Does Sidney Crosby get too much of the spotlight?
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Question: I'm sure you heard the comments by Alexander Semin, and I must say that I am totally at a loss for words. It was a great deal of disrespect and angers me to the highest degree. But at the same time, I can't help but wonder if there are other players, especially on the Penguins, who might be equally upset that Sidney Crosby gets so much attention.
Mike Balk, Grand Rapids, Mich.
MOLINARI: It's only reasonable to believe that there are players around the league who resent Crosby's profile and prominence, even though he does not solicit most -- or probably any -- of the attention he receives. (Does anyone really think it's Crosby's idea to have the Penguins be involved every time the NHL decides to break out a novelty act, where it's an outdoors game or a season-opening series in Europe?) His life, and those of his teammates, would be a lot less complicated if the league treated Crosby like just another face in the crowd. (That would, of course, be a ghastly marketing blunder by the NHL, which isn't necessarily uncharted territory for it.)
If any of Crosby's teammates are put off by the attention he gets, however, they are better actors than they are athletes. That presumably is because, since they're around him, they recognize that Crosby doesn't crave the spotlight in which he finds himself so often, that he isn't nearly as carried away with himself as a lot of other people are and that he puts team accomplishments far above any individual achievements. Toss in the reality that Crosby's teammates benefit from his on-ice contributions -- he obviously helps to upgrade their record, and that being part of a successful team certainly does nothing to hurt any player's market value -- and it's hard to understand how anyone who shares a locker room with him would have hard feelings toward Crosby.
Semin, of course, does not play for the Penguins, which might explain the inflammatory remarks attributed to him last week. Whether he was quoted accurately in an interview with Sovetsky Sport isn't clear, and it's also possible that something was lost in translation from Russian to English or that Semin's words were taken out of context.
Possible, yes. Likely? No way.
For those who might not be familiar with the excerpt of Russian hockey writer Dmitry Chesnokov's interview with Semin, here is the widely disseminated translation of Semin's response when asked whether he believes his game has progressed to a point where the Crosby-Alex Ovechkin rivalry is now a Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-Ovechkin-Semin rivalry:
"What's so special about (Crosby)? I don't see anything special there. Yes, he does skate well, has a good head, good pass. But there's nothing else. Even if you compare him to Patrick Kane from Chicago ... (Kane)] is a much more interesting player. The way he moves, his deking abilities, his thinking on the ice and his anticipation of the play is so superb.
"I think that if you take any player, even if he is 'dead wood,' and start promoting him, you'll get a star. Especially if he scores 100 points. No one is going to care about anyone else. No one is going to care whether he possesses great skill. Let's say you put someone in front of the net and let him deflect pucks in, and he scored 50 goals; everyone will say "Wow!" and then hand him a $10 million per year contract. That's what they like here."
Again, whether Semin was quoted accurately isn't known, but it's pretty tough to imagine a context in which his words would be flattering. And it's worth noting that after Washington Post hockey writer Tarik El-Baashir brought up the interview in question to Semin, he described the scene this way: "For the record, I gave Semin a chance to talk about it. He said with (a) smirk, 'No' and walked off."
Now, if Semin actually said what was attributed to him, it could be that he just isn't easily impressed. That he recognizes that, just because Crosby has seven goals and 14 assists in 12 career games against Washington doesn't mean he isn't deadwood. That simply because Crosby is averaging 1.37 points per game in the NHL doesn't mean he's the same caliber as a guy like Semin, who's averaging .76, let alone Ovechkin (1.25).
Or it could be that Semin is a marketing genius, and has determined that slamming Crosby would be a swell way to enhance what already is developing into an extremely interesting rivalry, with excellent young talent on both sides. Or it could be that he isn't aware of how Crosby finds a way to elevate his game against opponents who try to get under his skin. In that case, he might want to check with someone in Philadelphia.
Then again, it just might be -- and it certainly is the thinking here -- that Semin opened his mouth and let something really, really stupid spew out, and that he figured it didn't matter because he was speaking to a Russian reporter for a story that would appear in a Russian newspaper. He wouldn't be the first person to say something inane without realizing that his words could travel around the world in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Then again, one would think that a guy who works in Washington, D.C. would have a better understanding and appreciation of "the internets."
Question: Malkin seems to make more than his share of turnovers. He is also below average on faceoffs. Is he the worst Penguin on these issues?
Larry Rock, Villa Hills, Ky.
MOLINARI: Malkin does give up the puck quite a bit but, according to the official league statistics, is tied for seventh on the team with seven giveaways. Crosby, by the way, has a team-high 13, which is a pretty good indication of what this stat reflects in a lot of cases: Guys who turn the puck over more often than most -- assuming they aren't one of those poor souls whose finesse game wouldn't suffer if his stick were replaced by a leaf rake -- often are the most skilled, and frequently give away the puck because of their attempts to be creative with it. Consider that the cost of doing business for guys like Malkin and Crosby.
As for faceoffs, Malkin does, in fact, have the worst record of any Penguin who has taken more than four; he is 29-46, a success rate of 38.7 percent. And while Malkin's faceoff stats figure to get better as he gains experience, they would improve a lot more -- and a lot faster -- if he approached them with the same focus, urgency and commitment that he brings to most aspects of his game. Factors like technique and reflexes have a lot to do with who controls a draw, but so does desire.
First Published November 3, 2008 12:00 am