Big Lead Sports Bar

2/07/2007

The Garage is Open Again

As many of you will remember, Mario Lemieux called the NHL a "garage league" in 1992. Arguably the greatest talent the sport has ever known was fed up with the way it conducted business on and off the ice.

Fast forward 15 years to 2007. Mario Lemieux has since retired, and his torch as the game's best player has ironically been passed to a young man on the franchise he currently owns. Sidney Crosby was drafted first overall by the Penguins on July 30, 2005, a major break for a franchise with a still uncertain future. The parallels between Lemieux and Crosby are many and they are well documented. But another parallel has cropped up since Crosby entered the league last season, and it rekindles the "garage league" comment in a big way.

There is growing sentiment around hockey circles that our beloved #87 embellishes hits and "whines" to the refs a bit too much. Mind you that all of these circles are outside of the city of Pittsburgh, but they exist nonetheless.

So when, if I may ask, does Crosby embellish? When Maxim Lapierre drove the butt-end of his stick into Crosby's check on the opening faceoff against Montreal? When Canadien Francis Bouillon gave Sid a high-stick in the 3rd period on Sunday? When Jason Blake speared him at the end of the Islanders game a few weeks ago?

The real root of things like Crosby hearing chants of "Faker, Faker" when he plays in Montreal (or any other city, for that matter) are simple: fans are incredibly jealous that Crosby is not on their team. But it doesn't stop there.

Not only are fans jealous, but I truly believe there is a large percentage of opposing players and referees who envy his standing within the game. Players take cheap shots. Referees look the other way and don't call penalties. The league does little to discourage future incidents. Scrubs like Canadiens winger Aaron Downey have the nerve to tell Crosby "Agitating is part of my game. I told him that if you're going to be a superstar in this league, you shouldn't be acting like that."

Mind you that Aaron Downey is a 32-year old enforcer with one goal this season, seven goals in 180 career NHL games. His TSN.ca profile gives this synopsis of his play: "Lacks the required skills to be anything more than a role player at the NHL level. Is not often on the winning side of fights." Yep, he's definitely qualified to tell Sidney Crosby how to act like a superstar in the NHL.

If lowlife no-talents like Downey want to hate on Crosby, that's fine. He has that right. But where is the NHL in all of this? Do they want the face of their league being pushed around by low-end tough guys? Is this a good business model for the success of a still struggling sport?

Imagine Michael Jordan being clotheslined every time he went up for a dunk. Imagine Peyton Manning having his neck twisted after the whistle blew. Imagine Albert Pujols being drilled with a fastball in the ribs every time he came to bat. This is what's happening to Sidney Crosby on a regular basis. He's being abused by NHL players and the league has so far responded with a collective sigh of apathy, defending their referees at every chance they get.

The NHL is a garage league because it's too interested in defending their referees and not interested enough in defending the actual product that fans are paying for. Don't misinterpret the message: I am not suggesting there should be a seperate set of rules for Crosby. But you at least have to discourage this nonsense from happening on a regular basis. Unless the NHL wants Crosby to eventually get injured and have to sit out. Which I think they may want sometimes, the way they treat Sid. I'm sorry, but a $1,000 fine to Jason Blake for spearing the most prominent player in the game is not going to discourage anything. Consider this: Tyrus Thomas just got fined $10,000 by the Bulls for simply saying he was only participating in the dunk contest for the prize money!

The league wants to believe that the players will police themselves, and recently some Pens fans have wondered aloud if they should pick up an enforcer. I think that's a bad idea for three reasons:

1. When you have an enforcer, other players excuse themselves of the duty of protecting each other. Everyone is looking at the Bob Probert type and waiting for him to even the score for a big hit. The way the Penguins are set up now, you never know who the big hit will come from. I would think that's scarier for an opponent.

2. The Pens have a bad habit of picking up enforcers who don't enforce. For example, as soon as Andre Roy splashed onto the scene, he forgot his role as tough guy and tried to become a scorer. Must be something about the uniform.

3. The Penguins are too good of a team to give up a roster spot to a one-dimensional goon. It's just not a luxury they can afford in a tight playoff race.

With that being said, Pens coach Michel Therrien has to be a little smarter about the situations he's putting Crosby in. For instance, in Tuesday night's game, the Penguins are up 4-1 over Nashville with 30 seconds left in the game. They had a power play. Who is on the ice? Crosby and Malkin. What could we possibly gain by having Crosby and Malkin on the ice with 30 seconds to go? Winning 4-1 counts just as much as winning 5-1. This isn't the BCS; we're not looking for style points. If Crosby wasn't on the ice against the Islanders with the game already decided, he wouldn't have had the chance to be speared by Jason Blake.

