Crosby and making teammates better

One of my least favourite hockey announcers (Pierre McGuire) was on the Team 1200 radio station here in Ottawa this morning like he is every morning. Even though I don’t like him, I often listen to him to see what other rediculous thing he is going to say. Today the discussion turned to Sidney Crosby and McGuire inidicated he thought Crosby was the best player in the NHL because he makes the players around him better. You could certainly argue that Crosby is the most talented player in the NHL, but to claim he makes the players around him better is what I have a dispute with.

When I heard McGuire’s comment I immediately asked myself, who on the Penguins has Crosby made significantly better? Who on the Penguins is having a sigificantly better season this year than expected or than he has in the past? I am not sure there is anyone. Mark Recchi has 33 points in 38 games, but that is no better than he produced last year in Pittsburgh (57p in 63g), or the season before in Philadelphia (75p in 82g). Sergei Gonchar has 29 points in 38 games which is right on last years pace of 58 in 75 games which is on par with Gonchar’s pre-lockout numbers (a time when scoring was lower). The only other Penguin with more than 25 points is Evgeni Malkin. Now, one could argue that Crosby has significantly helped Malkin produce his 37 points in 34 games but is that the case? We don’t really know what we should have expected from Malkin because it is his first year in the NHL so maybe he is better than he would be if not for Crosby. But, Malkin was an elite prospect close to if not on the same level as Crosby and Ovechkin were last season so it probably was safe to assume that he could be a point per game player. On top of that, in the 3 games that Crosby missed, Malkin had 3 goals and an assist so Crosby wasn’t exactly missed.

Pierre McGuire often compares Crosby to Peter Forsberg, but Forsberg has a proven track record of making the players around him better. Prior to last year Simon Gagne had never scored more than 33 goals and 66 points but playing with Forsberg last season he totaled 47 goals, 79 points in just 72 games (7 fewer than his 33g, 66p season). When Forsberg wasn’t in the lineup last year, Gagne’s stats were very mediocre. Forsberg makes the players around him better. As does Jaromir Jagr (look what Straka and Nylander are doing this year), and Joe Thornton (look what he did for Cheechoo last year). This is what made Gretzky and Lemieux so great as well. Wayne Gretzky made Bernie Nicholls a 70 goal, 150 point player and just compare Alexei Kovalev’s numbers when he played with Lemieux and when he didn’t and you will see what greatness Lemieux brought to the game.

There is no doubt that Crosby is an exceptional talent but it is my opinion that he is not yet an elite player as he has not yet fully learned how to make the players around him better and his team a winner. And I do believe this to be a learned skill. Last night we saw the retirement of Steve Yzerman’s jersey in Detroit. Steve Yzerman will be remembered as an elite player in the NHL. He is 6th on the all-time points list, 7th on the all time assists list and 8th on the all time goal scoring list. He led his team to 3 Stanley Cups and Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal (on a wonky leg too). And only 2 other players (Gretzky and Lemieux) have total more points in a season than Yzerman’s 155 in 1988-89. But dispite all his point production and personal success there was some serious doubt in Detroit whether Yzerman was capable of leading the Red Wings to Stanley Cup success and there were often trade rumours surrounging him. But over time he learned to be a leader and learned how to make the players around him and his team as a whole better and last night when his Jersey was retired he was remembered as one of the great leaders the game has seen. Over the course of Yzerman’s career, he learned to become a leader and a true super star of the game.

So, while Crosby is a great talent, he has not yet learned to be a great leader. And because of that, he is not yet, in my mind, deserving of the league MVP (though I expect he’ll likely win it). More deserving are guys like Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thorton, Joe Sakic, Scott Niedermayer, and others who make the players they play with and their team better.

This article has 11 Comments

  1. McGuire is a douch, as are most color commentators. I think he’s just looking at Crosby’s points, most of which are assists, and inferring the rest which, as you point out, is pretty ridiculous. All in all no one really needs an “expert” to go on a show and say that the leading scorer in the league is one of the best players in said league. McGuire’s an airtime filler, someone who specializes in stating the obvious, and that’s it.

    Personal McGuire pet peeve is how every time someone makes a mistake he says “you can’t be doing that if you want to play in the NHL” and every time someone does something right he says “that’s what you have to do if you want to play in the NHL.” Watch for it. He says it every time.

  2. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. He also picks favourite players and will rave over every little thing they do for a period, then the next period he’ll pick another player to go all crazy over. He over exagerates everything. I remember one time he called Bryan Murray a genius coach because he moved Alfredsson back up to the first line to create more offense half way through the third period when they were down a goal. You may qualify as a moron coach if you didn’t do that but by doing the obvious shouldn’t make you a genius.

