Friday, May 30, 2008

Hold the Crosby, please.

(Photo from (gasp) AveryNation. Makes me question who I hate more, Crosby or Avery. I think Avery wins by a nose, due to the Vogue internship and the whole Elisha Cuthbert thing, but Crosby's pretty close).

I don't want to make it seem like I'm always ragging on the Globe and Mail's William Houston, but his column today annoyed the hell out of me. Here's the highlights (lowlights?).

"Let's see. He's the youngest player to be appointed as the captain of an NHL team. This is his first Stanley Cup final. Hard to tell, but he may still be hurting from an ankle injury that sidelined him for 29 games in the regular season.
On Wednesday, Sidney Crosby scored two of the Pittsburgh Penguins' three goals and logged almost 20 minutes of ice time to lead the Penguins back into their series against the Detroit Red Wings. It was a terrific performance.
But guess who received the attention during the Hockey Night in Canada postgame coverage? Gary Roberts.
The show's grudge against Crosby has gone well beyond ridiculous. Yes, host Ron MacLean interviewed him last Saturday, but the show's most influential commentator, Don Cherry, doesn't like him. And MacLean certainly defers to his elder.
If Cherry mentioned Crosby in his postgame commentary, we missed it. Instead, he enthused about Roberts, the Penguins' veteran, who played 8 minutes 45 seconds and earned an assist. And he praised the team's Jordan Staal, who also had a solid game, but no points.
“He's only 19 years old,” Cherry said.
Yes, and Crosby's 20."

Grudge? How the hell can you say that the CBC has a grudge against Crosby, and that it's gone well beyond the ridiculous? As Houston admits, he was interviewed by MacLean last Saturday. Later in the column, he talks about how Crosby was named the first star, chosen for a post-game interview by Elliotte Friedman and praised by Craig Simpson. That seems like quite a bit of coverage (and praise) for someone the network supposedly has a grudge against. Houston goes on:

"The ABC rule (Anybody But Crosby) had MacLean toeing the line. When he read off the three stars of the game, he said Crosby had been selected as the first star for scoring the opening goal and picking up another.
That understated Crosby's impact on the game about as much as saying Tiger Woods is occasionally noticed on the PGA Tour.
When Cherry did his postgame spot for ESPN, he continued to ignore Crosby and wax lyrical about Roberts. Finally, ESPN commentator Barry Melrose said, “What about the Crosby kid?”
“Oh,” Cherry said. “I forgot. Yeah, he played a great game.”
Crosby should be a Cherry favourite. He's a Canadian, he's tough and he has been in at least one fight. But the two got off to a bad start when Crosby was in junior hockey and was rapped by Cherry for being a hot dog because he used a lacrosse-style stick manoeuvre to score a goal. For his part, Crosby has a bit of an edge and he probably hasn't been appropriately deferential to Cherry.

First off, comparing Sidney Crosby to Tiger Woods is blatantly ridiculous. Tiger Woods is by far the most dominant athlete in his sport, and some, including ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski, have even anointed him as the greatest individual athlete of all time. That's up for debate, but at least he's in the running. Crosby? He wasn't even the best player on his own team this year (that honour goes to Evgeni Malkin, with a nice 47-59-106 goals-assists-points mark). Sure, he was injured for a lot of the year, and still put up 24-48-72 numbers in 53 games leaving him 31st in the league in scoring. However, even using a points-per-game reference, he finished third in the league behind Peter Forsberg (13 points in only 9 games, so a helluva small sample size, but he can still play when his foot isn't acting up) and Alexander the Great, who led the league with 65-47-112 and will be named the Hart Trophy winner if there is any justice in the world. Crosby's turned it up in the playoffs, putting up 6-17-23 in 17 games, which ties him for the lead with Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg (who has a more impressive 12-11-23). That still doesn't make him the clear best player in the league or even a lock for the Conn Smythe Trophy. It puts him in the conversation, but he's as close to being Tiger Woods as Tony Pena Jr. is to being Alex Rodriguez. Clearly, Houston's been drinking the Gatorade Crosby's (er, the league's, but the two are indistinguishable these days) marketing team is selling.

(Note: This site does not like Alex Rodriguez, and has not ever since he left the Mariners and became overpaid. However, he is still one of the best hitting shortstops in the game (even if he plays third base now) and he's the highest-paid player in baseball, making him suitable for this comparison).

Second, an Anybody But Crosby rule? Really? As Houston himself points out, the CBC named him the game's first star, interviewed him after the game, talked about his performance in glowing terms and had him interviewed by MacLean after the previous game. What more does he want? If he hasn't got his fill of Crosby adoration from the numerous pre-game shows and all of the coverage by CBC, Sportsnet and TSN, there's always the American telecast, where most of the broadcasters seem to think Crosby with a puck is like Michelangelo with a paintbrush. The CBC still shows far too much Crosby coverage for me (one of the reasons I'm not watching these Stanley Cup finals: I'll have more on that later today, though), but apparently it's not yet at the John Madden on Brett Favre level that Houston wants.

