Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hard Hits: Why The NHL Needs Sidney Crosby On Broadway

I know. I know. I can hear the 'conspiracy theorists' kicking and screaming a mile away. Sidney Crosby a Ranger. These fans will have you believe the NHL will fix the draft lottery (and there will be one once the new CBA is announced) so that he winds up on Broadway.

I'm here to tell you critics and cynics that if they get him, it will be because they were one of the worst teams over the past few years, making it legitimate. The Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets are two of the teams who should have a decent shot of landing the 18-year-old phenom. If the league really wanted to fix the draft, he'd wind up in Detroit, Colorado, Philadelphia, Dallas, Toronto or even Ottawa, Tampa Bay or New Jersey. Those teams have been very successful in recent years, which is why they should be excluded from landing Crosby because they don't need him.

What I do believe to be true is that if Crosby became a Ranger, he would be going to the largest media market in The States. The Rangers have missed the playoffs seven years running. Luckily for them, the '04-05 season never was played because make no mistake about it, in the kind of condition they were in, it would have been an embarrassing eighth straight year of booking tee times in April.

For the naysayers who can't stand the thought of Crosby landing in New York, I have some advice. Don't read the rest of this column. But in the event you opt to, have your boxes of Kleenex ready!

The NHL more than ever needs Mr. Crosby to be drafted by the Rangers and save this dead Original Six franchise. For the league to regain instant credibility in America, Crosby centering the Rangers' top line with say Jaromir Jagr would be a huge draw. You think the top Canadian junior player couldn't handle it? Think again. We're talking about a cool, calm and collected 18-year-old who was born to carry the torch and restore order to a dying league. Crosby isn't a cocky kid like Alexandre Daigle, who never cared one iota about fulfilling expectations. Crosby is a nice looking young man who has prepared himself well for the future. He doesn't blink when asked questions but instead, rolls with the punches and gives thoughtful responses. Such maturity for a teenager with the weight of a country and the balance of a league on his collective shoulders are big reasons why he will be successful. Indeed, he can handle himself.

Imagine playing under the bright lights in the city that never sleeps at The World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. Lately, that has changed to World's Most Dead Arena. That is why Crosby must fly on the ice for the Rangers. He can bring back disenchanted season ticket holders who tossed in the towel long ago. He can pack the house and make it sound the way the building did in 1994 when the team finally broke a 54-year Stanley Cup drought. Ironically, the league was on top of the mountain during that time.

People might point to Jagr. But what else do the Rangers, a team the NHL needs to have success to draw fans back; have that will make fans flock to the arena? Bobby Holik? Who's coming to watch his ugly grinding style? Tom Poti? I've seen women that hit harder. Jamie Lundmark? Once deemed a future star, he'll be lucky if he makes it as a third liner. Michael Nylander? Can you say overpaid, small and aging center without yelling? Mike Dunham? Are you kidding? Darius Kasparaitis? He can throw some decent hits but that's about it. Fedor Tjutin and Maxim Kondratriev??? Tjutin looked good in his initial Ranger stint as a 20-year-old. Kondratiev was acquired from the Maple Leafs as part of the Brian Leetch deal. Both will be decent two-way defensemen (imagine that Ranger fans) but neither will be a franchise player.

If you combine these players with the Dom Moore's, Garth Murray's, Alexandre Giroux's, Jed Ortmeyer's, Ryan Hollweg's, Chad Wiseman's, Bryce Lampman's and Jason LaBarbera's who starred at Hartford, this is what will likely comprise of the Ranger roster. Barring a couple of free agent signings depending on how much cap room the team will have to spend. Don't bank on any big superstars coming here given the team's current state.

This roster doesn't exactly strike me as entertaining. Who is going to MSG to watch this bunch? A diehard like myself will be there because I have wanted to see the team rebuild since the Dolans created this mess. However, realistically, this team would be lucky to get 60 points. And I guarantee there would be plenty of empty seats. Haven't Ranger fans gotten sick of the increase in Devil, Islander and Flyer fans that have stormed the Garden making it an adopted home. Before those fans get annoyed, you couldn't find a ticket on the street back in '97 when the Rangers were playoff bound.

What a player of Sidney Crosby's caliber could do for the Rangers would be remarkable. He could make them the team to see again because I can tell you right now, nobody is going to watch the maxed out Knicks. Talk about the definition of dull and overpaid.

Crosby playing with Jagr would be worth the price of admission. Fans would finally have a reason to get out of their seats. And we don't mean to purchase another beer or to leave after the first period. The Rangers would finally have a real first line centered by a future superstar from the beginning of his career.

