Kukla's Korner

Everyone Hates Sid

What’s it like to be Sidney Crosby? Here’s a guy who, at 18 years old, already had most of the hockey world hating him—and he hadn’t done anything yet. Of course, that probably was the problem, as the NHL deemed him The Next One prior to him playing a single NHL game.

We all know what happened after that. He had a great rookie season only to be overshadowed by Alexander Ovechkin, then went on to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP in his second season. By then, people had finally stopped blindly bashing Crosby and recognized how good he really was. In his third season, an injury took Crosby out of any awards but he was the strongest Penguin on a team that charged to within two wins of the Stanley Cup.

This year? He’s had an embarrassing fight, some nagging injuries, and the Crosby backlash seems to be in full force from pretty much everywhere (except for, shockingly, Don Cherry). In most hockey circles, discussion of the Penguins’ fortunes seems to focus more on Evgeni Malkin, and whenever Crosby is actually brought up, it’s often accompanied by the phrase “He’s not even the best player on the team.”

In the whole “Who’s the best player in the NHL?” argument, there are talks of Malkin’s scoring-race lead or Alexander Ovechkin’s supercharged goalscoring and enthusiasm. Crosby, however, seems to have slipped by the wayside in everything except NHL marketing pieces.

The strange thing is that facts dispute any naysayer dismissal of Crosby as one of the NHL’s best, if not the best. His points-per-game since he entered the league is better than Malkin or Ovechkin (though not by far); for this season, his points-per-game following Sunday’s three-assist performance over the Boston Bruins is neck-and-neck with Malkin—and both Penguins are just a hair above Ovechkin.

Part of the problem is a personality issue. If Crosby was just a little louder, a little more passionate rather than constantly expressing himself like a robot, perhaps there wouldn’t be such a backlash against the guy. Why do fans take to Ovechkin? Because when AO scores, he seems as excited—if not more—as every fan in the building. He’s having a great time out there and he’s taking the fans along for the ride. Crosby, on the other hand, offers a measured response to everything, most likely from years of preparation by agents and handlers anticipating his entrance into the NHL.

The other part of the problem is the Crosby’s early branding as a whiner and a diver by everyone from Don Cherry to Jeremy Roenick. Perhaps he really embraced those ugly traits during his rookie year, but if you actually sit down with an unbiased perspective and watch a Penguins game (if you’re watching a local Pittsburgh broadcast, be sure to mute the sound—Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey will make you think that Crosby can cure cancer and stop global warming), you’ll find that Crosby has evolved into one of the hardest working players on the ice. He talks to the refs, sure, but that’s part of the job when the C is on your chest. If there wasn’t such an intense media focus on Crosby, and if he didn’t get labeled so negatively in his rookie season, you probably wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

This isn’t an argument saying “Crosby rules, everyone else sucks.” It’s not that black and white, and it really doesn’t need to be. Hockey fans are lucky that they’ve got three players of pretty equal talent in Crosby, Malkin, and Ovechkin, and there’s a good chance that the three will be vying for the Art Ross trophy each year. Rather, this is an argument for trying to judge #87 fairly. Sidney Crosby isn’t evil, nor is he a simpering schoolyard brat. Sidney Crosby isn’t a saint either, despite what the NHL marketing folks might tell you. Sidney Crosby just is who he is—one of the most talented players we’ve seen in the league this generation. The real culprit here is the NHL’s marketing team, who pushed and pushed Crosby so hard instead of just letting him develop naturally.

Had the league waited to fly his flag after he actually accomplished something—like his Hart Trophy-winning season—maybe none of us would actually be talking about it. The unfortunate thing is that this corporate decision has robbed the public of its ability to judge Crosby objectively.

Is he better than Ovechkin or Malkin? On any given night, sometimes yes and sometimes no. And that’s something that some fans refuse to acknowledge or respect. If you’re that way, if you just can’t stand it when Crosby’s face appears in a TV ad or a magazine page, try this: take one game (and since the Penguins are always on national TV, it won’t be that hard to find), mute the sound, and really focus on Crosby shift to shift. You’ll probably find that he works harder than you thought, that he whines less than you believed, and that his skill level really is something unique.

(Let the hate mail from the anti-Crosby contingent commence.)

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: alexander+ovechkin, evgeni+malkin, sidney+crosby

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