Third, consider this quote: "Crosby should be a Cherry favourite. He's a Canadian, he's tough and he has been in at least one fight." Anyone who calls Sidney Crosby tough must not be watching the same player I am (perhaps he tuned in to the practice where Maxime Talbot wore Crosby's jersey)? Crosby makes Manu "The Best Argentine Diver Who Didn't Play Soccer" Ginobili look tough. Crosby's diving has gotten so bad that he was called out by one Jaromir Jagr. The point is, diving is bad for sports (ask any soccer fan who's tried to convince North Americans to give the game a chance). Most leagues realize this: in fact, the NBA's even going to crack down on flopping next year. However, the NHL continues to market Sidney Crosby, a flopper who makes Cristiano Ronaldo look like an amateur, as the only hockey player in existence, so it's unlikely diving will leave the league any time soon. This aside, there is absolutely no good reason to call Crosby "tough" or suggest that Cherry should endorse him: his play is absolutely antithetical to everything Cherry stands for.

Here's how Houston concludes his column:

"Whatever the case, his performance on Wednesday ranked as one of the big NHL stories of the year and it deserved raves.
True, Hockey Night put him on the air for a postgame interview with reporter Elliotte Friedman. How could it not? And analyst Craig Simpson said a few words, chosen carefully, about his rising to the occasion.
But as a whole, the Hockey Night response to Crosby's effort was dismissive and small – a disservice, not to Crosby, because he receives plenty of kudos and doesn't need them from Hockey Night.
It was a disservice to the telecast and the viewers."

This is one of the things that bugs me the most about Houston and his ilk of sportswriters who make a living writing about what's on television: they automatically assume that everyone shares their preferences. Engaging in a reasonable amount of coverage, rather than the Crosby love-in Houston proposes (which can regularly be seen on most Penguins telecasts anyways, especially if Pierre McGuire's involved) is hardly a disservice to the telecast: it's actually a service to the telecast to provide information on what actually happened in the game as opposed to an overly-large focus on one man. In total, Crosby played 19:41 in that game, or just under a third. That includes a grand total of three seconds on the penalty kill. Thus, there was a lot that happened apart from Crosby, although you'd never know it from stories like this, this and this. Yes, Crosby was the best player in that game, which is why he was named the first star and interviewed afterwards. However, the last time I checked, hockey teams had twenty players dressed for each game. Houston and the League of Extraordinary Crosby-Adulaters would have you believe it's a crime against humanity (or at least that insignificant portion of it that watches the Stanley Cup Finals) to praise any of the other guys, but it's far more accurate in terms of reporting what actually happened. No matter how much Crosby "put the Pittsburgh Penguins on his 20-year-old shoulders", he still wasn't even on the ice for two-thirds of the game! Yes, he's a good player, and yes, he deserved at least some of the coverage he got from that game, but please stop asking for more: you're only further alienating those of us who are tired of having Crosby shoved down our throats, further mythologizing a decent game into a new verse in the never-ending "Ballad of Sid the Kid" and further removing coverage of the playoffs from actually reflecting reality, as opposed to the manufactured tales of one savior's heroism churned out by Gary Bettman's PR cronies.

In conclusion, the top five reasons to hate Sidney Crosby:

- The Diving: He consistently out-Ginobilis Ginobili.

- The Overexposure: Not only does he shill for Reebok, Gatorade and Tim Hortons, if you listen to the NHL's marketing campaigns, he's apparently the only player left (seeing as you never hear about anyone else).

- The Silver Platter: He was anointed as the NHL's saviour long before he'd even been drafted.

- The Captaincy: What did he ever do to be named an assistant captain as a rookie and the youngest captain in team history the following year? Sure, he's good, but skill as a player does not equal leadership skills (just ask Pavel Bure).

- The (Pitiful Excuse for A) Mustache:
Please leave the facial hair for those of us who can actually grow it. His "mustache" looks like he stole his mom's eyeliner pencil.

(Photo from (AUGH!)

