Why Sidney Crosby Is Bad For The NHL
By Andrew Seid
January 13, 2012
Yes, you read that correctly. I truly believe that Sidney Crosby is bad for the NHL. But before I get to that, I must provide a couple disclaimers. First, I'm a Red Wings fan, so my disdain for the Penguins runs strong, but that is not my reasoning behind this article. There are plenty of players and teams in this league I dislike more than Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, but I am not making that claim about them. Second, I truly believe that Sidney Crosby is a great player and one of the elite players in the NHL. So you ask, how is that I can make the claim that one of the elite players in the NHL is bad for the league? That, my friends, is the topic for debate today and where I aim to sway you, the readers.
Sidney Crosby was not always bad for the NHL. Crosby is a player who entered the league hyped as the Next Great One, a player supposed to challenge Wayne Gretzky's scoring records and put his name alongside the all-time greats of the NHL. You cannot hold that against Sidney Crosby, as the media is paid to flap their gums, paid to spew exaggerations and purple prose concerning the leagues and players they cover. LeBron James was the next Michael Jordan, Freddy Adu was the next Pele, Adrian Peterson the next Jim Brown. It's how the media earns a living. It's how we, as a sports society, have come to qualify young athletes. Add to that the fact that he entered a league coming out of a lockout, a league in desperate need of star power and talking points. As a result, he was identified as the rising star, a player who would be a stud in the NHL for years to come. Along with Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL pushed those young faces as the new face of the NHL. A smart idea, as a changing of the guard was needed to coincide with a changing league. New rules, new faces, a new brand of hockey for all to enjoy.
All of this worked for the NHL, as the league has continued to grow and develop their fanbase in the United States since reemerging from the ashes of the lockout. Ovechkin and Crosby flourished in the new higher scoring NHL and they were legitimate talking points for hockey fans. Soon they were joined by Patrick Kane, Geno Malkin, the Sedins, Steven Stamkos and more in a league filled with exciting young talent and great hockey. The NHL has already returned to the level of interest in the US they had before the lockout. The last four Stanley Cup Finals all have had viewership numbers reaching or exceeding those achieved before the lockout. In fact, the Bruins/Canucks Game 7 from last year was the most-watched NHL broadcast in the United States since the 1970s! I present all of this to show that the NHL did a great job of creating a product that can flourish in our sports market, and followed creation of such a product with a strong plan of creating a new face for the NHL. This was necessary immediately following the lockout when the league was in dire straits and in need of superstars not associated with the old product. Now, the league is no longer in need of singular stars and yet, the NHL and the media continues to push Sidney Crosby as THE star of the NHL and this is where the problem arises.
The NHL is not the NBA, it is not a superstar-driven league. One player cannot dominate a game unless he's wearing the goalie pads. Even then, it's hard to win many games with no scoring in front of a dominant goaltender. A player in the NHL plays 30 seconds at a time, then back to the bench he goes to rest until his next shift. Pushing a single player as the face of your league is smart if he is constantly playing and able to dominate play. No player in the NHL can make that claim, and that's where I think that Sidney Crosby is bad for the NHL. The NHL is pushing this idea of Sidney Crosby, this superstar that cannot live up to the hype for casual fans. Hockey fans can appreciate what he does with the puck on his stick. That is not the reason for pushing someone as the face of your league. Hockey fans know who the best players are, they appreciate the play of great players. It's the casual fans who you are trying to snare with a media push.
Pushing Sidney Crosby as the face of the NHL is bad for the league at this point in time for three reasons. First, the NHL has reached a level of competition and talent where pushing teams and rivalries is the much smarter idea. Each year, the major event for the NHL is the Winter Classic, an outdoor hockey game held in January. The most-watched Winter Classic? Not one of the two involving Crosby, but the Red Wings-Blackhawks battle at Wrigley. The fans wanted to watch a great rivalry with two great teams at a great venue, not tune in to see one player.
Second, the NHL could very well lose the face of their sport as Crosby is starting to reach the point of having scrambled eggs between his ears from the amount of concussions he has suffered. In hockey, players go down all the time with bad injuries; it's the nature of the beast. Hard hits, taking pucks off various parts, and lots of dangerous areas around and on the ice to go awkwardly into (such as the boards and stanchions) can see the face of your sport sidelined indefinitely in a split second. You cannot push a single player forward in this sport, especially one as prone to injuries as Crosby has been. If you do, you get what the NHL has had to deal with the past year and a half. The media spends more time talking about the product that's off the ice rather than the product that is on it. If instead, the Penguins were pushed, then when Crosby goes down, the story is about the team dealing with his loss rather than the player himself.
Finally, pushing forward a player like Crosby means you push forward his style of play. This is the part that drives me nuts as a hockey fan. The NHL is pushing, as the face of our league, a player who hacks, slashes and dives his way through a game, all the time with a crybaby look on his face. Is that really what you want casual fans to think of when they think of your league? The NBA put in specific rules to stop players from hacking, diving, and flopping all the time, then looking incredulous after getting called for it. The NBA knew that was not the product they wanted to promote, so why doesn't the NHL? Why are the teams led by Toews, Lidstrom, St Louis, and other respectable captains not pushed as faces of the league? Why, instead, do we insist on making the impetuous brats of the league the superstars? While this is a minor complaint from a diehard hockey fan, when combined with the above two points, I think it just pushes my point over the edge. Crosby needs to be deemphasized and heralded for his actions within his team rather than his actions as an individual.
I truly believe the NHL has an image problem. The problem isn't due to the product on the ice. It's due to an infatuation with Sidney Crosby. His place at the forefront of the league means all NHL coverage in the US is Crosby-centric. Instead of talking about the strength and depth in the Western Conference this season, or the beast squad that is roaring strong in Boston, we are stuck listening to how concussions are ruining the game and how we are all unlucky to be missing out on Crosby playing. Why? What am I missing? Great hockey? NO! There is great hockey being played every night by the likes of John Tavares, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Corey Perry, Claude Giroux, and more. Why must I be told that the season lost its meaning without Crosby playing? Why must I sit through broadcast after broadcast and hear the lamentations of talking heads over how a nation mourns over this? Hockey is not a one man sport and as long as the NHL continues to push it as such, our sport will not grow and develop any stronger fan base than what we have now. There are too many people who are missing out on what has become a genuinely exciting and intriguing brand of hockey because the NHL believes that Crosby is their meal ticket. I just wish they would realize what is being wasted in the shadows of other sports as a result of the Crosby Idolization.