Great points and artical alot of fans and media complain about sid acting like a kid (when he is one) the kid has alot on his table that most 20 year olds can't even comprehend or even imagine.
December 7, 2007 at 2:42 PM EST
As the Sidney Crosby tour made its way from Edmonton to Calgary and finally to Vancouver this week, the scrutiny on the Pittsburgh Penguins' young captain was greater than at any other time this season.
It wasn't as if the interest in the 20-year-old — the new face of the NHL — had waned exactly, but the novelty, in the cities where he'd been before, had started to wear off; the demands on his time not as great as in his rookie or sophomore seasons. A week ago in Toronto, when the Penguins were visiting the Leafs again, Crosby's handlers were surprised — there wasn't a single special request for him, even though they were appearing on Hockey Night In Canada in the prime-time slot.
It was different in Western Canada because he was making his first career appearance there. With poise, patience and extreme good grace, Crosby went from one media availability to the next, usually twice a day, answering any number of questions, most of which dealt with the minutia of his day-to-day life. Watching it all unfold, one was struck by two things — how startlingly similar it was to the Wayne Gretzky phenomenon in the early days of his career … and also how different.
Crosby gets it, in the same way that Gretzky did — and in ways that it took others (including Mario Lemieux, Crosby's landlord, and Mark Messier, Gretzky's long-time sidekick) years to figure out.
Gretzky always made a point of learning the names of the people asking the questions, so that over time, the relationship between interviewer and interviewee evolved to where it needed to be. To write effectively about anyone, you cannot write about ghosts. You need to know some detail about their lives and their core values and what matters to them — and what doesn't. There's always a fine line. Get too close and you can't critically evaluate when the need to do so arises. Fail to penetrate the surface and mostly you're left to type up stock answers to standard questions — the journalist as stenographer, an increasingly common occurrence.
Where they differ is in the age that they played. The two industries — professional sport and the mediums that chronicle it — have both changed dramatically in the quarter of a century between Gretzky's debut and Crosby's.
Mostly, when Gretzky came to town, there'd be three or four reporters and a couple of cameras in the dressing room and that would be it. Once the TV folks went away, Gretzky liked nothing better than talking hockey and exchanging gossip and/or trade rumours with the scribes. That of course was a different bygone era — pre-Internet, pre-24 hour sports talk radio, pre-Sportscentre, when you could actually have a real conversation and not the sort of formal question-and-answer session that today's press crush demands.
Now, they face so many more demands and it's always for one minute here, or three minutes there, or five or 10. But the cumulative effect of all those demands for one minute or three or five or 10 is that Crosby cannot meet them all — and so, it becomes a juggling act for him and for the team. The NHL desperately needs Crosby to be its public face, in the same way it needed Gretzky 25 years ago, but it also needs Crosby productive on the ice — and that means, balancing the need for publicizing the game with the need to play the game and play it at a high level.
An example of how it works now: In the Penguins' dressing room, after the morning skate in Calgary on Thursday, Crosby wandered over to his locker stall. There were half-a-dozen cameras pointing at him, as he took off his skates. Crosby seemed impervious to their presence. The only request from the Penguins' staff: That they stop shooting once he took his hockey pants off. Nobody wanted that image to appear on YouTube or on someone's camera phone — too risky for the image, you understand.
Crosby needs to be so careful and so guarded about everything he does that you wonder, at the age of 20, at a time when many of us had one foot planted in adulthood and one in adolescence, does Sid ever get a chance to be a kid anymore?
"Yeah, every day, away from the rink," answered Crosby. "It's important — you have to have fun. I feel pretty fortunate to be on this team, especially with the young group of guys that we have.
"I remember my first year, I was on the team and I was pretty much the only young guy and it was a lot different. I was used to junior — hanging out with your buddies after practice, going to lunch or going to movies every day. Here guys were going home to their families, so you wouldn't see them. So to have a young group, I feel really fortunate. I think we're all growing up together, which is kind of nice."
The Penguins signed Crosby to a five-year contract extension this past summer, which will carry him through to the end of the 2012-13 season. At that point, he will have played eight full NHL seasons and be eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1 of that year, some five weeks before his 26th birthday. (Crosby, believe it or not, is still playing this season on his original entry-level contract, which is listed on NHLPA.com as $850,000, although with bonuses, he'll earn about $3.7 million, which is also his salary-cap charge). If Crosby stayed healthy and productive and were ever interested in testing the open market when that time rolls around, there would be no end to the line of suitors, pining for his services. It is why the Penguins are so solicitous in ensuring that Pittsburgh is where he wants to play. He's still living with owner Mario Lemieux ("how long that lasts, I don't know") and described Pittsburgh as the perfect place for him.
"I don't think it's any secret why Mario still lives there. He'd tell you too: It's a great place to live. The people are great. It's a comfortable place. I don't think I could have gotten any better place to be."
