WEDNESDAY With Stoosh: 8.10.11

So we're a little late on this one…
 
 
Sidney Crosby turned 24 this past weekend.  In and of itself, that really isn’t significant news other than the fact that it makes it stranger when some mainstream outlets who probably still think he’s a rookie continue to insist on referring to him as “The Kid”.
 
But in a sense, it kind of dovetails a little bit with something I mentioned a few TWS posts back, namely that these core guys are starting to get older and thus a little closer to their primes. Geno turned 25 about two weeks ago. Letang is 24. Fleury will be 26. Oprik gets to stare down 30 just before the season starts. Kunitz turns 31 that same day. Staal? I guess he’s still the youngin, as he’ll be 22 in about a month.
 
OK, so this certainly isn’t to indicate that these guys are old. They’re not. When Orpik and Kunitz are the veterans of the core and they’re barely thirty-somethings, that’s a problem that any team in the league would love to have. But there are times that I still find it tough to look at this team and kick the perception that it’ll still be years before we see what they’re REALLY capable of.
 
And that’s probably a little bit strange because the first time I ever heard of Sidney Crosby was 2001.  More specifically, it was a little more than 10 years ago, in the days leading up to the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
 
That was the Spezza-Kovalchuk draft.  Spezza – a smooth a playmaker as you find in junior – assumed Vinny Lecavalier’s role from a few years prior as the Next Great Hockey Savior to emerge from the CHL ranks.  Kovalchuk was the fiery goal-scorer, said to be the most electrifying player Russia had produced since Pavel Bure.
 
Point.
 
Counterpoint.
 
Kovalchuk piqued my interest because, well…anyone who draws legitimate comparisons to Pavel Bure does.  But even moreso because – perhaps foreshadowing what the future few seasons would bring – prospects became a lot more important to the Pens during that summer of 2001. The team was on the verge of trading Benedict Jagr. Lemieux was fresh off his ‘00-01 comeback and the team was still expected to be a contender, but the writing was on the wall. You didn’t have to look hard to realize the remaining cast Lang, Kovalev, Straka and Kasparaitis were only on board for one last run.
 
So a new franchise player would’ve been nice to have and I remember there being some half-serious discussions on the talk shows & message boards, hypothesizing a “what if”-style move up into the top two. But those were pipe dreams and I think we all knew it, so tangents took the discussions to younger prospects in coming years – names like Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev.
 
It was during that summer and in some talks about Spezza’s place in Canadian junior hockey lore that some folks who followed these things more than I did – TSN and CBC, for starters – first mentioned the 2005 lottery. If you were a fan of a team with limited resources and a rebuild was on the horizon, next-generation names Nash, Bouwmeester or  Zherdev became more and more prominent (yes, Zherdev WAS once considered to be that good).
 
But for as good as Spezza was in 2001 and as much as Nash and Zherdev were already gaining notoriety, there was another Canadian phenom on his way. It was said that if you’re team was going to win any of those lotteries, the one you REALLY wanted to see your team win was 2005. The Sidney Crosby sweepstakes.
 
Keep in mind this was 2001. Crosby was just going on 14. He was still a full season away from Shattuck St. Mary’s and two full seasons away from the QMJHL. Hyperbole never stopped some the media before, as anyone who follows college football or basketball can attest. How many Baby Shaqs or Next Dan Marinos have there been that never amounted to anything at whatever their next level was?
 
Ten years later and it turns out that Crosby has been THAT GOOD.  He’s one of the rare instances where the player has managed to match the hype and he’s done so at every level since. He dominated juniors. He stepped right in at the NHL level on a poorly-coached team and put up numbers that the NHL really hadn’t seen from a rookie in nearly two decades. Then he remade himself from playmaker to goal-scorer; from a kid who was once called an overhyped version of Adam Oates into someone who, for a half-season last year, proved to the be most unstoppable scoring force the league had seen since Jagr’s last three seasons in Pittsburgh, when he racked up better than 1.5 points per game in the middle of the Dead Puck Era.
 
(Those seasons began with the 1998-99 campaign and ended in 2000-01. Jagr was 26 when that 1998-99 season began, about 2-1/2 years older than Crosby is now. So yes, Crosby may still have a few more years until he really peaks.)
 
Maybe the worst thing you could say about his career to date is that he’s lost close to a full season due to two rather significant injuries. But the ankle injury could’ve happened to anyone, and his recovery from the concussion at least appears to be moving forward without issue or, best of all, recurrence of the symptoms to this point.
 
