Friday, March 24, 2017

Best leader in hockey? It's no myth: Sidney Crosby

By Mark Madden
March 24, 2017

Image result for sidney crosby 2017
(Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

The Chicago Blackhawks have won 17 of 21, so ESPN’s Sarah Spain tweeted thusly about ‘Hawks captain Jonathan Toews: “Name a person you’d rather have leading your team than Toews - taking into account talent, leadership, quality of person. Is there anyone?”
My initial response: Is this a joke?
My subsequent response: Sidney Crosby, obviously.
Spain is a Chicago fangirl. It you want to call me a Penguins fanboy, I’ve certainly been called worse.
But Spain’s tweet is further proliferation of the myth of leadership. Intangibles are the great equalizer when what’s tangible doesn’t add up the way you want.
The myth of leadership helps further the myth of Toews, a real good hockey player but not remotely comparable to Crosby. Heck, Toews isn’t even the best player on his team. Patrick Kane is.
But leadership, though...
The myth of leadership often gets used in haphazard fashion.
In 1987, Mario Lemieux scored the winning goal for Canada in the Canada (now World) Cup final against the Soviet Union. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier also played for Canada, and had won three Stanley Cups with Edmonton.
In that tournament, the story goes, Gretzky and Messier showed Lemieux how to win. A book got written on the topic. Credit for Lemieux’s subsequent accomplishments is thus visited, to some degree, upon Gretzky and Messier.
But Gretzky left Edmonton following another Cup win in 1988, and never won another. Messier won two more, another with the Oilers and one with the New York Rangers. So maybe Messier showed Gretzky how to win. Then Gretzky joined Messier on the Rangers, and Messier stopped winning. Messier, for whom the NHL’s leadership award is named, didn’t even make the playoffs in any of his last seven seasons. Did Gretzky show Messier how to lose?
Few players have tangibles on their side like Gretzky and Messier. They don’t need propped up artificially.
But the Penguins didn’t start winning because Lemieux was anointed by Gretzky and Messier. The Penguins won because Lemieux matured still further as a player, and because he got a better supporting cast. Kevin Stevens > Terry Ruskowski.
But leadership, though...
On his career, Crosby is averaging 1.32 points per game, Toews (coincidentally) .87. This season, Crosby has 41 goals and 40 assists in 66 games. Toews has 20 goals and 34 assists in 64 games.
Fantasy-league culture has overwhelmed sports. Numbers uber alles. Except when it doesn’t fit your argument.
Crosby is a captain of some repute, too. Crosby and Toews both played on Canada’s championship teams in the 2014 Olympics and 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Crosby wore Canada’s “C,” not Toews.
Crosby would be considered the NHL’s best player no matter what team he played for. If Toews played for Arizona, he’d be in witness protection. He’d be Shane Doan Jr.
Of the NHL’s 30 GMs and 30 coaches, 90 percent (maybe more) would choose Crosby over Toews, intangibles duly noted. That’s no knock on Toews. He’s great, and proven.
But I’d rather have Crosby. Hope that answers your question, Ms. Spain.
Part of this column is a direct lift from a column I wrote in 2007. You can’t plagiarize yourself. John Fogerty proved that in court.
Crosby > Toews. Kane > Toews. Connor McDavid > Toews. Evgeni Malkin > Toews. Conor Sheary isn’t as good as Toews, but he’s scored one more goal than Toews, and in 12 less games.
When it comes to hockey’s true elite, Toews isn’t even really in the conversation. He’s tied for 36th in the NHL in scoring, 23 points behind Crosby.
But leadership, though...
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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