Is Sidney Crosby Still World's No. 1 Player Despite Pens' Early Playoff Exit?

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistMay 15, 2014

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On Tuesday night, Jeremy Roenick said Sidney Crosby is no longer the best player in the world, that the designation now belongs to Jonathan Toews. His colleague at NBC Sports, Keith Jones, essentially said that Crosby whined too much in the Pittsburgh Penguins' second-round series loss to the Rangers and that his stock as the best in the world has taken a major hit.

Was this just an appraisal made too easily after a tough 2-1 Game 7 loss for the Penguins, a game which it can be argued Henrik Lundqvist simply stole for New York?

A day later, it depended on who you asked or read.

“Crosby is still the best,” said Dave Reid, a longtime former NHL player and now an analyst with Canada’s TSN. “Toews is becoming the best clutch performer, but Crosby is still the best.”

“Toews, in a flash,” said Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek, a co-host of the popular Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast, when I asked whom he’d choose first to start his team—Toews or Crosby.

Uncredited/Associated Press

Hmm. This is a tough one for me. But I’ll stick with Crosby still. I agree with Reid: Toews might be the guy I’d want to win just one game, but I’ll take Crosby for the longer haul.

First off, let’s all calm down a little bit about Crosby. This was not some “choke job” performance against the Rangers. Can we actually, you know, praise the other team sometimes? The Rangers did a really good job defensively on him, particularly big D-man Marc Staal.

And of course, there was Lundqvist as the last line of defense. This isn’t 1980s video game hockey. There are no slow, stiff NHL defensemen out there (well, except for Douglas Murray), no more goalies who look like John Travolta on the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever trying to stop a puck.

I still want Crosby because:

He draws more attention than anyone in the league still, which theoretically should free up those around him. But, as has been pointed out in the Pittsburgh media and elsewhere, this team was poorly constructed around him.

Early in the year, Crosby had guys like Chuck Kobasew playing with him, and later on, has-beens like Lee Stempniak. General manager Ray Shero failed at the deadline to trade for the big fish, such as Ryan Kesler and Thomas Vanek.

Secondly, he's only 26, led the league in scoring, won a gold medal in Sochi and still cares about winning at least. One forward can't dominate the game like one could in the older days.

Crosby just didn't have a good enough supporting cast around him this year. It can be argued he carried this team further than it should have gone, in fact.

I’ll say this, though: Crosby did act a little too petulant in the series, and it hurt his team. When your superstar player is doing things like spearing an opponent in the groin in frustration or throwing up his hands in frustration at the refs over a non-call, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the team.

Players take their cues from the captain, and in this series, the cues were a bit too much on the “Hey, I’m really frustrated out here!” side.

Crosby contributed to the Pens’ shocking loss, yes. But, no, he wasn’t the biggest reason for it. Things just got stale with the coaching staff. To me, that’s the biggest reason. Pittsburgh went to a Stanley Cup Final with Michel Therrien in 2008, and he was fired the next year in a palace coup d’etat.

But the same fate befell Dan Bylsma. There were video shots of him and Crosby seemingly griping at each other in these playoffs. Bylsma's arms-crossed demeanor, combined with his Office Space 101 management dialogue, seemed to have grown old with his players in the end.

Coaches just can't win in the long run in this league.

I remember specifically one of Therrien’s last games as a coach with the Penguins. It was Jan. 10, 2009, in Denver against the Avalanche, and the Avs won 4-2. That dropped the Penguins’ record to 20-19-4.

I walked into the Penguins’ dressing room after the game, and guys were whispering to each other. It was as plain as the nose on Jimmy Durante’s face what they were gossiping about—the coach. I remember specifically Crosby whispering in secret with a teammate, and it was clear they were talking about the boss.

Everyone knows it when they see it.

Feb. 15, after a 6-2 loss to the Maple Leafs, Therrien was fired. Bylsma took over and was considered a breath of fresh air. A player’s coach. A guy who knew what it was like to really be in the dressing room as a modern player. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup that same season.

In reality, the Penguins made the right choice. The players didn’t like Therrien, for their own reasons. Well, for reasons that are obvious. Therrien always has a grumpy old-man look. It’s tougher to win in the modern age with guys like that.

Players today want to have a “conversation” with the coach. In the old days, that did not happen. (Therrien, by the way, has his Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final.)

But in this age, players win. In the old ones, they did not.

Sidney Crosby is a brilliant player. He led the NHL in scoring in the regular season and is the likely winner of the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player.

The NHL makes us writers vote for that trophy before the playoffs begin, by the way. If the vote were held on May 15, Crosby does not win. Toews or Lundqvist or some other player still in the playoffs does.

It’s not fair probably, but who said hockey is fair?

I’ll still take Crosby on my team. More than anyone else? Yes. But am I—and now, many others—more open to persuasion?

A little, yeah.


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