And so it was that Evgeni Malkin’s pronouncement earlier this summer that Sidney Crosby would consider playing overseas if there is a lockout was proven to be prophecy, confirmed by the NHL’s golden boy himself.
Why? He’s finally feeling healthy (“It’s been really good,” he told Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Nothing. I’ve been feeling 100 percent. It feels good to not have to think about that, and to work as hard as you want. It’s been really good.”), and, due to all that time he missed with a goofy brain in the last two seasons — 101 of 164 possible games — he apparently feels it might be best to not just sit around collecting escrow checks and waiting for the owners to remove the chains and padlocks from its teams’ rinks. And apparently, he looked very good indeed in working out with his teammates ahead of a trip to New York.
All that talk about “It would be really important to the players if Crosby started showing up at the Players’ Association’s CBA meetings” underscores just how important to the sport he is. Remember, when NBC promotes this sport, it’s always “Sidney Crosby and the Penguins take on Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals,” and never, “The Penguins take on the Capitals,” for a reason. This league, like nearly all other leagues except maybe MLS, uses its stars to sell the product, not the product to sell its stars. And thus the idea of the game’s biggest star by far — who else is even in the same stratosphere in the minds of casual or non-hockey sports fans? — playing in a league that is decidedly not the NHL must seem like a terribly bad one for people like, say, executives at NBC Sports Network.
While there’s no timeframe for this apparent jump overseas to happen — and therefore it’s impossible to know if he intends to pursue such options after Oct. 1, Dec. 31, or not at all — just the idea of it is, presumably, one that is very disquieting for the Penguins’ organization and the league itself.
Now, to be fair, Sidney Crosby is a hockey player and will therefore be subject to getting checked, slashed, cross-checked, tripped, held, speared, and elbowed as a matter of professional hazard. It’s unavoidable. But if it were to happen, it’s likely that those parties would very much like it to happen safely here on North American soil, where violators can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of what passes for the law in the National Hockey League. For all the talk that Crosby whines and dives, ridiculous though it is here in 2012 where he’s not an 18-year-old child but a 25-year-old full-grown man, there is little doubt that the league often tries to protect him and its other star players (Dave Steckel and Victor Hedman checks notwithstanding, one supposes).
Of course, if Crosby were to go abroad to ply the trade at which he is so excruciatingly good, be it to the KHL, Finland, the Czech Republic, or some other overseas destination, those protections are gone. That’s not to say that the foreign leagues wouldn’t do all in their power to protect Crosby and his high-value noodle from getting drilled into the glass by some long-time Euro league veteran few in North America has ever heard of, because certainly he’s a draw there too, but just the idea of Crosby getting a concussion, or indeed any other kind of injury, without playing a single NHL game this season must give Dan Bylsma, Ray Shero, Mario Lemieux, and even Gary Bettman, the screaming willies.
None of this is to say that the idea of Crosby playing in a foreign league is going to be so repulsive to ownership that they’ll immediately cancel the lockout the second he signs elsewhere. He is a cash cow for the league, no doubt about that, but he’s not enough of one to bail out the half-dozen or however-many teams are currently losing money by the wheelbarrowful. We know that the league’s most marketable players going elsewhere to earn a paycheck during the lockout isn’t a deterrent because of that whole other lockout we just sat through, when many of its best players did just that. Nonetheless, you know Penguins personnel and fans are going to be holding their collective breath every time Crosby goes into the corner with someone or, heaven forbid, comes across the blue line with a pass in his skates. These leagues aren’t places where people get freight trained like they do in the NHL, but nonetheless, it’s not going to be pleasant watching that a couple times a game.
All involved are likely hoping that this lockout doesn’t last long enough for Crosby — perhaps he waits a month, maybe two — to start getting that itch to play again. There’s no telling how good the offers he’ll get will be, but one assumes they’ll be very good indeed. The combination of those two concerns makes it seem very likely he’d pursue game action in a foreign league, and that has the potential to be bad for everyone. Not that anyone wants it to happen, but imagine if he gets hurt. The entire city of Pittsburgh will have a nervous breakdown.
And by the way, this is true not only of Sid Crosby, but everyone else — especially star players — who would go play overseas. Imagine if ______ gets hurt. Bad news all around.
Just another reason not to have a lockout. Not that owners care about that. Until one of their guys misses NHL time. Then they’ll suddenly care a real lot.