On the Penguins: Naming Rights ... Old School vs. New School

Why this might be Sidney Crosby's last best chance to win the Art Ross Trophy

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The midpoint of the NHL season is approaching, and Sidney Crosby of the Penguins looks like a viable threat to win his second Art Ross Trophy.

And if he really wants No. 2, he had better do it now.

Not because this will be Crosby's final chance to win another NHL scoring championship -- he should be competing for those for another decade or so -- but because the Ross might cease to exist in the near future.

Same with the Norris, Hart and Calder trophies, and perhaps a few others.

The NHL isn't getting rid of its awards, mind you. It is just contemplating the possibility of renaming at least some of them.

One league executive characterized what's going on as "taking peoples' temperature" for their feelings on making some name changes, with the goal of honoring some of the game's most prominent figures.

The Ross, for example, would be named after Wayne Gretzky, who holds numerous scoring records. The Calder, which goes to the league's top rookie, would become the Mario Lemieux, in tribute to the guy who won it in 1985.

The Norris, awarded to the NHL's finest defenseman, would be renamed the Bobby Orr (for rather obvious reasons) and the Hart, which goes to the regular-season MVP, would become the Gordie Howe.

If Crosby, who won the Art Ross and Hart trophies in 2006-07 and has a good sense of the game's history and traditions, has any strong feelings about changing the trophy names, he doesn't let on.

"I don't think you can go wrong either way, to be honest with you," he said. "If they are to rename them, you're talking about trophies being named after Mario and Gretzky. How can you argue with that? They are, arguably, the best players ever to play.

"These are all players who have really left their mark on the game and will always be known as legends of the game. I don't think there's a problem with whatever they decide."

Teammate Brooks Orpik is having an excellent season, but probably realizes that his chances of winning a Norris Trophy -- this season, or ever -- fall somewhere between nominal and nil. Orpik, after all, is a defensive defenseman, and the Norris hasn't gone to one of those since Rod Langway of Washington got it in 1983-84.

Nonetheless, Orpik -- who readily acknowledged that he knows nothing of James Norris, the one-time owner of the Detroit Red Wings after whom the award is named -- is adamantly against tampering with the league's legacy.

"I don't really like the idea," he said. "I kind of understand some of the arguments for it, but I really don't see it. If you watch the NHL Awards [show], the history of the game is something that's different in hockey, compared to other sports. I don't see any good reason to change the names."

Part of Orpik's argument is that if the trophies were renamed now, what would deter the league from doing it again a half-century or so down the road?

"Is it a revolving door, where you just keep switching it?" he asked. "I think it's fine the way it is."

Christmas in March? Get ready for it

Here's a little nugget in keeping with the festive holiday season:

When the Penguins visit New Jersey March 17, the Devils will break out their classic red, white and green uniforms. Yes, the ones that brought Christmas to mind for so many people who watched New Jersey before it switched to more of a red-and-black color scheme.

That is the first -- and only -- time the Devils are scheduled to wear their vintage uniforms.

A season of recovery for Tom Fitzgerald

The Penguins have lost 111 man-games because of physical issues, but their most debilitating injury didn't happen to a player. Or even on ice, for that matter.

Tom Fitzgerald, assistant to general manager Ray Shero, still is coping with the effects of a gruesome injury he got during the summer, when he gashed his foot while diving from a swing into a lake in Maine.

He needed a couple dozen stitches to close the wound, but the worst part came a few days later, when he registered a high fever traced to an infection of one of the bones in his damaged foot. Fitzgerald subsequently underwent one operation to remove the infection from the bone and another for a skin graft.

He was on crutches until recently, and is facing a lengthy round of physical therapy.

"Overall, I feel great," he said a few days ago. "The recovery period is a lot longer than I anticipated. [The doctor] told me it would probably be three or four months, and it's almost four months since the accident."

Fitzgerald added that he hopes to be back on skates by the first of the year so he can "at least glide around."

Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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