The Penguins appointed Crosby their captain this season, which was risky on some levels. There have been notable times in recent NHL history where a team named its best young player captain and the added burden was too much for them (the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vincent Lecavalier may be the best example of that). Crosby, however, says it has had little impact on his approach or his day-to-day life.
"I feel pretty lucky," he said. "With my situation, we have a pretty young group and we have some great veterans. I really feel I haven't had to adjust too much. I don't think I've tried to change too much, to be honest. I try to do the same things and approach things the same way."
Crosby has been dealing with the comparisons to Gretzky since his teen years. Even Gretzky once predicted that if anyone could break his scoring records, it might be Crosby. That, of course, seems unlikely in the current era, where goal-scoring is down about three per game from the mid-eighties or when Gretzky was in his prime and NHL scoring was at its all-time high. So their statistics may never compare (except on a pro-rated basis). A more accurate measure will be their respective impacts on the game. The NHL did seem to matter to more people, for a time, during the height of Gretzky's popularity. Great players have a way of transcending their sport and drawing casual fans to the game. Gretzky did that and Crosby has the capacity to do so as well.
"When I talked to Mario, early on, when I first got to Pittsburgh, he said one of the things was just to enjoy it, try to be yourself, and not change too much. I've tried to do that.
"Everyone has their own way of dealing with (celebrity) and I think I've found my way. Hopefully, it'll continue to work."
RUMOURS DU JOUR: Usually a pointless exercise, in the gridlocked NHL, except in the week of Scott Niedermayer's return to the Anaheim Ducks, the team he helped to win the 2007 Stanley Cup. Before they can activate Niedermayer, the Ducks need to trade away a player signed to a contract through to the end of the 2008-09 earning around $900,000 to make the salary-cap numbers work. It would be easiest to move defenceman Mathieu Schneider, for a whole lot of reasons: First, Schneider was signed as Niedermayer's replacement; with Niedermayer returning, the need to have him in the line-up is greatly reduced.
Second, if they don't move Schneider, then they will have almost $19 million tied up in three defencemen. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs, with a $16 million salary-cap charge for the trio of Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle, and the Detroit Red Wings, with a $16.6 salary-cap charge for Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall, come close. Prior to trading for Chris Pronger in the summer of 2006, Ducks' general manager Brian Burke consulted with his salary-cap guru — the NFL's Bill Polian — to see if $13 million (for Niedermayer and Pronger) was too much to pay two players. (The answer then: No, provided they were the right two players). But Schneider's $5.625 million salary IS probably too much for three defencemen, no matter how accomplished.
Third, if they move Schneider, it will give the Ducks the ability to sign leading goal-scorer Corey Perry to a contract extension (he's on the books for a modest $633,333 salary-cap charge this year; it'll go up next year when he becomes a restricted free agent). If they trade a lower-end player, they can solve their salary-cap woes in the short term, but then they'd have to postpone negotiations with Perry until the season ended, something they'd be loath to do if at all possible.
The buzz around the league this week was that the Chicago Blackhawks would look at Schneider, to provide a little veteran steadiness to a team with a young, improving but still inexperienced defence corps. Besides, the Blackhawks have had some success in recruiting ex-Red Wings — Robert Lang, Jason Williams. Schneider would be a nice fit there as well.
THIS AND THAT: Mark Recchi's days with the Pittsburgh Penguins are over for good, but that doesn't mean the veteran winger won't resurface in the NHL sometime soon. That Recchi cleared waivers this week came as no surprise. For $1.75 million in salary, he was too expensive for teams to pick up at that price. The Penguins could have bought him out (the strategy they employed last year, under similar circumstances, with John LeClair), but instead they called him back up from their minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, giving teams a chance to claim Recchi on re-entry waivers for half his salary. At that price, there should be a handful of teams (Columbus, Carolina, Calgary) willing to roll the dice that Recchi can still contribute something to their offence … On Thursday night, the Calgary Flames joined the ranks of all their Northwest Division peers, dealing with the effects of a suddenly depleted defence corps. Vancouver went through it earlier, with Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa and Lukas Krajicek; Edmonton lost Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen for extended periods of time. Robyn Regehr, the Flames' top defensive defenceman, broke his ankle stopping a shot against the Penguins and is out indefinitely. He joins Rhett Warrener (high ankle sprain) on the sidelines and it means that for their upcoming six-game road trip, starting Sunday in Chicago, they will be using Anders Eriksson, David Hale and Adam Pardy as their Nos. 4, 5 and 6 rearguards. It also means even more ice time for Dion Phaneuf, Cory Sarich and Adrian Aucoin. The Canucks and Oilers survived the injuries to their defencemen because a) their goaltenders picked up their games; and b) pressed into service, a handful of young defenders in both organizations (Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov in Edmonton, Alexander Edler and Luc Bourdon in Vancouver, acquitted themselves reasonably well). Calgary, however, lost two of last year's depth defencemen, Richie Regehr and Mark Giardano, to offers from Europe. Last year, they tried a young Swiss defenceman, Tim Ramholt, in one game, but coach Mike Keenan limited him to 45 seconds of action before shipping him back to the minors. The Flames either need to show more faith in their youngsters (a difficult leap of faith to make at this critical juncture in the season) or wade into the trade market to pick up an experienced hand. The Ducks don't trade with Edmonton, but presumably, they'd have no qualms about dealing with Calgary. Now that Jay McKee is healthy, the St. Louis Blues are carrying eight defencemen and sitting out two per night. The other day, Erik Johnson — the first player chosen in the 2006 entry draft — drew the short straw.
