Not a chance.
As of Tuesday and the arriving news that Pittsburgh Penguins captain and all-around wunderkind Sidney Crosby would be done 6-8 weeks due to a high ankle sprain, the most essential hockey player known to humanity just became Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.
Not merely to the Penguins. To the entire league.
For the next two months, Malkin will shoulder the load for the Penguins and the burden of maintaining the march of the Penguins into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In reality, Malkin is at the epicenter of the league’s immediate future, because more than anything, the NHL needs the Penguins to remain relevant.
Last week, the Pens were talking about shopping for a winger to play with Crosby to free up Malkin to pivot his own scoring unit.
Today, they need Malkin to be Crosby.
Now, no one expects him to become Sid the Kid, but a reasonable facsimile of a Sid-like performance from Malkin over the next couple of months should be enough to keep these flightless birds afloat.
He got off to a good start Monday, potting two goals against Washington, but Pittsburgh still lost and that’s disconcerting news to the movers and shakers in the game.
If Malkin doesn’t get the job done, the NHL might as well pack up Lord Stanley’s mug and mothball the playoffs, because nobody other than hardcore hockey fanatics will be tuning in south of the border.
The loss of a marquee player at any time is a blow to the sport’s image. The Chicago Bulls were nothing without Michael Jordan, the Edmonton Oilers faded without Gretzky and both sport’s media presence suffered after their departures.
Crosby’s absence couldn’t have come at a worse time for the NHL. He’ll miss this weekend’s All-Star showcase in that hockey hotbed of Atlanta, home base for CNN, where he would once more have proven to be the media darling that makes him almost as popular as his wonderful skills with the puck.
“This is probably something that's tougher mentally than anything I've dealt with.”
If you think he’s depressed, talk to the television people at NBC.
“I’m going to do everything I can off the ice to help,” suggested Crosby, but as sensational as he is with fans and the media, it pales in comparison to what he can do to sell the game simply by playing it.
The juice that Crosby brings to NBC’s ratings is self-evident. Pittsburgh’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium was the most-viewed NHL broadcast in the United States since 1996. The game, decided on a shootout goal by Crosby, was watched in an average of 2.6 percent of homes in the top 56 U.S. media markets.
If that news caused NBC executives and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to begin popping open the champagne, Tuesday’s developments definitely left them grasping for the Bromo Seltzer.
It’s the latest and most telling blow to the Penguins, whose season has resembled a train wreck of Lindsay Lohan proportions.
Led by the game’s greatest current star, the Penguins were anointed the next in line for legendary status as the season started. Several media outlets projected them as potential Cup finalists.
Some suggested they had what it takes to go all the way.
Instead, it’s all gone wrong.
PHT: Boston defeated New York 3-1 to eliminate the Rangers and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
Hard for Crosby to sit and wait
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Video: NHL from NBC Sports
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