After a game like Saturday night’s 2-1 Penguins’ loss in Columbus, maybe we can play make-believe and assume the cause of that rumored ‘rift’ between Penguins’ Co-Owner Mario Lemieux and his former tenant Sidney Crosby was really just a simple argument.
Imagine, if you will:
“Sid, I don’t understand how you can play in this garbage. I mean, it doesn’t even look like hockey anymore.”
“To be honest, Mario, I don’t care if we’re playing in mud with twigs for sticks, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to make my team better.”
“I get it kid, but I’ve seen this crap before, and it caused me to walk away from the game when I was only a few years older than you are now. I wouldn’t hold it against you if you…”
“If I what? Quit?!? After I spent the better part of two years barely able to skate without getting woozy? I’ve given my life to this game, and I’ll be damned If I don’t do anything and everything I can to win another Cup, even if it means I have to become a grinding 2-way center in a 60-minute slog of a trapfest three times a week!”
“Eh, what if you had to get cross checked in the back of the neck by some plugger from Alaska?”
The NHL is slowly devolving, and not coincidentally, so is the game of its most recognizable star.
Now, don’t confuse this as an excuse for Sidney Crosby’ ice-cold scoring touch over the past calendar year. But could you blame Crosby – or any other of the league’s stars, for that matter – if they were inclined to think the NHL could not possibly care less about them? Not only have the league’s coaches seemingly agreed to a blood pact to play 30 variations of the most boring style of hockey possible – stack up everyone at the blue line, and when the opponents finally beat your trap, all five guys just reconvene in-between the hashmarks and commence blocking two-thirds of all shots taken from beyond 8 feet out – they’ve also gone back to a time-honored tradition usually reserved for the piñata at a 5-year old’s birthday party: Whack the star!!
Is there any reason fans of the game – both the most devout as well as the casual – are now as vocal as ever about the game diving back down to the mid-to-late ‘90s depths that drove it’s most talented player ever into an early retirement?
This is a league where a cheapshot-guru like Brandon Dubinsky has made a career out of simply standing in front of pucks and liberally slashing and cross-checking everything he sees with more talent than him.
It’s a league made for the trolls, goblins, and goons now proliferating under coaches like John Tortorella, who love a player with neither the brains nor the skill to do anything more than stand still and take flying pieces of rubber off of their body.
Let’s be very, VERY clear: In a game that had the back-and-forth firewagon pace of a late-80s Smythe Division match-up, postgame analysts were talking about the excitement this game had because of the extracurriculars. In a game where we very easily could have lost this generation’s most talented player for God knows how long due to a cross check to the back of the neck, we were being told afterwards how “fun” it was to see that kind of intensity.
We’re now so desperate for action of any kind in an NHL hockey game, that we’ll accept a cross check to the back of a star’s neck, or the game’s most skilled goal scorer fighting with one of the league’s best defensemen, as the actual entertainment, rather than 60 minutes of the kind of serve-and-volley offensive rallies that the league is specifically trying to create via special rules in overtime.
After a game like Saturday night’s in Columbus, we shouldn’t be raving about the “playoff-like action.” We should be asking why on earth anybody would still want to play in this league.