Ten years later, Crosby gets ready to enter his seventh full season with the team, having just turned 24. In a sport in which many forwards don’t peak until their mid-late 20’s (see above), he’s just starting to scratch the surface of the prime years of his development. The questions that Pens fans had early on in his NHL career about how good he could really be? Chances are last year was a harbinger.  Provided he stays healthy and that he’s recovered from the concussion, consider that pace of the 1.6 points-per-game that Sid played to your jumping-off point.
 
And for good measure, consider the fact that Evgeni Malkin is at the same point in his career, too. With something to prove.
 
It’s gonna be a good day, Tater.
 
 
 
Some other hockey-related thoughts, dudes, as we round the bend into mid-August:
 
= Why the write-up on Crosby?  A few things.  First, there’s ain’t shit-all happening right now otherwise. Like I said last time, the dog days of summer are the worst time of the year from a hockey fan standpoint because nothing is happening.
 
= But another underlying reason was the news that broke out of Saint Louie last week, and this one comes via Express Mail from the “Count Your Lucky Stars, Pens Fans” department.  The Blues announced last week that the St. Louis Blues are already preparing to enter their training camp without the services of David Perron, their playmaking center who suffered a concussion on November 4, 2010 (about two months before Sidney Crosby suffered his).  Perron’s concussion came courtesy of Joe Thornton here. 
 

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Perron was never able to resume skating last year, and still hasn’t to this point.  In fact, he’s just at the point where he’s basically doing light workouts and that’s about it.
 
 
 
= No word on how many St. Louis sports talk shows are getting flooded by callers questioning Perron’s toughness because some St. Louis Ram once came back from a concussion in a week.
 
= Rumors abound on Twitter that the 2012 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Pittsburgh. Nothing official yet from the league and given the way the Winter Classic announcement was handled, it’ll probably be another three months before the league makes it official. But both The Hockey News via Ryan Kennedy (@THNRyanKennedy) and now TSN News (@TSN_News) have both tweeted reports that Pittsburgh is the likely source. This has been based mostly on reports that AnthroCon – yes, the Furry Convention held annually in Pittsburgh – has agreed to re-schedule its 2012 date so Pittsburgh would be able to host the NHL Entry Draft. God bless you, Furries. God bless you.
 
= I’ll be interested to see what the turnout will be for an event like this. It’s to the point that the Pens could open an on-ice workout with just Crosby and Malkin to the public and 5000 fans would show up for it, so this will probably be packed.  The last time the Pens hosted the Draft was 1997, when coverage of it was nothing like it is now and the team drafted Robert Dome in the first round. Ouch.
 
Dome asking for quickest route to Pizza Milano.
 
Had to double-take and make sure this wasn’t a picture of me in my rec league.
 
= Atlanta has moved to Winnipeg.  Phoenix got a one-year reprieve from the moving vans as they continue to search for a new owner, and that came at the cost of $25 million to the city of Glendale. And now the Blue Jackets have turned to a local casino to provide revenues that would help offset the losses the team has accumulated in Columbus, thanks largely in part to what must be some asstastic lease provisions on Nationwide Arena.  Per this article,
 
 
Jackets ownership lost close to $25 million last year and more than $50 million in each of the last two seasons, with nearly 40-50% of each season the result of their existing lease on the arena.
 
= Not sure if this is a ZOMG LOCKOUT PENDING issue, or just an issue derived from the simple fact that some of these arena leases are really handcuffing some teams. It was largely lost in the complicated arena issues, but a big reason why the Pens had a difficult time retaining some of their free agents pre-lockout was an arena lease that sapped a lot of money from some of the arena revenue streams, particularly for non-hockey events.  With the team largely in control of many of those revenue streams at the new building, you see what a difference it can make.
 
= New Blackhawks goon/energy player/face-destined-to-frighten-the-hell-out-of-any-kids-in-the-first-five-rows Dan Carcillo met with the Chicago media the other day. During a round of interviews he said he can’t wait to play the Canucks because they “there are a few guys there that play a little bit outside of their shoes” and he thinks he can keep them in check. Specifically, he name-dropped Max Lapierre (well-known here from his Habs days and his little pissing contests with Crosby), Tanner Glass and Raffi Torres.
 
Only problem is that Glass signed with Winnipeg and Torres is now a Coyote.
 
No word on how excited Carcillo is to play Pittsburgh, or whether he thinks he can keep Jarkko Ruutu, Matthew Barnaby and Billy Tibbetts in check when they do.
 
= The Billy Tibbetts era.  *shudder*
 
= How fun would this have been?  Dan Carcillo was drafted by the Pens in the third round of the 2003 Entry Draft. With their fourth round pick in that draft, the Pens took Paul Bissonnette.  Dear God.
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