  3. One thing about McGuire – nobody will ever suggest that he’s anything but a Canadian supporter.

    I hear him on the FAN 590 in Toronto every Wednesday morning, and if you ignore the homerisms and the wild accolades, he’s actually….well, quite boring.

  4. Nice to see an actual post again, and not just another Games Prediction.

    Good post, and I agree. No questioning Crosby’s skills and abilities, but he’s not a great player yet. And he’s definitely not yet a real leader. Not to bash him, but everything he does is too overhyped. Remember when he got 6 points in one game a while ago? Well it was against the Flyers. THE FLYERS. Big deal. But the media kept going on about him for days afterwards. But if it was some other guy who did it, then it would be mentioned on the highlights that night and then everyone would forget it.

    I can’t stand Pierre McGuire either. Worst hockey analyst there is, except maybe after Don Cherry. (I shudder at the thought of those two collaborating.) I was just watching the WJC Bronze medal game, and after Backstrom hit Skille from behind McGuire went on and on about it for 5 minutes. And he was just repeating himself the whole time. He NEVER says anything insightful and, as was already mentioned, he always develops a crush on some player during a game and then talk about him endlessly. He also has a hard-on for Phaneuf and Crosby too, and his whole MONSTER schtick is played out and lame.

  5. I concur on the disparaging remarks towards Pierre Mcguire. And I also conceded that Crosby doesn’t seem to be making the players around him “better.” I’m personally of the opinion that Crosby will never reach the plateaus of Lemieux, Gretzky, Yzerman, or Jagr, specifically because he plays with too much of an “edge” for a smaller player. If you watch his game, he has an annoying habit of playing like he’s a 6’4, 245 lb power forward, who is unlikely to get pasted if he tries to deck players twice his size. He’s like Forsberg in the sense that his physical play is going to wear his career down prematurely, even if he ISN’T making the players around him better. Personally I don’t buy all the hype around “Sid the Kid” and I wish TSN and CBC would get over him already.

  6. Steve…

    He’s a lot like Theoren Fleury that way (save the self-destructive habits), wouldn’t you say? And Fleury worked out pretty well for a few years. There are far worse comparisons than a young Fleury, and Crosby is FAR MORE talented than Fleury was.

    Sid’s got lots of talent – get him a sniper and he’s good for 140 points. He defends himself because he has to – who’s going to stick up for him? Youthful exuberance is something he NEEDS to show, and the Pens should be thrilled that he does. How come nobody went after Darien Hatcher after all the dental work last year? Reminds me of Darcy Tucker, who won’t back down, even though he’s smaller than most guys.

    As for the comment about “making players better” – I can’t remember reading ANYONE saying that about Gretzky in his sophomore year. Crosby’s working with Malkin, for crying out loud – they should be making EACH OTHER better, creating a synergy more than playing catch-up with each other’s skills.

    Whether or not he’s overhyped by the media is another thing, but it’s great that there’s a Canadian kid to be hyping over, isn’t it?

    I WISH the Pens had come to Kitchener-Waterloo…



  7. “I can’t remember reading ANYONE saying that about Gretzky in his sophomore year.”

    I wasn’t trying to imply that he should, but that Pierre McGuire was wrong in believing he is and that he should not yet be considered an MVP candidate because he doesn’t yet do so. Like I said, it is a role he still has to learn and grow into.

    “but it’s great that there’s a Canadian kid to be hyping over, isn’t it?”

    The guy in my opinion who deserves the hype is Alexander Ovechkin. He’s not Canadian but who cares. He plays hockey with passion and he plays hard. He has a ton of fun playing hockey and he doesn’t whine and complain like Crosby does (though he seems a little better this year). He plays will skill and he plays with tenacity. He’ll deke you out of your pants or he’ll pound you into the boards and he is a far better goal scorer than Crosby.

    “I WISH the Pens had come to Kitchener-Waterloo…”

    They will stay in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is actually a decent hockey town if they just had a good arena and a good team. With a new arena they could be selling out every game 2 years from now like Buffalo is doing this year.

    But, there are other teams in bad hockey markets that may some day move. Florida, Carolina, Nashville, Atlanta, Phoenix, etc.

  8. Why wouldn’t you consider Crosby in the MVP category? He’s obviously the most important player on a team that nobody thought would make the playoffs. A half-season doesn’t an MVP make, but it’s ludicrous to suggest that he isn’t a candidate.

