Sidney Crosby to Return Soon: 10 Players We'd Rather Be Hearing About Right Now
Sidney Crosby could return to play as early as this Friday, and I couldn't be more happy. Maybe now we can read and write and take in something else hockey-related instead of a minute-by-minute update on Crosby's condition.
Don't get me wrong. I am excited that he's coming back. I long ago gave up my dislike of Crosby and allowed it to give way to respect. No, my beef isn't with the player at all, but the outlandish and ridiculous levels of attention that the media has given Sid since he was injured last January.
Jeremy Roenick was on to something when he went on this rant in the middle of October. Sure, he didn't express the idea particularly well, but that's live television (and JR) for you. The central idea was a simple one: enough already!
As Roenick said, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a fun team without Crosby. I'm inclined to agree, and anyone who has seen these guys play this season would have to agree as well. Are they better and more entertaining when Sid is on the ice? Of course!
However there are plenty of other players worth talking about this season and a lot of other noteworthy storylines that don't include Crosby. Here's 10 guys I'd rather be hearing about right now.
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Let's keep the spotlight on Pittsburgh Penguins. By focusing on Sidney Crosby constantly, the media has totally left James Neal high and dry.
The guy came over from the Dallas Stars as the talented winger the Pens had been searching for since they drafted Crosby and Malkin. He failed to deliver on that promise last season, and some were worried that Neal would fail to live up to expectations.
Yet he's come out of the gates flying.
He's posted nine goals and 14 points in 15 games played this season, and is only two tallies behind goal scoring leader Phil Kessel. This guy should be getting serious love from Penguins fans and media pundits alike, but he's gone largely under the radar.
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Phil Kessel has been an absolute force of hockey-nature so far in 2011 and could still be leading the NHL in points and goals even if Sidney Crosby was active, healthy and playing. He's been that good for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It's true that he just scored his first goal in five games against the Florida Panthers, but he still leads the league.
The American-born winger has put up 11 goals, and is currently on pace for 60. While he may fade just a bit, there is no reason to believe that Kessel won't continue to light the lamp with regularity. He has a wrist shot that brings Joe Sakic to mind and a one-timer that is every bit as brutal as that of Alex Ovechkin.
Then there's the whole vindication angle.
Being a highly touted draft pick is one thing. Being dealt to the hockey crazed city of Toronto for two high draft picks is another monster entirely. As long as Kessel is a Maple Leaf he'll shoulder the burden of this trade—this is the first season where it's actually appeared mildly worth it for Toronto. And good for him!
Every yin has a yang, and every "Phil Kessel rocks" can be matched with a "Tyler Seguin as been nearly as good."
The biggest difference between Seguin and Kessel is about five years. That's how much younger Seguin is—he's become a dominant first line skater at 19. That hasn't been unheard of recently in the NHL, but the former members of that same 20-and-under-and-still-whooping-you club are household names like Steven Stamkos now.
Could Seguin be on that same track?
If the beginning of this season has been any indication I'd say it's highly probable.
He's probably the only thing keeping Boston Bruins fans from losing their minds entirely—Tim Thomas is still bringing it in net, but the rest of the team seems to have forgotten how to score. Seguin has been their most consistent and best forward so far this year.
He will likely continue to be for the next decade.
I bet you can't tell me how many points Marc-Andre Bergeron has without looking. I couldn't have either until this morning, when I saw a post about his 15 points on Facebook. He's currently tied with Alexander Edler (Christian Ehrhoff who?) for the scoring lead among NHL defenders.
Bergeron has always been a guy with promise as a puck moving defenseman, but not even the most bullish pundits could have predicted this kind of break out from the 31-year-old.
He's been clicking on a top line and power play unit with Steven Stamkos and the points keep coming.
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Brian Campbell has long been regarded as a good player with an awful contract. Unfortunately he was known more for the later during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks as his numbers never lived up to the his promise.
What most seem to forget is that Campbell was buried on Chicago's depth chart behind players like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and even Dustin Byfuglien for a while. He was also brought in during a patch of time where Chicago had to overpay talented players to come to the middling franchise.
All that seems like a distant memory now that the 'Hawks have hung a Stanley Cup banner and reinvigorated the fan base, but Campbell was always singled out in Chicago.
He was given a new lease on his hockey life with the Florida Panthers and has been playing some of his best hockey since he was a Buffalo Sabre. He's in the same realm as Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara, scoring wise, and has been a steady point producer during his short tenure in the Sunshine State.
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The Dallas Stars are currently the best team in hockey, but you wouldn't know if from the press coverage.
After losing Brad Richards this summer, most (including myself) believed that the Stars would struggle to win games. That has not been the case however. Dallas just reeled off their fourth strait win and officially made it to the adult table by handing the Washington Capitals a home loss.
Jamie Benn has been right in the thick of things for the Stars. He was a breakout candidate this summer and he hasn't disappointed. He has points in seven of his last eight games and 10 in his last five.
Been is sitting among the NHL's elite as a top-ten scorer and has the talent to continue his current pace. The guy would be a household name if he played for a more covered team, yet right now he remains a bit of a secret in Dallas.
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The hockey gods have been smiling on Claude Giroux lately.
Over the summer the Philadelphia Flyers saw fit to disassemble ranks and deal franchise faces Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, moving Giroux from secondary scoring threat to a top-line guy. Then the Flyers won the Jaromir Jagr sweepstakes.
Jagr-to-Giroux and Giroux-to-Jagr have become common phrases for play-by-play announcers covering the team. The two have found a nearly instant chemistry that has revived Jagr's career and given Giroux the momentum needed to challenge for the NHL's scoring lead.
I was among those that thought that Philly would have issues adjusting at first with so many new faces. So I am now among those admitting that they were mistaken.
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Joe Pavelski is another player that would be a media darling if he played in a hockey-centric city. Alas, he plays for the San Jose Sharks—no one likes to pay attention to them until the playoffs roll around. Pundits seem to love the train wreck at that point.
Right now the Sharks ate getting their collective game together, but Pavelski has been filling stat sheets since the get go.
He's 10th overall in league scoring and has nine goals in 13 games played. San Jose hoped Pavelski would continue to grow as a scoring threat when they traded the fading Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild this offseason. They haven't been let down in the slightest for their faith.
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Few players in the NHL can bring fans to their feet like Thomas Vanek can.
He's one of the most electric players in the league, and has been a devastating goal scorer for the Buffalo Sabres so far this season. While the team garnered a lot of attention for their offseason moves, it's been the mainstays that have been getting the job done in Buffalo.
Vanek has 10 goals already and is on pace for 59. That number may be a bit high for the ultra-slick forward, but 50 isn't out of the question by any means. He's been logging monster minutes for the Sabres and has been rewarding them with goals aplenty.
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If Who Wants to be a Millionaire decided to do an NHL-questions only show for one night, the final question for a million bucks would be, "How do you spell Nikolai Khabibulin?"
The netminder has been earning his millions after several forgettable seasons for the Edmonton Oilers. He has yet to lose a game in regulation and sports a GAA lower than 1.00 through nine games played. How is this guy not on the cover of every hockey-related magazine right now?
The Bulin Wall is currently making Tim Thomas numbers look pedestrian and is the driving force behind the Oilers resurgence as a competitive hockey team. If he can maintain this form than Edmonton will make the playoffs and be able to do some damage there.