Therrien has to be a little less naive and a little more street smart in these situations. Don't be so pollyanish and believe that there's no chance of danger. You wouldn't walk down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood if you didn't have to, right? Why put yourself in a situation of possible danger when it's not necessary? Therrien should think along those lines. Don't walk down the dark alley. Teams are going to take cheap shots at Crosby, especially after the game has been decided. Let's give the kid a seat for the night if the game is in hand and cut off these opportunities for goonism at the pass. And after that game is over, make sure to close the garage door. The NHL will thank you.

NHL Headquarters

17 comments:

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

On a somewhat related note, I heard that Bettman's contract to be the commish of the NHL is up in 2008 I think.

Do you think it would maybe be a good idea for the NHL to "go in another direction" and find a new guy to run the league?

The NHL went from being arguably more popular than the NBA in the Gretzky-Lemieux era of the early 90s when Bettman took over, to having suffered two lockouts, general apathy from the sports world, and being broadcast on the fucking outdoors channel!!

He's tried to rectify a few things recently, but too little too late. The "new" NHL can be good in the hands of a competant commissioner. Sid, Geno, and Ovechkin can lead it back into the mainstream sporting conscious. It just needs a commish willing to properly market it.

I mean seriously, the league grew leaps and bounds in the late-80s/early-90s because of Mario and Gretz (and without Bettman). It doesn't really take a fucking genius to market guys with this much talent!!

Dirty Sanchez said...

This whole diving tag started around the time that Hatcher cross-checked him in the mouth and knocked out a couple teeth, which naturally didn't draw a penalty. Which makes the Flyers' horrific sucking all the more enjoyable.

For as jingoistic as most Canadians are, you think that Crosby would get a little more support up there. I guess you go from national treasure to traitor once you go south of the Canadian-U.S. border. But Darcy Tucker, now THERE is a fine Canadian boy!

Just a matter of time before Don Cherry lumps Sid the Kid in with all those pansy Europeans.

Tony said...

Damn bro, looks just like my column from the day before... You make some good points as well...

Tony
http://confluenceblog.blogspot.com

Dave said...

This isn't about Canadians hating on Crosby for going "south of the border." That argument is somewhat thin.

The real reason the Crosby-hate happens is similar, though: decades of Don Cherry and good ol' Canadian boy mentality have poisoned our appreciation of what good hockey is. We've been taught to value thuggish goonery over scoring and speed.

That's why middling douche idiots like Darcy Tucker are treated like stars here in Toronto, why Bertuzzi can still make the Olympic team and why Crosby is seen as a lightweight or a sissy of some sort.

The NHL would do wise to get on this ASAP, before Sid ends up like Mario, crippled in his prime.

Tyler said...

Oh this is EASY: We hate Sid because he never met a dive he wouldn't take. He's a whiny, complaining little snot.

Paul said...

To say that Lapierre butt-ended Crosby is like calling a shove a punch. True, the butt end of the stick hit Crosby, but he was pushed by it, not smacked by it. The only reason Lapierre had his stick that way was because he was "choking up" on it for the face-off.

Pushing someone with the end of your stick is not against the rules. Striking them with it is.

As for the Bouillion high stick, yes, that should have been a penalty, but why did Crosby bend himself in half falling to the ice? Why is his instinct to go down?

I'm not saying that he doesn't get penalties committed against him that aren't called, but he does whine to the refs when they miss a call.

He looks to me to be constantly on the verge of tears.

Just because the refs miss a call or two (or three or four) doesn't mean he's not a whiner.

However, just because he whines, doesn't mean he's not one of the best players in the game.

worstavid said...

^^^^^^^^^^
jealous

boredinpittsburgh said...

I don't blame fans from other cities saying he is a faker. This is a natural instinct. Part of being a fan is getting on the case of the opposing teams best player, especially when they player is young and crazy sick amazing good like Sid. If Sid was a Ranger or a Flyer i would hate him to.

As for the refs and the NHL, yea they better get this $hit together.

mondesishouse said...

Tony,

As a matter of fact, I haven't been on your site in some time. So I just checked it out. I guess you're not the only Pens fan fed up with the treatment Crosby gets. Same topic, two different angles.

And by the way, it's Garage League, not Garbage League.

Jon said...

