The 42nd in our 118-part series, and the first of our two part mini-series.
Appreciating Sid Crosby
Like everyone who isn’t a Penguins fan or a participant in a national broadcast team for NHL games, we used to hate Sidney Crosby. We hated him before he was drafted (“What kind of name is ‘Sidney’? That’s an old-man name. Or a girl’s name.”), we hated him immediately after he was drafted (“Christ almighty! Could he look more skeevy than he does in those draft-day portraits with Mario?”), we hated him during his first game (during which he was outscored by Zach Parise in a head-to-head match-up that prompted Devils fans to hilariously chant “Parise’s better” — we really hope Zach didn’t believe that…), we hated him during his first season (how satisfying was it that he could be counted on to take a magnificently stupid penalty for whining at the worst possible time for his team?), and we reveled in Ovechkin winning his Calder Trophy. But then something wonderful happened. One random evening we were stuck with no better match-up on Center Ice than a TSN feed of a Penguins-Flyers game, so we gritted our teeth and settled in for an evening of trying to figure out which team we hated more.
Gentle Reader, it should, by all counts, have been insufferable. This was not just the standard-fare Sid slurpage: this was Pierre McGuire Sid slurpage. And it was Pierre McGuire Sid slurpage on a night when Sid decided he was tired of not leading the league in scoring. But something strange happened during that game — Sid got six points, and despite the fact that they were mostly on secondary assists (and despite the McGuire), we realized he is every bit as good as they say he is. We’ve never been big into superstars, preferring to proudly fly the flag of Pandonation. But even we could see we’d be worse off for letting the hate blind us to the wondrousness that is Sid.
We watched every Penguins game for the second half of last season, and what we discovered is that Sid is more than worth the hype. He does things, every night, that amaze us. Even on his worst night he is still worth the hype because his game is something unlike anything we’ve seen before. He has an incredible combination of pure skill, unparalleled ice vision, limitless hockey smarts, and pure physical strength. As if that wasn’t enough reason to enjoy watching him, he also has perhaps the most palpable intensity in the league today; watching Sid Crosby skate is like watching an embodiment of rage.
Meanwhile, off the ice, Sid is perfectly content to shoulder the load as the NHL’s messiah. He gets a lot of grief for the way he’s media-trained to within an inch of his life, but you can’t fault the guy for his endless patience with the media. Every single day he takes on every media request of his time, and he does so with graciousness and sincerity. Sure, he might be answering interview questions with carefully practiced “safe” answers, but he’s also relentlessly earnest. Sid is being expected to save the NHL, and he is more than willing to do so.
If you get beyond the easy complaints that he is hyped more than any other player in the league, and that he’s extremely polished with the media, it’s objectively very difficult to find something actually wrong with the guy. He’s a whiner? He took that criticism after his rookie year and turned himself into a bona fide leader on his team. He’s defensively weak? He seems more aware of the shortcomings of his game than anyone. He isn’t able to provide a believable answer to the question “What’s your favorite band?” He’s being honest when he says he doesn’t like music — they guy seems programmed to care exclusively about hockey, and frankly, that’s something we can relate to.
The long and short of things with Sid, as far as we’re concerned, is this: if we were to compile a list of our top ten individual plays in hockey from last season, every single one of them would be plays Sid made. His style of hockey is simply staggering in its inventiveness, it’s newness. The play that stands out the most in our minds was one in Toronto, sometime in February or March. It didn’t result in a point, and was so subtle it took HNIC several minutes of play after it happened to realize what we’d all seen — he skated around the net, protecting the puck from three defenders, and did this thing with his edges. With an absolute economy of motion he shielded the puck with his body and carved out a space on the ice that hadn’t been there before. Just the way he skated, the technique of it, the power and skill and creativity of it, was the single most astonishing thing we saw all year. And considering how many marvelous, wonderful, brilliant moments we were treated to in a dazzling year of hockey, that is saying quite a bit indeed.