Look, Crosby is a pretty good player. He's certainly in the upper echelons of the NHL, but can we please reduce his coverage to something approximating his status? I'd happily take Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk over him any day, as they can play at both ends of the ice and kill penalties (plus they score goals instead of just setting them up), but there's probably about a tenth of the copy written about them as there is about "Sid the Overhyped Kid". To conclude, as the Gatorade commercial says, "Crosby doesn't stop... annoying the hell out of people, flopping, serving as an overhyped saviour the NHL doesn't need and drawing people to his overfilled bandwagon." NHL, if you ever want me to return to your restaurant, please reduce the Crosby portions to a more appropriate size. The CBC should be commended for portraying Sid in a reasonable and fair way, not vilified by Houston and his fellow scribes who want hockey games turned into "The Crosby Show". In the end, it's not going to matter, as the team-first Red Wings will eventually triumph over the Penguins and their overhyped superstar. Now, I hate the Red Wings with most of the bones in my body and I was actually cheering for the Penguins before this, but the Crosby Hype Machine's kick into overdrive after Game Three forces me to opt for the lesser of two evils.

Postscript: Like it usually is, Houston's actual reporting in the column (buried after his rant about how there wasn't enough Crosby love) was pretty strong. The most interesting tidbit was his mention that Setanta Sports has acquired the rights for the FA Cup broadcasts in Canada through 2011-2012. That's a big loss for Fox Sports World Canada, as that was one of their signature properties and the only top-level English soccer they had left (they lost the Premier League to Setanta/the Score/Sportsnet last year, Setanta already has the Carling Cup and TSN's owned the Champions League for a number of years). Thus, soccer fans in Canada will have to shell out the $15/month for Setanta if they haven't already. Soccer obsessives like myself will probably find it worth their while (I love the channel), but it may turn off some casual fans unwilling to pay the extra cash, which could be bad for the growth of the game in Canada.


- Mike Halford of the superb Orland Kurtenblog (if you don't get the joke, you're clearly not a Canucks fan) has a great take on this. An interesting tidbit:

"That being said, I'm sure there's some media backlash involved with this. Every media outlet in the country was transfixed with El Sid's first tour through Western Canada ("Route 87" was the clever nomenclature, I believe) and the hype surrounding his return from a high ankle sprain was on par with The Beatles coming to America. There's no way HNIC, TSN, Sportsnet and The Score could actually look back on those moments and not cringe a bit with the overzealousness of their coverage. Hindsight being 20/20, it was probably too much too soon. Perhaps these same media outlets are now waiting for Crosby to, you know, win something before lavishing him with even more praise?"

- Houston's column drew some attention from Sports Business Daily south of the border (registration required)
- Houston's original column.


  1. Andrew it's interesting that we both hate Avery for entirely different reasons: you hold the Elisha and Vogue things against him, while I'm inclined to despise him for the diving, stick-waving and cancer-chirping.

    Anyway, a quick rebuttal of the five main reasons you raise near the end of this post.

    1.Diving: Crosby might fall a little more easily than some players, but it's more noticed because of the spotlight on him as the league's saviour. Guys like Osgood are worse divers and you don't hear much about him. Besides, Gretzky was known to go down easily sometimes too - are we going to start a Gretzky hate-on?

    2. Overexposure and 3. Silver Platter: This is something Gretzky had on a smaller level, but with the nature of sports media these days it's hardly Crosby's fault he's been overexposed. I think part of his appeal is the aw-shucks small-town Canada mannerisms he's brought to the big stage, which you can't fault him for.

    4. Captaincy: Again, not his fault. He's mature beyond his years and although many questioned Therrien's move at the time (myself included) you can't argue with results. Plus, who else would captain that team? Crosby was going to do it eventually so may as well cut to the chase.

    5. Moustache: Can't argue with you there - that's just too greasy.

  2. Nice to see you stopping by, Mike! I see you've joined the Blogger dark side as well: looking forward to reading your stuff. Anyways, those are also legitimate reasons to hate Avery (although the cancer-chirping is only "alleged": just ask the FAN and their public apology!). On your Crosby points:

    1: Yes, Crosby's stature makes it more noticeable when he dives, but he's still a flopper of Ginobili-esque proportions. Osgood is a diver as well, but I don't care as much about him because no one's claiming he's the greatest thing to ever wear skates (although he's getting far more credit than he deserves for tending goal adequately behind a superb defensive team). I never claimed Crosby is the league's only diver, but he's its most prominent one, and if you listen to the tone of most of the coverage of him, no one will admit that he might occasionally get his halo a little dirty. The diving isn't the part that irked me so much though: what really got my goat was Houston claiming CBC didn't show enough Crosby coverage and suggesting that he's "tough", both of which are ridiculous claims.

