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.
Not a chance.
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.
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.