AND FINALLY, SINGING THE BLUES NO MORE: St. Louis always was a good hockey town, which had fallen on hard times the past few seasons, after two developments — Chris Pronger's departure and the uncertainty over the sale of the team — plunged them to the bottom of the standings. In the short time with John Davidson at the helm as president and de facto general manager and Andy Murray behind the bench, they've managed an astonishing turnaround — both on the ice (sixth in the tightly bunched Western Conference standings, but only three points out of second place, with three games in hand) and at the box office (up about 5,000 fans per game, the only one of the 30 NHL cities that has seen such a huge turnaround at the turnstiles).
Murray is coming up on his one-year anniversary behind the Blues bench — he took over from Mike Kitchen back on Dec. 11 last season, with St. Louis stumbling along at the bottom of the NHL standings. Murray led the club to a 27-18-9 turnaround and in his first 12 games behind the bench last season, the team did not allow a first-period goal, which tied a modern-day NHL record, set by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1974-75 season. Murray is a details man, who has often been said to micromanage his team. However, he indicated this week that the team is doing minimal video work and that he recognized that it can be as dangerous to "over-coach as it is to under-coach."
The Blues have managed their turnaround, despite a cobbled-together roster of veterans (Paul Kariya, signed as a free-agent last summer, leads the team in scoring with 25 points; and kids, the aforementioned Johnson, plus teenager David Perron). The strength of the team is its defence, which includes the unheralded rookie Steve Wagner, who was signed as a free agent out of Minnesota State last March, played 14 games for their farm team in Peoria at the end of last season and currently leads their defencemen in scoring with eight in 21 games. Two one-sided deals with the Boston Bruins didn't hurt either. They picked up Brad Boyes in exchange for Denis Wideman; he leads the team with 15 goals in 25 games. No one else has more than seven and astonishingly, Doug Weight has zero in 25 games. They also acquired goaltender Hannu Toivonen for Carl Soderberg. Toivonen, at 23, was the back-up to Manny Legace, but sparkled in limited playing time (1.99 GAA, .927 save percentage) and looks as if he could evolve into a bona-fide No. 1 NHL goaltender. With Legace injured and Marek Schwartz up from the minors, Toivonen will get a chance to play regularly for the time being.
Murray described Boyes as a player with "a tremendous skill level" and reminded everyone that, "two years ago, in Boston, he had close to 80 points and played pretty well. Last year, his play in Boston wasn't very good and when he came to us, it was kind of up and down as well. It's a credit to Brad. He's being hard on the puck, he's fore-checking - and when he's doing that, good things are going to happen. He's a quality young man. His concern is keeping his feet moving at all times."
Nor is Murray willing to take too much for granted now that things are going so well.
"I'm selling a belief system — that if we do certain things the same way every night, we've got a chance to be successful," he said. "We haven't had any easy wins. They've been one-goal wins, tight right until the end. That's the way it's going to be for our team. If we don't play hard every single night, we can also lose about nine or 10 in a row — and we realize that. That fear is helping drive us right now, because at this time last year, the Blues were sitting 30th."
The Blues boast the third-best defensive record in the league, quite an achievement considering they rely on two castoffs between the pipes.
"All key sports are the same," said Murray. "In football, if you don't have a quarterback, it's tough to be successful. In baseball, if you don't have pitching, it's tough to be successful. In basketball, if you don't have that power forward in the middle, it's tough to be successful. And hockey has goaltending.
"To me, the only thing I see is the difference when goalies don't play well. Most of them are playing well — they're well-coached, they're well-schooled. The new style of goaltender, they take up so much of the net. Most of them are so big now it's tough to score goals."
So how do you ramp up the overall offence, without fundamentally altering the game?
"I wonder, just possibly, if the idea of allowing guys defensively to play a little more aggressively down below the circle may create some chances. Now all defencemen are taught to do is stay on the defensive side and contain. It's tough to get pucks to the net now. Before when they were trying to take guys out, defencemen could get caught out of position. You could squeeze by them and go to the net. Now, when you play a guy, you play stick on puck and you play more contain than pressure — and when you're containing, the chance of being out of position isn't that great.
"So in fact, I'm questioning if that rule hasn't taken away a little bit of the offence because defencemen now are more cautious. Is that one thing you could do? I don't know."