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Section E
- Hockey All The Time -
The Crosby Show or March of the Penguins 
1st-Aug-2005 07:16 pm
me in the Lightning locker room
As expected, the Pittsburgh Penguins, holders of the vaunted number one pick the NHL draft lottery, drafted QMJHL wunderkind Sidney Crosby.

Crosby, who has been anointed as the greatest hockey talent since the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, might actually be on a line with "The Best", Mario Lemieux, sooner than you might expect. At 18-years-old, he is skilled and mature beyond his years.

To the knowledgeable hockey fan, this means something. A savior, if you will, for the new, media-savvy NHL. A fresh face, bilingual, talented and young, to draw the casual fan to the game that warmed the Canadian heart for generations with his skill and charm.

To the casual fan, Sidney Crosby means nothing. And this also means something.

There has been much hype surrounding him for the last couple of years, and for what? The fact of the matter is, is that Crosby is still only 18 years old and has never played a minute in the NHL. Players out of junior league hockey that are "destined" for greatness (do the names Eric Lindros and Alex Daigle ring a bell to anyone?) rarely ever reach that pinnacle.

If anything, being drafted by the Penguins hurts the team and the league. Does anyone really expect Crosby to play this season in The Show? An 18-year-old in the NHL is a fourth-liner at best, and will get no experience in learning the game. I have seen firsthand how putting an 18-year-old into a situation of unrealistic expectations can have a negative impact on the player's development. I speak of current Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier. He, like Crosby, was the first overall pick the NHL draft. And he was made captain in his third year without ever playing a minute in the minor leagues. It wasn't until his fourth year that Vinny actually put up decent numbers. Of course, Vinny didn't have Mario Lemieux as a mentor, but how much can Mario do with the wonky back and bum hip? And what TV coverage would Crosby get? With ESPN pulling out, the only place to possibly watch number 87 on cable would be...NBC? And how many people watch that channel, I ask you? (Does the XFL ring a bell? Or a caution whistle?) Is this the place the NHL wants to market? Where watching fat people wearing stupid sunglasses betting on a pair of fives garners higher television ratings than the NHL ever did? The WNBA's ratings were on par with the NHL three years ago, and that should speak volumes to the league officials.

Now, I am not saying that Crosby won't do the same as Lecavalier and lift the Stanley Cup over his head...eventually...maybe...but it seems to me that there's a little too much excitement for this kid. Maybe having Mario Lemieux as a linemate will help, but it might be better in the long run for Crosby to stay in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with the Baby Penguins for a few years, especially considering that Pittsburgh's home rink, the Mellon Arena, is 40-years-old. To have a rising superstar in the NHL pantheon play in an arena so devoid of any amenities and requiring a sherpa to traverse the upper levels, is a travesty in itself. How do you market the Next Great Player in a place that has the all the charm of a refrigerator box?

I think Jeremy Roenick was right and wrong to suggest that Crosby should have been "given" to the New York Rangers. He was right in the fact that New York is the place to be to market the "new" NHL, but was wrong because Crosby would be toiling around ineptness in Rangers management. At least with the Pens, the intelligence of Craig Patrick may save a few years of denial by the Steel City faithful. But until then, when Crosby is truly ready to assume the mantel, his presence means nothing to the NHL now when they need it the most. And considering how badly it went for both owners and players, Crosby is merely another kid in a long line of kids that fans of 29 other teams don't care about. I think it is pretty evident how bad the NHL needs to work to attain an interest in the casual and regular hockey fan when the biggest name out there hasn't yet even taken his first shift.
Comments 
6th-Aug-2005 03:37 am (UTC)
Interesting points you make, though I mostly disagree with them.

It is indeed not a given that Crosby will start putting up Gretzky-like numbers from the moment he laces up his skates. You are correct when you mention the cautionary tales of Lindros, Daigle, and Lecavalier, and I'm glad someone has the common sense to question all this runaway optimism. But Lindros was a gutless mama's boy, and Daigle an obnoxious party animal...their talent exceeded their desire and their love of the game. As for Vinny, no one except the guy who drafted him had him pegged for greatness. By all accounts, Crosby is a different breed. We all know who he will be measured against, but he still deserves to be judged on his own merits.

That said, I don't see the benefit of starting him in the minors or back in juniors (the more likely destination should he flop early on). From a talent standpoint, there's no way the Penguins come up with 12 forwards better than him. He may not be lights-out from game 1 -- he may not even be a point-per-game scorer -- but I can't imagine him not making a meaningful contribution and growing as a player. Lots of 18-year-old kids play and contribute at the NHL level, and hardly any of them possess the talent to carry a league or even a franchise on their back.

From a "selling-the-game" perspective, Pittsburgh is a less-than-ideal destination, but it should make no difference in the long run. For the sake of the league, every time a star player doesn't end up in New York, Detroit or Colorado is a step in the right direction. The two greatest players of our generation (if not all-time) made their names in the "small markets" of Pittsburgh and Edmonton. So if the kid really does deliver the goods, he will be an asset to the league no matter where he plays.
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