Crosby’s announcement today that he will not start the 2012 season is seriously worrying for hockey fans all over. Nobody’s sure exactly what to do about these injuries, but there’s never been so much pressure to address violence in the sport. Fans, NHL execs/players/managers, nor media know where to draw the line between abhorrent and traditional violence in hockey. How much savagery is too much? Years ago, a young female fan was struck by a puck and killed before mesh was implemented above the glass behind the nets. Last year, head hits were all the rage, dispensing and condemning them, even before Crosby was struck down. But it was especially ominous that the NHL’s marquee player was victimized during the climax of HBO’s all access documentary of the “Winter Classic,” the outdoor game. To be sure, he played again but was reinjured four days later and hasn’t played since. Allowing HBO this kind of access to two of the most exciting teams was terrific entertainment value, and more importantly it recorded for posterity an unfettered slice of life in the NHL, on and off the ice. Fans would kill to get this kind of footage of the immortals like Wayne, Orr, Lemieux, or Sundin. The irony is the NHL’s wise decision to document their two star players in their prime actually preserved and highlighted the league’s embarrassing inability to protect their players.
It would have been hard for the NHL to live it down if Crosby’s career was never the same after this point, but that the tragedy was filmed in an attempt to showcase, with unprecedented access and budget, the humanity behind the league’s best players is a cruel irony. Crosby’s success before the injury was hard to describe. Gretzky, Lemiuex, Bossy, Orr, Crosby. That may seem like high company, but that is the current order of all-time points per game, only Crosby was twenty three and seemed to be just finding his stride. After winning absolutely everything, he was on pace for his best season. To put the gap between he and Ovechkin in perspective, Crosby missed half the season and Ovie missed only three yet they tied for goals. If this unabashed goonery continues and it turns out Crosby’s career was ruined during the filming of the NHL’s most industrious marketing effort, Bettman and Co. might as well declare their tolerance for barbarity from a loudspeaker to the American market he’s so eager to woo. At that point, it’ll be apparent that a little girl needs to die before this league is sufficiently shamed into doing something.
At least Crosby is no longer getting hell for whining to the refs.
Post Script: I wrote this a while ago but published today because of Crosby’s announcement. I certainly did not mean to give disproportionate attention to a concussed player, however good at hockey, the day a plane crashed killed 43 KHL players and coaches. The shocking tragedy is unfolding yet and there’ll be commentary to come. In the meantime, RIP.