Sound Of The Note

If anyone has noticed, the best player in the NHL, Sidney Crosby, is making his way back to St. Louis.  Once upon a time, this would be a huge.

I was a kid back in the day, when Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux would travel in to face the Blues.   It was if a movie star was in town.  The front page of the sports page would be earmarked for an article on these skating legends.

Sid the Kid was supposed to have that sort of cache.  After being drafted in 2005, he was deemed “The Next One”, a play off of Gretzky’s moniker “The Great One.”  Although his point total of 688 in 8 full seasons pales in comparison to Super Mario’s 1,014 or Gretzky’s astonishing 1,502, it certainly does not diminish what he has done thus far.

Crosby won a Stanley Cup in 2008-2009.  He  won a scoring title, been league MVP and led the league in goals.  In addition, he scored the game winning goal to help Canada claim gold in the Olympics, and he had a shootout winning goal in the Winter Classic.

So why not the hoopla?   There are a myriad of reasons, lets discuss a few.

First, there is no comparison to be made between Crosby, Gretzky and Lemieux.  They played in different eras.  Gretzky and Lemieux did it at a time when 100 point scorers were commonplace.  When Gretzky led the league with 215 points the top five point producers had no less than 123.  Lemieux led the league in scoring in 1987-88 with 168 points.  Seven players had more than 111 points that year.  Crosby’s league leading total of 120 points in 2006-2007 would barely have gotten him in the top five in those years.  Scoring is at more of a premium nowadays.  Scoring is what makes the highlights.  So, less goals equals less television exposure.

Second, Crosby has not separated himself from the rest of the league like a Gretzky or Lemieux did.  Some years, he may not even be the best player on his team, let alone the league.  The Penguins come to St. Louis as a duel threat.  It’s not just Crosby and the rest of the Penguins.  He has an undisputed partner in crime with Evgeny Malkin.  Malkin himself has won a scoring title and an MVP award.  As the sea of great players becomes more murky, finding the best in the league becomes more of a challenge.  Some weeks it’s Alex Ovechkin, other times its Steven Stamkos.  Throw Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews and well you get the picture.  Crosby has yet to make it  a one horse race.

Third, The Cups – Where are the Cups?  Since winning back in 2008-2009, the Crosby-led Penguins have made it back to the Conference Finals just once.  They have yet to make a return to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Stanley Cups and the playoffs leading up to them are when the average fan becomes more than that.  This is when the relationship grows.  Kinda like in the movies when the girl in the glasses and mom jeans gets a makeover and becomes this hot chick.  That is the NHL playoffs.  During the regular season, the average fan just gets a few glimpses of the game.  Typically, those glimpses have to do with fights, concussions and/or both.  The playoffs are a different animal.  The average fan gets sucked in to the speed and skill of hockey, the heart and guts it takes to navigate the way to raising the chalice.  These fans have only gotten to see Sid the Kid do it once.  A return engagement would put him back atop the leader board.

This, by no means, discounts what tonight means for the Blues.  It is a Saturday night with Sid the Kid in town.  A beast from the East is entering the building led by number 87.  To keep pace with rest of the West, the Blues need to win big games like this.  Beating teams like the Penguins lets the league know the St. Louis Blues are for real – that they do need to be mentioned among the elite in the NHL.

My bold prediction for tonight is this:  After Saturday, Vladimir Sobotka will start being in the conversation for the Selke award, for the league’s best defensive forward.