Ron Cook: Attacks on Sidney Crosby are misguided, silly



Sidney Crosby had a miserable postseason run. He was the biggest reason the Penguins were bounced in seven games by the New York Rangers. He scored just one goal in the series after getting none in six games in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team paid him $12 million this season for that? Talk about not getting its money's worth. Talk about underachieving.

Crosby's playoff performance is fair game for criticism. He wasn't very good last season, either, when the Penguins were swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final. He didn't have a point in the four games. You expect so much more from the so-called best player in the world, the man who ran away with the NHL scoring title this season and surely will be named the MVP when the league hands out its awards next month.

But many of the personal attacks on Crosby since the Rangers series have been unfair, unjustified and untrue. Talk about way over the top. It has been amazing, yet sad, to watch a sports icon here take such a hard fall. It has been so bad in some places for Crosby that even his dad, Troy, has been a target of blame for being too much of a meddling father. It really has been pretty silly.

Crosby is not a bad guy. He is not a bad teammate. He is not a bad captain or a bad leader. Most of all, he is not a coach-killer.

By playing poorly, Crosby didn't do his bosses any favors. It's fair to think general manager Ray Shero wouldn't have been fired if the Penguins had finished off the Rangers, no matter how they would have done against the Montreal Canadiens in the next round. It's also reasonable to think coach Dan Bylsma would be back next season instead of hanging by a string, probably expecting to be dismissed once a new general manager is in place.

But the suggestion that Crosby somehow intentionally sabotaged Bylsma -- even subconsciously -- is ridiculous. A lot of people jumped to a lot of conclusions when television cameras caught Crosby and Bylsma having words on the bench during one of the games against the Rangers. But that's not the first time a player and coach have lost their cool during an emotional moment. There's no doubt it was a stressful series for Crosby and Bylsma. Crosby was frustrated by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who took him off his game, often with slashes, cross-checks and elbows to the head against the rules. Bylsma knew he almost certainly was coaching for his job. But the incident between Crosby and Bylsma didn't mean they hate each other. It certainly didn't mean that Crosby had or was going to quit on Bylsma.

Crosby is too much of a competitor for that. He and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are the two most competitive athletes in town. Crosby hates to fail, hates to lose even more. Sure, he had a bad postseason. It happens. Willie Stargell went through it. Barry Bonds. Roethlisberger in certain games. It happens to the very best.

The sudden doubts about Crosby as a captain and leader also are strange. I've never heard one negative word from any teammate about him, even in off-the-record conversations. He appears to be adored in the team room. He's not just the Penguins' best player. He's their hardest worker.

Maybe Crosby could have taken more blame after the loss to the Rangers. Instead of saying the team came up short, he could have said, "I didn't play well enough for us to win. Put it on me." Roethlisberger is great at doing that. He always takes blame for everything. Fans love it. But that hardly is enough reason for the personal attacks on Crosby. His lack of goals and assists hurt the Penguins against the Rangers, not his lack of leadership.

They must be loving this in Philadelphia. For years, they've been ripping Crosby every chance they get. They've called him soft, a complainer, a whiner. I got an email from Philadelphia the other day that started, "So how do you like Cindy now?"

You expect that sort of thing from Flyers fans. They're jealous of the Penguins for having Crosby. They wish they had him. But the animosity is unseemly coming from Penguins fans. Crosby deserves better. The team wouldn't be here if it hadn't won his draft rights in 2005. He has taken less money to stay here. He has led the franchise to one Stanley Cup and will do it again, if not more than once, before his career is finished.

Crosby's play against the Rangers is indefensible unless there is news that he was playing hurt. Criticize him all you want for it. But spare him the attacks on his character and integrity. They make you look bad, not him.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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