It’s pretty obvious that the Pittsburgh Penguins are having a bad season. Despite coming within two wins of the Stanley Cup last year there is a good chance that they will now miss the playoffs. During the offseason they lost many key free agents. They recently fired their coach. They’ve battled with injuries. They’ve been blown out on the score board several times. Sidney Crosby has lost his cool.
And fans of the other 29 NHL teams have been loving every minute of it.
Blogs and newspapers and television stations have gleefully announced every moment of this team’s downfall. Sports commentators from around the world are criticising Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury and Ray Shero. They’re attacking everything from the on-ice action to locker room morale to organizational structure.
The world loves watching the Pittsburgh Penguins fail.
It’s been said that the only things the public loves more than building heroes up is watching them fall.
Perhaps it the media attention has caused a backlash. Even before he walked into the league Sidney Crosby was hailed as “The Next One.” Coming out of the lockout Crosby was immediately promoted as the face of the “New NHL.” As a result his team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were promoted as the crown jewel of the NHL. They received the most national coverage, they were chosen to appear in the first Winter Classic, they appeared on several NBC Games of the Week and when they made the Stanley Cup Final it was the NHL’s dream come true.
They were promoted as the next Edmonton Oilers. They were a dynasty in the making. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the youngest captain in NHL history; a kid that spoke with the poise and language of a seasoned pro. They were a team that had emerged from bankruptcy and possible relocation. They were the feel good story that the NHL needed to promote the game: a small market team that had survived and thrived in the new NHL landscape. And now, here they are, outside of the playoff picture just a year after their triumphant rise.
The day that the Penguins won the draft lottery there were cries that it was fixed. People saw the obvious storyline of Mario Lemieux mentoring Sidney Crosby and passing the mantle down to him and they cried foul. It was too storybook to be true.
Some argue that the critics are jealous. After all by drafting Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin the year before, the Penguins had seen more once-in-a-lifetime talent suit up in black and gold in the past 25 years than many franchises will be lucky to experience in their history. A member of the Pittsburgh Penguins has won the Art Ross trophy twelve times in the last 20 seasons, more times than any team can claim. Superstar talent has been present in Pittsburgh since the day Mario Lemieux first stepped into the Igloo.
Critics felt that the Penguins’ success was due mostly to luck and not hard work. They pointed to the team’s years of mediocrity that allowed them to draft premiere talent and attributed their success to “the bounce of a ping pong ball,” referring to the draft lottery that allowed them to claim Crosby.
People felt that the Penguins had been given too much and that they did not deserve it.
They felt that Crosby was pushed too fast and too hard. They felt that the team, which has frequently sought bankruptcy protection, should be allowed to move to Kansas City or Waterloo or Las Vegas. It’s a common thought that Gary Bettman and the NHL have protected the Penguins from failure and over-glorified their successes.
And now watching this same team struggle and unravel was enough to make the critics squeal with glee.
The Penguins, a team that had been given far too much in the eyes of many, has finally had something taken away.
This opinion seems to have magnified lately. Sports commentators have seemingly all jumped on the Alex Ovechkin bandwagon, calling him “the best player in the NHL bar none” and anointing him as one of the greatest in history. Would Ovechkin, an extremely talented and exciting player, be receiving these sort of accolades without the Sidney Crosby backlash or are fans and the media turning to Ovechkin as a response to the NHL’s over promotion of Crosby? Has he become the “cool choice” to those sick of the NHL’s “Crosbymania?”
Now, it is completely understandable to feel that Crosby receives too much hype. Even with the league’s leading scorer on the same team it is always Crosby that receives top billing. It can definitely be over-the-top at times, even for a Penguins fan. And it is this feeling, that Crosby is overexposed, that leads to feelings that he is undeserving of the attention. Those feelings lead to resentment and that resentment leads to joy as the Penguins’ playoff hopes become fainter.
If the postseason begins without Crosby and the Penguins involved there may just be parades planned in Washington and Philadelphia. After all, it’s more fun to celebrate someone else’s failure than your own success, right?