24 April, 2014

The NHL's New Golden Boy

I know everyone’s as sick of hearing about Sidney Crosby and his league-debilitating injury as I am, but when I read Bob Duff’s MSNBC column this morning, I was entertained. It has everything- humor! Pathos! Despair!
Duff opens the column rather auspiciously:

Quick. Name the most important player in the National Hockey League right now.
Alexander Ovechkin?
Ilya Kovalchuk?
Not a chance.
Roberto Luongo?
No sir.
As of Tuesday and the arriving news that Pittsburgh Penguins captain and all-around wunderkind Sidney Crosby would be done 6-8 weeks due to a high ankle sprain, the most essential hockey player known to humanity just became Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.
Not merely to the Penguins. To the entire league.

Evgeni Malkin- photo courtesy of Getty Images
Yup, the guy who couldn’t be bothered to pick up his Calder trophy in person is now the “It” boy of the NHL.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s obvious that Malkin’s continued success goes hand-in-hand with Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes. If Malkin fades, so do the Penguins. But Duff makes a bold statement:

If Malkin doesn’t get the job done, the NHL might as well pack up Lord Stanley’s mug and mothball the playoffs, because nobody other than hardcore hockey fanatics will be tuning in south of the border.

The cynic in me says that even if the Penguins make the playoffs, nobody other than hardcore hockey fanatics and the city of Pittsburgh would likely be tuning in. Granted, Duff has a point in that American TV viewing of the NHL playoffs ranks higher than schoolbus demolition derbies but less than golf; they’re not a must-watch for the U.S. like, say, the NFL playoffs. But the attitude behind Duff’s statement reeks of Canadian superiority (“No one watches hockey in the States”) when that’s not exactly the case. Canadian hockey viewing and U.S. hockey viewing are two very different things: it’s like comparing apples to tractors.
Regardless of whether or not anyone’s watching on television, I’m still wondering how Malkin has been christened the savior of the NHL. Yes, he’s an excellent player, one that any team would be fortunate to have. But he doesn’t have the excitement of Alex Ovechkin or the panache of Ilya Kovalchuk. He ranks 12th on the list for total points, and 9th on the goal-scorers list. That will likely change now that Crosby is out of the picture; the best thing Malkin could do for the league is turn the total goals race into a serious three-way competition with Ovechkin and Kovalchuk.
Since Crosby’s Canadian, the media above the border adores him. He’s an ideal poster boy for Canada- great player, non-threatening personality, good-looking (if you like that sort of thing), overall a safe choice to fall behind. That’s why it’s so interesting that the Canadian media would now choose a Russian savior, since they haven’t seen fit to do it before. Likely it would be seen as sacrilege that a rival like Ovechkin would be named by Canada as the next king of hockey; it’s much better to choose one of Crosby’s teammates to temporarily take over the title, even if he isn’t Canadian.
Duff leaves comforting words for Pittsburgh fans:

In this case, without Crosby, there’s no hope.
Only a road to ruin.

Yes, the Penguins have injuries (surprisingly, they’re not the only ones). Yes, they need Crosby. But does their situation really warrant such melodrama? You’d think Crosby died to elicit this type of a reaction.


  1. The Peerless wrote:

    State funerals don’t get this sort of attention. I half expected to see video of Crosby drawn in a flag-covered caisson to his MRI session, accompanied by RCMP on horseback.

    23 January, 2008 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  2. WFY wrote:

    I’m completely baffled why Pittsburgh is so vital to the league and Canadian media. We’re only five seasons away from when they had the worst attendance. It isn’t a big market either and continues to shrink.
    I don’t mind that Ovechkin hasn’t been designated the NHL poster boy though. I’d rather that happen “organically” than because Gary Bettman thinks it is a good idea.

    23 January, 2008 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  3. Matt wrote:

    Some people are so stupid…Bob Duff is their leader.

    23 January, 2008 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  4. I hear both teams will be wearing black in Crosby’s honor at the All-Star Game… no, not black armbands, all black uniforms with black numbers, crests, everything. It’s gonna look like a Spinal Tap album cover.

    23 January, 2008 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  5. Does that mean they’ll all be wearing the number “11″?

    23 January, 2008 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  6. Smitty wrote:

    I can’t handle this much stupid this early in the morning.
    I’m speechless. Just speechless.

    23 January, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  7. WFY wrote:

    No, they’ll all be wearing a variation of 8 and 7 to keep consistent with Crosby’s numerology fetish.
    By the way, why do people keep saying that Caps vs. Pens is a “new rivalry.” I’m the world’s most casual hockey fan and I know this is has been a rivalry for a looooong time.

    23 January, 2008 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  8. Smitty wrote:

    I think the rivalry died out a bit, except to the most hardcore of fans, after both teams fell into the basement after the turn of the century. The AO-Crosby rivalry seems to be renewing it and making it much more visible to the hockey watching public at large who aren’t necessarily fans of either team.

    23 January, 2008 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  9. Todd wrote:

    Does this mean that someone will be putting pictures of Evgeni Malkin in the Verizon Center men’s bathroom urinals the next time the Pittsburgh comes to town?

    23 January, 2008 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  10. chanuck wrote:

    Is that something you want to organize Todd, cause we won’t mind. We will even be willing to help. ;-)

    23 January, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  11. pepper wrote:

    Agreed WFY. I don’t get it either. The Penguins aren’t even close to having the biggest fan base of a US-based team. If Malkin gets hurt, does Colby Armstrong become the “face of the NHL?”

    23 January, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  12. The Peerless wrote:

    There is a really bad “Heath Ledger was despondent over the Crosby situation” line here…but I won’t use it. No-sir-ee, not me.

    23 January, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  13. Justin wrote:

    It’s slightly odd that Duff refers to the Oilers falling flat on their faces once Gretzky left. I love Gretz more than the next guy, but don’t I remember a Cup in ’90 before the Oilers were stunted for nearly a decade.
    Anyhow, I can see how Crosby being hurt will affect the NHL in ratings if Crosby isn’t in the All-Star game festivities or the hunt for the Pens playoff spot, but, realistically, he plays in Pittsburgh. If he were playing in L.A., New York, Toronto, or Chicago (as bad as a few of those teams currently are) this would be a much greater problem for the league. If Crosby were on any of those teams and they were in the position Pittsburgh’s in, the league would be in a much tighter spot at the moment.

    23 January, 2008 at 7:02 pm | Permalink
  14. Mark wrote:

    Sidney who?

    23 January, 2008 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  15. SovSport wrote:

    Is the All Star Game still on? I thought the NHL was heading towards a lockout-like stoppage until the chosen one returns.

    23 January, 2008 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  16. Joe wrote:

    Yea, I’d feel bad if Pens fans weren’t so annoyingly in-your-face about how much better they are (were) than us.
    Plus, there’s the whole fact that OUR captain’s been out for 20+ games, Semin was out for 15+ games, Nylander’s out for the rest of the year, etc. etc. etc.
    And we’re still kicking ass.

    23 January, 2008 at 9:12 pm | Permalink
  17. hooks orpik wrote:

    WFY, there’s something like a 165,000+ spike (my numbers could be off, but you get the point) when Crosby and the Pens play on national television in America rather than any other team. The same applies (on a much smaller scale) for games on Versus.
    But to suggest one player (no matter who it is) is bigger than the whole NHL playoffs and the Stanley Cup itself? Well, that’s just incoherently foolish.
    And also note this isn’t coming from the Penguins PR department or Pittsburgh in general, but north of the border. It’s not as if this is getting decried from an internal source.

    23 January, 2008 at 9:55 pm | Permalink