Pens Must Send Strong Message: Protect Crosby For The Future

Sidney Crosby was the midseason MVP

While Pens fans thought they would never see another talent like Mario Lemieux, they have been blessed with the next best thing, Sidney Crosby. Crosby is currently constructing a resume similar to that of Lemieux’s. Thus far in his career, Crosby has a nearly 1.5 points per game average. Lemieux ended his career with a 1.88 points per game average. However, a good portion of Lemieux’s career was plagued by nagging back problems, cancer, and an irregular heartbeat. Like Lemieux, Crosby recently dealt with his first serious health problem.

Like the glory days of the early 90’s, the city of Pittsburgh has recently had to relive the harsh reality of having another superstar like Lemieux, sidelined due to injury. Crosby suffered a concussion that has kept him out of the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup since early January. Up until about one week ago, Crosby was dealing with ongoing concussion-like symptoms. To make his headaches worse, rumors were swirling around the hockey community that his career may be over.

Crosby was blind-sided by David Steckel in the Winter Classic, and hit from behind by Victor Hedman five days later. Crosby has missed 31 games due to his head injury. Recently, Crosby has begun to skate since his symptoms have gone away. Hopefully he will make a return to the ice by season’s end.

The aggravation that comes with Crosby’s 31-game absence is that neither Steckel nor Hedman received any disciplinary action from the league. Steckel more than likely did not deserve a suspension for his blindside blow to Crosby’s jaw. On the other hand, Hedman’s check from behind on Crosby was certainly a hit in which the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman deserved a suspension. The replay showing Crosby getting his face smashed into the glass even shows that Hedman left his feet, or nearly left his feet, to deliver the hit.

Not only did the league fail to take action following these two incidents, but the most excruciating factor to accept is that no one on the Penguins roster took retaliatory action to protect their top scorer, Crosby. Someone needed to teach Steckel and Hedman a lesson. Steckel can apologize as much as he wants, but one of the Penguins enforcers needed to send a message to Steckel, and to the rest of the NHL, that cheap shots on Crosby will not be tolerated.

What makes anyone believe that another player won’t attempt to take a run at Crosby? There isn’t one player in an NHL locker room hesitant about dishing out a cheap shot to Crosby. Why would there be? There was no serious action taken by any Penguins player in relation to the hits delivered by Steckel and Hedman.

The Tim Wallace fight against Steckel was one of those hugging matches when nothing was accomplished. Steckel wasn’t dealt proper punishment, and Wallace isn’t even on the Pens every day roster.

The Penguins need to take a page from the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s. Wayne Gretzky could skate freely, and dangle all over the ice. Players were terrified to come near Gretzky, and this was due to his bodyguard. Gretzky’s guardian was Dave Semenko. Semenko didn’t fight people; he annihilated any player attempting to get in The Great One’s way. With the security of Semenko, Gretzky rarely, if ever, had to deal with any nonsense.

Wayne Gretzky (Phil/Flickr)

Crosby needs this type of guard. But is anyone on the Pens going to take responsibility and secure Crosby’s well-being for the future? No one has volunteered to be Crosby’s security guard to this point.

This begs the question why Eric Godard was signed to a contract? Godard is useless. He has no hockey skill whatsoever. He is on the Pens roster to be an enforcer, yet there isn’t much enforcing taking place. Godard was signed as a free agent to protect Crosby, and there have been very few instances, if any, in which Godard put a beating on someone who harassed Crosby. Godard rarely wins any fight, and usually struggles to land one clean blow.

It is about time, that if an opposing player takes liberties on Crosby, that a Penguins player takes action and retaliates. That action needs to be more than hugging an opposing player on the other team, in what some would call a fight. That action needs to be more than wiping the palms of sweaty hockey gloves in someone’s face.

Godard, or anyone considered a “tough guy” on the Pens, needs to obliterate the next player who is pestering Crosby. If Semenko was keeping watch over Crosby, Steckel and Hedman would have had to take a trip to the ER. The way in which the Penguins shield the best player in hockey is ridiculous. If someone takes out your franchise player, that someone needs to be injured in their own right, or dealt a punch, slash, or elbow they’ll never forget. The Penguins need to deliver a memo to the rest of the league.

With goon Matt Cooke flinging around elbows to any skull he can find, the safety of Crosby will more than likely be in jeopardy when #87 returns to the Pens lineup. If Cooke is going to skate around with no respect regarding other players’ safety, why would a player like Sean Avery restrain from trying to end Crosby’s career?

With medical uncertainty about concussions, no one knows whether the next hit placed on Crosby will be the last hit he ever receives.

The moral of the story is that the best player in hockey, Sidney Crosby, needs much more protection than he has received to this point in his career because things in the NHL are heating up. These head shots have not diminished at all, and if anything, head shots seem to be occurring more and more.

The fans of Pittsburgh have already missed out on a significant number of games that Mario Lemieux could’ve played. If cheap shots and goons are continuously ignored by Penguins enforcers like Goddard, then the fans of Pittsburgh may also see Crosby’s career cut short.

The NHL is not applying the proper armor to keep its stars like Crosby safe. If the NHL wants to keep goonery in the game, and not implement a rule that would limit hits to the head, then the Penguins need to take matters into their own hands. Since the NHL won’t protect its most important superstar in Crosby, there will be a constant risk that the game could lose its most valuable asset going forward.