    1. (end) and 2-3. Strangely, I never really liked Gretzky or Lemieux either (I know, you can take away my Canadian citizenship now), and for many of the same reasons. I've always preferred the next tier of superstars who are almost as good but get less of the press attention (Sakic, Forsberg, Theo Fleury, Dave Andreychuk, Mike Gartner, Ray Bourque and the like). Anyways, yes, Gretzky flopped and yes, he was overexposed. I think part of the reason I hate him less is that much of the coverage came after he'd already accomplished a ton. Crosby's had one award-winning season and taken his team to the Cup final once, and he isn't going to win it this year. Once he starts winning, the coverage will be more deserved: I just don't see the reason to treat him as God's gift to hockey yet. Also, yes, part of that is due to the media these days and another part of it is marketing (which is why he has all the endorsements), but a big part of the problem is the NHL's strategy to treat Crosby as their only player worth talking about.

    Crosby's also hardly "aw-shucks", at least in a real way: the man is a master of spin and saying exactly what the press wants to hear.

    3 and 4: Yeah, the silver platter, the marketing and the captaincy aren't really his fault. That doesn't mean I can't hate him for them, though. More of the blame for creating the Crosby monster probably should go to the league, the advertisers and the media who dote on his every word, but the result is still very hateable, at least for me. Sure, he would have been the captain eventually, but the timing of it still irked me.

    5. Agreed. Once the kid is capable of growing some decent facial hair, my respect for him might go up.

    Overall, my main problem with Crosby is that the league and many of the media have built him up to mythic proportions when he hasn't accomplished anything epic yet. I wouldn't mind if they'd market him as a very good young player who's in the upper echelons of the league, but at the moment they're selling him as the perfect love-child of Hercules and Athena. Part of it's also that I'm just jealous that he's doing so well while I'm still wasting my life away at the same age.

    In any case, Crosby's got a boatload of admirers, so I doubt he'll care too much if I'm not overly eager to cling to his coattails and lick his boots. Again, the biggest problem isn't him: it's the league, the TV networks and scribes like Houston that want to turn the playoff broadcasts even further into The Crosby Show. They're sickening enough to watch already.

  3. Aha, so it IS jealousy after all!
    But seriously, it just boils down to the NHL's desperation to sell itself in the U.S. "The perfect love child of Hercules and Athena" creates a lot more of a buzz than "a very good young player." William Houston knows this better than most - he keeps track of the NHL's TV ratings.

  4. Anonymous8:35 AM

    The mustache is disgusting. Andrew - it's starting to look like you and I need to give the Kid a couple of tips on facial hair.

    In a quick response to the not-so-quick blog - I actually feel a little bad for Crosby. His situation can't be overly blamed on him. He came in after the lockout, when the NHL was looking for a new face to bring fair-weather (American) fans back. This was the beginning of the end for those of us who appreciate understatedness and humility in athletes, the NHL spin machine led by Overlord Bettman blew him way out of proportion, and the media and Penguins lapped it up.

    What comes out of it is a kid, who's better than good now, who will be amazing, having his talent blown onto superhuman levels. Giving him the captaincy was stupid, Gary Roberts deserves it. But most of your 3 of your 5 reasons (exception of diving and mustache) aren't really his fault. That said, the diving makes him irritating to watch, and the mustache shows a hearty attempt at being a man...better luck next time Sid.

  5. Anonymous8:52 AM

    On another sidenote - the fact that Sentanta is a pay channel annoys the hell out of me. Thank God for live streaming on the web, I almost missed the Carling Cup final. Playing football on pay-only digital premium channels can only be bad for the game's expansion, the accessibility is dropping before popularity rises, and it's going to turn off a lot of curiosity. That said - the following in Canada (and, by extension, the "above-Mexico" part of North America is rising substantially. Now all you need to do is start to follow a real Spurs :)

  6. Some good points here, but I still take issue with some of the conclusions. Mike, yes, marketing Crosby helps to sell Pittsburgh, which is why these finals are doing so well in the U.S. (and also why the outdoor game was such a success). However, I don't think it does much to sell the game as a whole or help the other teams in the league. If people think there's only one player worthy of mention, why would they tune into a game that he's not playing in?

    Amrit: Fair point. The marketing hype is not entirely Crosby's fault. However, I don't think he's an innocent victim. All the hype around him helps him market himself as a pitchman to Gatorade and Reebok, among other companies, so I think he's probably pretty happy with the majority of the coverage he gets.

    (Also, on your Setanta point: I don't have a problem with it for hardcore fans, as it's well worth the $15/month in my mind: the depth and quality of coverage is far beyond what was available when soccer was only on the regular channels. However, I agree that it's probably bad for drawing casual fans and stimulating interest in the game (and I did write that in the original post). It's also sort of sad to see FSW lose their last English property: they were a quality source of EPL coverage for a long time, and they continue to have a great studio show, but they're quickly losing rights to most of the leagues.)

    I've updated the post with a couple more related links.

  7. True enough - my bad.

    This comment was pointless other than to note that I, too, have, in the manner of a sheep, come over to blogspot. Shame.