Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Crosby: Still Nasty, Young

I posted before the season about Sidney Crosby's Calder chances: while I wasn't skeptical per se, I did note that the oddsmakers treating it as a near-foregone conclusion was ridiculous. The injury risk alone dictates as much.

But I'd like to say now that everything I've seen so far this season -- and that includes the strong early performances of Ovechkin, Phaneuf, and a few others -- indicates to me that Crosby will win it handily.

One obvious data point is that he's picking up points, even though the team isn't performing very well. It's a mark of high-scoring talents that even when they're not dominating, they still seem to pick up points, whether it's cheap 2nd assists, goals late in garbage time, or whatever. I saw many Oiler games in the 80s (OK, maybe "many" is stretching it) where Gretzky was nowhere near the best player on the ice, didn't seem to make much of an impact, yet still showed up on the scoresheet with 3 assists. Crosby's 9 points through an 0-2-4 start tells me that, regardless of his dominance (or lack thereof), he's going to rack up a bunch of points this year. If Crosby and (say) Ovechkin end up with around the same number of points this season, but Ovechkin has been more "dynamic", then of course AO will win. But if Crosby has 20 more points, then that subjective assessment won't matter, and Crosby will win.

The second clue for me came from the highlights from the Lightning game Saturday (a 3-1 Pens loss). The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted that Sid was miked up, but only relayed the generalities:
The snippets that were played on the air revealed Crosby to be a take-charge guy on the bench. He might only be 18, but he isn't the least bit shy with veteran linemates Ziggy Palffy and Mark Recchi.

I'll say. Here's what I heard on the highlights (I quote from memory): "Hey Ziggy. Ziggy! Ziggy!!! You gotta start supporting me in the corners. [...] Well, we gotta get some pressure going."

The less interesting way to take this is as a demonstration of leadership. The more interesting way to take it is that Sidney Crosby is unlikely to have the Penguins team culture affect the way he approaches hockey. Since the Pens organization has been floundering for a few years, and the team culture wouldn't be described by anyone as "intense", this is an unquestionably good thing. My thoughts were reinforced on Monday, reading this bit about Gretzky by Colby Cosh:
I don't imagine Gretzky has much respect, deep down, for anyone else's judgment when it comes to hockey. Whether he succeeds or fails as the Coyotes' boss, it should be noted that he has good reason for this attitude.

With the wrong guy, and the wrong set of circumstances, the fellow in this scenario is "stubborn", or as applied to Crosby, "uncoachable". But as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, evidence that Crosby's attitude is unlikely to be influenced by his coach and teammates is probably a damn good omen.

Last thing: the one area where Crosby has been empirically awful this season is in the face-off circle. He's only won 32% (33/103) of his faceoffs, good for dead last in the league amongst centremen with more than 15 attempts.

One of Young 99's more impressive/annoying attributes was that receiving substantiative criticism on a weakness of his game invariably prompted him to not only correct it, but make it a strength. (List includes: not looking for his shot enough, his skating, his plus/minus, and breakaways -- I'm sure there's more). If we see Crosby pull up his FO% in the weeks and months ahead, I think we're looking at a superstar.

Footnote: Apologies for the terribly tortured pun in the header.


The one interview with Crosby I saw this year he specifically mentioned how he was getting schooled on faceoffs, and that he was going to correct it.

Buccigross's latest column has Olczyk badgering the kid about it, "Sidney, I want you to be the best face-off man in the NHL!"

One thing's for sure, neither Olczyk nor Mario is blowing smoke up Crosby's ass.

I haven't seen a post-game interview yet where either of them has said that Crosby was anything more than "pretty good".

I think the face-off problem could be the excuse needed to keep Crosby off of the Canadian Olympic team. I just don't see him making the team when historically Gretzky places a high degree of importance on faceoffs, i mean, he put Nieuwendyk on the team in 2002 for that purpose alone.

Chief, I guess that's related to what I'm saying: of all the things that might divert Crosby on his march to the Calder, the most unlikely is that there are too many people blowing smoke up his ass (and there are plenty, even if Eddie-O and 66 aren't).

I don't think he's very liable to rest easy on someone else's assessment of his performance.

And on a related note to Cosh's comment, what's the over/under on when Olczyk makes the switch from "coaching" Crosby to the more humble, "just-trying-to-allow-him-to-succeed" thing? Will he clue in before he's fired?

This might be the only topic in the world on which Slats' advice would be interesting and/or wise.

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