Yeah, lemme smack you in the face with a hockey stick, then chide you when u fall down...let me introduce you to the business end of a stick to the breadbasket and fully expect you to stay on your skates. some of u talking like none of that shit would faze u.

I have a feeling this team is gonna snap one of these games, I just hope that it doesn't lead to suspensions that could ruin the season.

Tony said...

Didn't intend that to sound harsh, I didn't mean it to sound that way... I was just indicating that we had the same thoughts... My apologies...

Tony

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

They all hate Sid... yet pine for the day when he's a free agent so maybe you to can have him.

Paul said...

One quick clarification that is believed by every 'hockey person' outside of the city of Pittsburgh:

Mario Lemieux is not the greatest player ever. He is not even *ARGUABLY* the greatest player ever. He's borderline-arguable in terms of top *three* of all time. (mine goes Gretzky, Orr, Howe) Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player of all-time.

Pittsburgh fans still cling to this horrendously misguided thought that 66 is THE BEST EVAR despite the fact that there is next to no emprirical evidence to back up those claims. It's possible that when they go back and discuss the greatest players of all time that the top dog will have been a Pittsburgh Penguin, but that Penguin will have been Sidney Crosby and most certainly not Mario Lemieux.

Fixed.

Dirty Sanchez said...

Hatcher wasn't trying to knock out Crosby's teeth, he was merely adjusting Sid's mouthpiece. Jason Blake didn't spear Crosby in the final 30 seconds of a game, he was congratulating him on a 2 goal game.

It's true that Sidney did his fair share of yapping last year. Ok, the kid was an 18 year old rookie. Anyone that says he still whines incessantly either doesn't watch his games or is a blood relative of Don Cherry. None of is relevant.

I think Mondesi's point (and that of most rational people) is that if the NHL wants the league to draw more viewers than the PBA tour or the WNBA, it needs to protect its stars. Not institute a no-touching rule (like was in effect for Gretzky), just call the damn game as it occurs. If you want to watch Aaron Downey and Darcy Tucker have prominent roles in the game, I suggest you make sure you have Versus in your cable lineup because that's where the NHL will be for the next 20 years.

Bradley said...

quick thoughts...

Paul - v. true regarding "conventional wisdom" about Lemieux, but keep in mind that he never had a dedicated crew of enforcers shadowing him throughout his career to ensure he had space, like Gretzky had with McSorely & Semenko. Orr had a 12year career and spent most of his time surrounded by the Big Bad Bruins.

Gordie, well, he fought his own battles. You can't beat The King.

as Dirty pointed out, a good chunk of the refs vs. Sid stuff is likely still hangover from last season, when his mouth even pissed off Recchi to the point he quit being his roadtrip roommate. he's matured a hell of a lot on that front, but as for dives, you have to get the refs' attention somehow, because other teams are taking advantage of his relationship with the refs from his rookie year.

i realize this is contrary to my first comment, but the Pens don't need a dedicated enforcer - the young kids are becoming a tight-knit family that's sticking up for each other at every opportunity, Malone, Talbot, and Colby in particular.

However, when Sid finally snaps, it's going to be a slaughter. i heard on XM Home Ice he supposedly squats 500lbs. 4 times a day. afterwards he eats a soup made of raw eggs & molten steel and drinks a pint of vinegar. and that's before he saves a burning bus full of nuns and school children, then solves the PAT budget.

or maybe that's Mark Eaton...

(go pensblog)

- bwzimmerman, stuck in AZ

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Oh great, a guy from Cleveland comes in here and starts talking unfounded shit about a guy Pittsburgh sports fans like.

Gee, THAT never happens!!

ChadGKG said...

I am a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, but here's an oddity, I'm not biased.

Sidney is the best young player in the league talent-wise. I think Ovechkin dropped off, and while Malkin is good, he's not in either of their leagues now (but he's only played a year). I won't say Sidney is the best now, but he's up there in the top 5, not counting goalies.

Sidney did have a temper during his rookie season, and I'm glad he's outgrown that now, but if you say he doesn't embellish penalties, then you aren't being honest. True, he doesn't fake things that aren't there, but he does embellish from time to time, and I think that leads to a lot of the calls that AREN'T made against him. And let's face it, the NHL said they were gonna crack down on diving, and you can see thoughout the whole NHL, that hasn't happened.

My comment for the future is that I think Sidney deserves the "C" next year, but I think he should not try to buy penalties, and just play great hockey like he does and let the refs call (or not) the penalties.