The NHL has already had multiple chances to stop head shots and cheap shots from reoccurring, but has failed miserably. Crosby’s safety needs to be secured by his own teammates. If the Penguins don’t send a message when Crosby returns, his career may be closer to the end than the beginning.


6 thoughts on “Pens Must Send Strong Message: Protect Crosby For The Future”

  1. It’s hard to lay blame on Eric Godard when Dan Bylsma very rarely dresses him. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Godard was not in the lineup for either game Crosby was hit in (Steckel in the Winter Classic and Hedman against the Lightning on 1/5), so how does he take the brunt of your finger pointing? Mike Rupp and Deryk Engelland – two players known for their fisticuffs – were both dressed for each of those games but I didn’t see a single mention of their names, let alone of them failing to do their jobs.

    Also, you say that Godard has no hockey skill whatsoever, but last time I checked, Semenko wasn’t a Hall of Fame caliber player either. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying, but you seem to be criticizing Godard’s lack of hockey skill (or any enforcer’s lack of skill really) while saying an enforcer is necessary. If an enforcer is brought in to protect players, it is understood they aren’t there to win the Hart or Richard. While I agree the Pens should have done more to retaliate for those hits, you can’t blame a guy who wasn’t even in the lineup.

    Lastly, Steckel and Hedman are not known for fighting. Steckel’s fight with Wallace was only the 2nd of his career and it was widely reported that in both the 3rd period of the Winter Classic and the next Pens v Caps game, Steckel declined repeated requests/demands for fights from other players. He only fought Tim Wallace as sort of a “let’s get this over with” endgame. As far as Hedman, the Pens have not yet had a crack at him since that game. Sure, they could’ve/should’ve gone after him then, but they have yet to face him since that game. And he’ll likely decline fights with Rupp and Engelland since he’s not known for fighting either. If he does decline, what do you propose the Pens do? Regardless of the stand the Penguins organization has made against headshots and bush league cheapshots, having another Bertuzzi type incident because a player declines to fight (or declines to fight a heavyweight fighter) is not an acceptable form of “protection.”

  2. There’s a fine line between protecting a star player, and what you’re suggesting. The game has changed a lot in 20 years. Crosby is a big guy; he’s not fragile. And yes, he’s a star, but going so far as to say PIT enforcers should put other players “in the ER” if they hit Crosby? That’s going too far.

    These are people, not robots. They play a dangerous game for a living. Suggesting the Pens resort to goonery/thuggery — didn’t the team just say they don’t sanction dirty hits?

    Gretzky played in a different time. The game is faster paced, harder, more physical. Comparing the way Gretzky skated the ice with impunity — well, nobody gets, or gives, that anymore. What you’re saying is that Crosby should have a free pass on the ice, and anybody attempting to make legal plays on him should be wounded. Hardly good sportsmanship.

    There are plenty of other star players around the league who regularly hit (Ovechkin) or get hit (Toews, Stamkos, etc). There are those like Kane, who are so slippery on the ice that they rarely get hit. Crosby is a leading scorer & playmaker; as long as that holds true, he will remain a target.

    You can’t ask for goons to give your player free license. But perhaps you should ask why he’s not asking his own teammates for better protection?

  3. I don’t know if the Penguins would be appropriate in signing enforcers or sending those kinds of messages on the heels of all this Cooke nonsense. If anyone had seen the Steckel hit or been within 100 feet of it, he’d have been hammered. There are enough people on the team who will drop with anyone. Sacrificing a roster spot to another enforcer would be redundant.

    • I agree that the game is faster, harder and more physical now which is all the more reason to have someone on the roster who will be able to make players like Cooke or Avery think twice about throwing an illegal elbow or slash. The injuries resulting from legal hits are going to happen and are part of the game but what I’d hate to see happen is a Bertuzzi type play that could end Crosby’s, or anyone else for that matter, career early.

      Cooke is an agitator and is being dealt with appropriately. Goddard is a solid defenseman but has yet to prove himself as a go to guy for this role. I think once Goddard starts playing more disciplined hockey the coaching staff will feel more comfortable keeping him as a regular in the lineup night in and night out. Until that happens someone is going to have to step up and let other teams know that “goonery” will not be tolerated, because the NHL’s inconsistency on suspensions isn’t helping either.

  4. Excellent article buddy.

    Eric Lindros’s career was cut short because of the multiple concussions he suffered. He would get blindsided and a scrum would ensue, but as far as I can remember, nothing major would happen. The next time the player who hit Lindros stepped on the ice, he would be able to skate freely without a sense of wondering when the other proverbial shoe was going to drop. If the Pens don’t want to cut Crosby’s career short because of cheap shots and concussions, they’ll need to sign a enforcer or have someone in the current lineup step up. They don’t need someone to throw illegal elbows around or blindside an unsuspecting skater. The Pens need an enforcer who will let everyone know that if any player even thinks about laying a hand on Sid, that he will not hesitate to drop the gloves and hammer said player to the ice. I don’t view it as mere “goonier”, but rather making sure that the highly skilled players get shown the respect they deserve while on the ice.

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