My concern for Sidney Crosby and the future of his game is growing daily. Every day his return to the game is postponed, the more worrisome it becomes. He has been out of the Penguins’ line-up for over a month – ever since he was pounded in the head, twice within a week, by the Capitals’ David Steckel and the Lightning’s Victor Hedman. That was in early January. He missed the NHL All-Star Game. Crosby has only been cleared to resume light workouts. Crosby summed it all up this way, “That’s the thing with concussions, you don’t know.” But there’s one thing we do know: The NHL without Sidney Crosby is not a better place.I hope we can all agree that Crosby is the NHL’s best player. He is the most talented. He promotes the game better than any other player. He is as telegenic as a player can get and he’s equally well-spoken. The NHL needs him. They need him very badly. Just like every league needs its superstar of the time.
About twenty years ago, Michael Jordan was Mr. Everything in the NBA. Just like Crosby is in the NHL. In fact, Jordan brought the league off the mat after the retirements of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. “Who will be our next hero?” NBA fans asked. Jordan delivered. Did people get tired of MJ’s Chicago Bulls winning everything? Perhaps. Just like they got tired of Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers winning everything.
But today, with the clarity of distance, every single fan who saw Gretzky play feels privileged to have done so. Ditto Michael Jordan. I saw him play in person, one time, at Chicago Stadium v. the Seattle SuperSonics on February 23, 1988. Jordan dropped 39 on the Sonics as the Bulls won 104-97 in overtime. I remember every detail of that game in Jordan’s fourth NBA season.
Sidney Crosby is the Michael Jordan of the NBA. Casual hockey fans, if they only know one NHL player, know Crosby. Like Jordan, Crosby brought the NHL back from lockout hell in 2005, when the Penguins won the league’s lottery draft. No doubt about whom they’d take. Without Crosby bursting onto the scene to begin the 2005-06 NHL season, who knows where the NHL would be today.
And that’s what scares me – the unpredictability of concussions. Eric Lindros could tell you all about it. He was, arguably, slightly past his overrated prime when his game was pulled out from under him. Injuries to our sports’ superstars are devastating. Bo Jackson was cut down in his prime. I won’t even mention Ayrton Senna or Gilles Villeneuve or Greg Moore.
Hockey needs its superstars, especially this superstar. He’s won a Stanley Cup. His team could easily win another this season. And the poor kid is only 23 years old.
Please don’t misunderstand. Players like Steven Stamkos, the Sedins and Martin St. Louis are great players in today’s game. But Sidney Crosby is the only superstar. He’s the only player elevating the game just by his presence. Here’s praying that presence is felt again very soon.