If you stuck Crosby on the top line, Holik, Nylander and Moore could center the other units. Suddenly, the Rangers wouldn't look that bad down the middle. The lines could be more balanced, which would take pressure off the supporting cast because they could ease into their roles.

Would there be pressure on the kid? Without a doubt! The intense scrutiny would be immense. But I think this kid would thrive under it. He has the right personality and approach. He's got character and a smile that will light up the sky.

During a feature on second-year Heat teammate Dwyane Wade that aired on TNT's pregame before Pistons/Heat Game Seven, Shaq made a valid point about what a superhero is. He refers to Wade as "Flash" because of how cool he is on the court. What he said was that superheroes are usually quiet and reserved out of the spotlight. But when they're conducting themselves in their surroundings, a super quality comes out which defines why they're cool.

I see the same thing with Crosby. Imagine what kind of nickname they would give him in New York.

Not only would it be super if the wiz kid wound up here, but the endorsements and potential sponsors that would come crawling back to the league when it starts up again would be overwhelming. With a league that's a year removed from one of the darkest periods in sports history, this kind of attention and money is exactly what it needs to comeback strong. Marketing this player is not just essential to the league's survival but to its prosperity. Here in New York, there's no better place for a kid of this magnitude to lace up the skates. You think networks won't be scrambling to try to get a piece of the action?

If he doesn't wind up a Ranger, other suitable places could be Edmonton or Montreal. Imagine what Crosby would do for one of those struggling Canadian franchises. Under the old rules, neither club could compete seriously for a Cup. If you looked at both rosters, they don't have a franchise center like Sid. Imagine Crosby bringing back the glory days in Edmonton, reminding Oiler fans of another quiet superstar named Gretzky. That would be instant credibility for Western Canada and a real shot in the arm for Canada. Imagine the hometown kid plays for his favorite team up in Montreal. The Molson Centre would turn into the old Forum and the game would explode financially up north. This would be a welcome sight.

Other places that could be good fits are Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim or Columbus.

The Blackhawks have been an awful franchise for a while. Though they saw the playoffs a few years ago, this once proud Original Six franchise hasn't had the kind of team a once diehard hockey city could wrap their arms around. With cheapskate Bill Wirtz running the franchise into the ground, a player like Crosby could make the Blackhawks a legit playoff contender again. Team him with Tuomu Ruutu and one of the NHL's biggest markets would be alive and well again.

The Kings were a decent playoff team not too long ago. But severe concussions to Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh damaged the team's future. In a fairly new arena at Staples Center, the Kings could use Crosby. Imagine the endorsements he could get in a large market such as LA.

Ditto for struggling franchise Anaheim. Only two years ago, led by Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Ducks had a miracle run to the Cup finals before losing in seven to the Devils. Now, the franchise finds itself with a new owner and a lot of uncertainty. Sergei Fedorov is still with the team. But other than him, there really isn't much to get excited about. In order for Anaheim to survive, they could use a player such as Crosby to attract new fans.

I know what you'll say. Why would Columbus, Ohio be a good spot for the game's next great star? Enter Rick Nash, soon to be the game's most dominant power forward. And enter Nikolai Zherdev, soon to be a rising star who will light scoreboards up. Put Crosby with these two and you have a super trio who would bring instant credibility to the Blue Jackets franchise. Already one of Gary Bettman's best expansion teams in recent history due to the outpouring of support from fans, getting Crosby would make this a playoff team and a force to be reckoned with in the future.

Two other franchises which could use a boost are the Penguins and Capitals. Both did well in last year's draft with the Caps drafting Alexander Ovechkin first overall and the Pens landing Evgeni Malkin second. However, considering how both have fared recently, it wouldn't be bad if Crosby landed in either city. The MCI Center had been dead for a while but they came crawling back when the Wizards finally won a playoff series. They'd do the same thing if Crosby teamed up with Ovechkin in the nation's capital.

Pittsburgh has struggled financially for years. Rumored to be getting a new owner, this franchise is in desperate need of a superstar who could do for it what Mario Lemieux once did. Hockey roots are strong in this city and it would be ashame if they lost their team. But if Crosby wound up there teamed with Malkin, they would be saved.

So, the question is where will he wind up? Hopefully for the NHL, it will either be in a market that can take advantage of what Crosby has to offer or a franchise that desperately needs him, which is what the lottery should do.


Blogger Corey Jones said...

Even if he's a big name in the hockey world, I don't know if that would translate to other sports fans. I'd hope it would but honestly I don't think his situation would get enough exposure in the first place for it to spread nationwide.

Crosby needs to be a Tampa Bay Lightning, though. Repeat! Whoo!

4:42 PM  

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