    Look at the winners of the Hart in the last decade. You can make a case for Joe Thornton, perhaps, but nobody else. St-Louis? No way, he was simply the best player on a surprise team. Forsberg? Sakic? Jagr? Lindros? FEDOROV? All great players who had great seasons that year, but didn’t elevate their teammates, there were already ON great teams.

    And goalies don’t count.

    Anyway, I don’t want to sound like a Crosby apologist, that’s not the point. But he’s having a marvellous season on a team that people figured to finish 13th in the conference. No way the Pens are fighting for the playoffs without him.

    Ovechkin you can hype just as well, but he’s a different player. He’s a pure scorer. And he hits. That makes him early Peter Forsberg, which is darn good. And an MVP candidate as well, because Washington is very similar to Pittsburgh, all things considered.

    Is the MVP for the best season? Or the most important player on the team?

  9. “Why wouldn’t you consider Crosby in the MVP category? He’s obviously the most important player on a team that nobody thought would make the playoffs.”

    I guess he would be a candidate but probably not in the top 5 in my opinion, and I don’t think the Penguins will make the playoffs.

    “Anyway, I don’t want to sound like a Crosby apologist, that’s not the point. But he’s having a marvellous season on a team that people figured to finish 13th in the conference. No way the Pens are fighting for the playoffs without him.”

    Sure, but are the Capitals fighting for the playoffs without Ovechkin? One could easily argue that Ovechkin does more for the Capitals than Crosby does for the Penguins. Crosby plays with Malkin and Recchi while Ovechkin plays with guys like Zubrus.

    As for Ovechkin and Forsberg, they are different players. Forsberg is more of a playmaker than a scorer. Forsberg is a center, Ovechkin is a winger. Ovechkin is more like a hard checking Ilya Kovalchuk.

  10. I’m pretty sure Crosby isn’t the only reason the Pens are in the hunt for the playoffs. Lets remember the fact that they have Fleury in net, Gonchar and Whitney on the back end, and Malkin, Recchi, Armstrong, Malone, Ouellet, Ekman, and Staal to help Crosby out up front.

    I personally don’t think they’ll make the playoffs considering they’re the 3rd or 4th best team in the Atlantic and there’s 2 teams better than them in the Southeast (Carolina, Atlanta), and 3 in the Northeast (Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa). If you put Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, New Jersey, Carolina, and Atlanta in the playoffs for sure, that only leaves 2 spots for the Rangers, Leafs, Bruins, Pens, Caps, and Lightning to fight over. While I wouldn’t discount the Pens entirely, I don’t think they’ll top the Rangers, and the Lightning, Bruins, and Leafs could all make a late run.

    As for comparing Crosby to Fleury, that really isn’t a valid comparison since Fleury only broke the 100 point plateau twice in his entire career and had over 100 PIM, 10 TIMES in his career, breaking the 200 minute plateau with the Rangers in his last full season back in 01-02.

    Theoren was really talented but he was no Sidney Crosby skill wise. He was more of a pure goal scorer with 9 seasons of 30 or more goals, but only 5 seasons with 50+ assists.

    Either way, being a rough around the edges little guy is a quick way to get your head flattened and if I’m the Penguins I would DEFINITELY NOT WANT Crosby picking fights for himself. As for the comment of “He defends himself because he has to – who’s going to stick up for him?”, how about Jarko Ruutu, Brooks Orpik, Eric Cairns (who is on IR with a Knee Injury admittedly), Andre Roy, or Alain Nasreddine – ALL OF WHOM ARE CONSIDERED THUGS IN THE NHL. If you think about the fact that the Penguins went out and added to Orpik by getting not 1 more thug, but 4, doesn’t that make it kind of obvious that they’re trying to protect Crosby? The problem is, none of them can really play in the “new” NHL. I guess they think letting Sid fend for himself is a good idea… personally I think long term it’s suicidal considering his whiny anger management problems. Here’s hoping he figures it out before he gets his head taken off.

  11. I think one thing that people seem to forgetting about in the whole Sidney Crosby argument is the fact that he is a 19 year old kid! I believe that he will make players around him much better in the years to come. The talent level around him is not exactly as great as some people try to point out. Recchi is not what he used to be, Stall is an 18 year old kid and Malkin is only 20. There are other good players on the team but why don’t we give them a couple of years to grow together and then see where they stack up.
    Ovechkin is an incredible talent as well and I don’t think that you have to pick one or the other. It is quite easy to be a fan of the both of them as they are the face of the NHL now are for years to come and I think people should just sit back, watch and enjoy what we are seeing which is two very young players with nothing but upside.

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