John Steigerwald's Sports Column

NHL’s stupidity could force Crosby into an early retirement

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Maybe Sidney Crosby should just quit the NHL.


It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. He shared a home with a former best player in the world, who quit when he was 31 years old.


Yep, that’s what Mario Lemieux did after the 1996-97 season. When he did, everybody understood. They knew he was fed up with the stupidity of the NHL. If you were around back then, you remember Lemieux made it known that he was going to retire after that season, so it wasn’t a shock when the guy who led the league in scoring with 50 goals and 72 assists decided to pack it in.


Think about that for a second.


This wasn’t a broken-down player, struggling to play up to the ridiculous standard he had set for himself. This was a 50-goal scorer saying he had had enough with the NHL’s refusal to enforce the rules and was walking away.


He didn’t do so to become a team executive or owner. That would come later. He was headed for the golf course and as far away as he could get from the game he loved.


That just doesn’t happen in sports.


The most talented player to ever pick up a hockey stick just couldn’t deal with the stupidity anymore.


Well, guess what? The stupidity is back. Big time.


Everybody agrees that Sidney Crosby needed to play better in the playoffs this year, and some people have come to believe that he didn’t play well in the playoffs last year.


In reality, he was the leading scorer in the postseason before he and the entire team were shut down for four games by the Boston Bruins.


Whatever you think of Don Cherry, he is the most famous hockey commentator in Canada. He has been around professional hockey 60 years as a player, coach and commentator.


During one of his recent Coach’s Corner segments on the CBC, Cherry showed video of Crosby being illegally banged around by the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers. Then, he said, “I’ve been around a long time. I’ve never seen a star player take this kind of abuse.”


Cherry made a reference to Lemieux and showed some video of Darius Kasparaitis of the New York Islanders in 1993 slamming his head into the glass and not being penalized.


Whatever you think of Cherry, his entire career as Canada’s No. 1 hockey personality has been spent ridiculing players for whining about taking physical abuse. And he has done many segments accusing Crosby of complaining too much to referees.


Despite that, he said he has never seen a player take more abuse than Crosby. Cherry criticized Crosby’s teammates for not standing up for him and blamed it all on the instigator rule. But the point is Crosby took a ridiculous amount of non-penalized abuse.


Do you know how many penalties Crosby drew in 13 games against the Blue Jackets and Rangers?


Two.


There were at least five penalties in the video sample Cherry showed.


The stupidity is back.


The guy who walked away from the game because of the league’s refusal to enforce rules meant to allow talent and skill to be rewarded is now the owner of a team that has suffered the most from the same kind of stupidity.


He just spent four weeks watching his protégé and successor put up with exactly what forced him to leave the sport. I believe that qualifies as ironic.


The seed for Lemieux’s decision to retire early was planted in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins lost to the Florida Panthers in seven games. Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr scored a combined two goals in the series. If the rules were enforced, the Panthers might not have won a game. The league, instead of having two of the best players ever to put on a pair of skates playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, got a team full of clutchers, grabbers and cheaters.


And Lemieux knew he couldn’t say anything because that would make him a whiner. Anybody who pointed to the stupidity of not allowing stars to shine and rewarding quasi-talented players by ignoring common sense, century-old rules was called an apologist.


That may be the worst thing about the NHL’s stupidity. It makes smart people with common sense look like whiners and apologists.


I was watching an Eastern Conference preview show Thursday night on the NHL Network. That’s the network that is, you know, owned by the NHL.


One of the analysts, Kelly Chase, was lamenting the fact too many penalties werecalled the previous night in Game 6 between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. He said the referees need to get out of the way and let the players play and went on and on about what a thrill he gets out of seeing fourth-liners shine.


Chase played in the NHL for 12 years.


He scored 17 goals and had 36 assists. He also amassed 2,017 penalty minutes.


This is the guy the NHL pays to tell everybody how the game should be played?


The turmoil surrounding the Penguins is a big story locally and nationally, but it’s also the small picture and too many people are missing the big one.


The big story is that the stupidity is back, and nobody knows it better than the owner of the team that is harmed by it the most.


He should do something about it before the best player in the world follows in his footsteps.


Out the door.


Oh, and one last thing.


I apologize.



John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.


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