The Penguins’ captain, Sidney Crosby, with the Stanley Cup after Game 6 of the 2017 Finals. It was the third Cup for Crosby, who also won his second consecutive Conn Smythe Trophy.CreditChristopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Despite some encouraging signs over the last couple of years (broadcasting the last World Cup of Hockey, hiring arguably the most groundbreaking hockey writer of the past decade in Greg "Puck Daddy" Wyshynski), ESPN is hardly viewed by NHL fans as friendly toward the highest level of the coolest game on Earth.
To be fair, were there more fans of the NHL in America, ESPN probably wouldn't mostly treat the NHL as simply a league to which it is obligated to pay a smattering of attention. Of course, if ESPN did pay more attention to the NHL, the league probably would draw in a bigger American audience.
Who cares, right?
Well, you should care. If you're a fan of the Penguins or Sidney Crosby or a Penguins fan because of Crosby, you should care at least a little.
Crosby has suffered from a fractured relationship between the NHL and ESPN. He had the bad luck of joining the NHL after its games stopped being broadcast on ESPN properties.
So even though Crosby has lived up to his "The Next One" expectations, he hasn't been propped up by ESPN — the One And Only for a majority of American sports fans.
Crosby deserves to be a national name in our national sports conversation. He isn't, and it isn't because he has failed to deliver since driving the NHL's comeback from the self-imposed exile that was the 2004-05 season lost to a lockout.
Were it not for parts of two seasons lost to a concussion and a chunk of one surrendered to a broken jaw, Crosby likely would be a four-time MVP with at least three championships. If you're wondering, that essentially would make him LeBron James, who rates second on ESPN The Magazine's list.
Is it safe to presume freak injuries prevented the Face of the NHL from making this list?
If so, why would that be the case?
Crosby is the NHL's sixth-leading scorer since ESPN The Magazine debuted, and his debut occurred eight years after the publication's first issue. He also leads the NHL in that time in points-per-game, playoff MVPs, Olympic golden goals and undefeated international runs.
And if we're talking about all athletes, let's talk, like, for real. Crosby successfully pulled his league from the brink of obscurity, pried his franchise from the edge of relocation and pushed a clueless hockey culture toward taking (somewhat) seriously the protection of players' brains.
Crosby is at least the best NHL player since Mario Lemieux, maybe since Wayne Gretzky and perhaps more influential in his sport than either of the two greatest hockey players the galaxy has known. Also, in his 13th season, he remains a consensus pick as the NHL's best player.
Is James in the NBA? Is Roger Federer in tennis?
Seems there is at least a debate about where each of those undeniably dominant athletes stands amongst peers. There really isn't a debate about Crosby , who is holding off the Oilers' Connor McDavid at least as well as Gretzky did Lemieux in the mid- to late-1980s.
Lists are always subjective. ESPN The Magazine claims "foolproof math" for its list, but the omission of Michael Phelps certainly suggests foolishness was worked into the equation.
Still, at least Phelps' absence was raised by ESPN's radio and television personalities during debates about ESPN The Magazine's list Tuesday. Crosby was not part of those debates.
It's as if the greatest hockey player of his generation isn't on the radar at the sports media giant. It's a shame but not a surprise.
Sidney Patrick Crosby is well into a second decade of dominance.
But his star isn't shining as bright it should in America because Crosby's dominance has coincided with the NHL and ESPN being worlds apart.
Rob Rossi is a contributing columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Real_RobRossi.