didn't do it. In fact, the NHL may be the sports world's best example that bigger definitely is not always better. The Original 30 NHL has challenges galore in a number of American markets, some old and some new, one of which was Pittsburgh until Sid the Kid showed up. If only there were a dozen or more Crosbys to go around, none of Bettman's franchises would have an issue, but that would be the equal of the Titanic counting on an empty tanker to cruise by in its time of need.
Crosby is incredibly sturdy on his skates. That foundation, which he began to construct in his days of youth hockey, is central to his on-ice being and success.
It's a coaching handbook cliche that everything, all success, comes from skating. But what's a cliche without the underlying truth? Gretzky was an incredible skater. Ditto for Lemieux. Rocket Richard, too. If you can't get there, then there is no there to get to...there is no there there. A booming shot is nothing if the boomer can't get to the spot where that shot will mean something.
As strong as Crosby's legs are, however, those twin pistons are not carrying the NHL to a new day. The Penguins, yes, without a doubt In fact, he's already carried them there, which is great news for a western-Pennsylvania fandom that got a little spoiled with their skating superstars in the early-'90s (see: back-to-back Stanley Cups, '91 and '92).
Craig Patrick, the Pens former GM who was on the watch the day in 2005 that Crosby was drafted, and Ray Shero, named the new GM roughly one year later, combined to surround Crosby with some brilliant talent, too. Young stud draft picks Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal also fit easily on a Top 10 list of young NHL talent. Both were drafted in the Patrick regime.
Shero this summer brought in free agent veteran Petr Sykora to add to the potent scoring corps. If Shero can keep some cap room available, Pittsburgh is going to be a popular UFA destination for the next 10 years or more. Shero shrewdly locked up Crosby this past summer for the next five years on a new deal worth an average $8.7 million. Born 8-7-87, Crosby also wears sweater No. 87. It's a fair bet that lottery players in Western PA somehow work the '8' and '7' into their betting strategy.
All of that is great for Crosby, and great for Pittsburgh hockey fans. And, sure, it's good for the NHL, because every sport craves and counts on players catching the fandom's imagination. It's a heroes business, and right now, the slick-dishing Crosby is a hockey hero.
Even better, like the two biggest hockey heroes of recent vintage, the aforementioned Gretzky and Lemieux, he has a humility and dignity about him that fill out a very nice story. Hard, if not impossible, to imagine Sid the Kid caught with a vile of HGH or beating defenseless animal silly in some vile, inhumane dog-fighting scheme.
Yes, thankfully, Crosby is a feel-good story in an era when it has become almost impossible to feel good about opening the sports page, going to the Internet, or turning on the televison to get update on the old town team. Too often one must first attach a clothespin to the nose. Once a fete, or games too often are fetid.
For all his good, however, Crosby will not launch the NHL into a new era, cause millions upon millions of Americans to race to their televisions every time (maybe twice?) the Penguins are on national television and create a ratings number that will inch hockey up that sports totem pole. Just won't happen.
What the NHL is, for reasons good and bad, is a niche or boutique sport when compared to the twin behemoths baseball and football. Contrary to public perception, the NHL's annual gross revenues are not dwarfed the NBA's NGR. The NBA gets far better exposure in the U.S. because it gets much more over-the-air TV broadcast time, but it is not anything close to the almost government-like businesses that are Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
We, especially in the U.S. media, spend so much time and effort searching for what will make the NHL big time that we too often forget, or take for granted, what is good about the sport. Like a whole lot of Canadians, we like it, accept it for what it is and what it is not, and proudly waltz to the water cooler of our choice for heated discussion and memory-building.
Crosby is good. He is beyond good, and by the time he is finished, the bet here is that he'll end up among the game's top 10-15 scorers and carry those numbers directly through the front door of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
How about we just focus on that, head over to Steve Nash's house, pull a beer from the fridge, and enjoy the show?