Want to Take a Whack at Crosby’s Head? Get in Line

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan routinely refers to Sidney Crosby as a generational talent while speaking with reporters.

The next time someone disagrees they will be the first.

Good luck arguing with three Stanley Cups, two Olympics gold medals and so many individual awards and honors that Crosby probably had to put an addition on his house to store them all.

NHL executives know all of that. There’s a reason Crosby has figured prominently in so many league promotions since he was a rookie in 2005.

The league has had absolutely no qualms about exploiting his talents and popularity when he believes he can help generate revenue for it.

That’s when the NHL sees him as a generational talent.

The rest of the time, it apparently thinks he makes a swell pinata.

How else to explain why Washington’s David Steckel didn’t receive so much as a minor penalty, let alone a meaningful fine or suspension, when he blindsided Crosby with a hit to the head as the second period of the 2011 Winter Classic was winding down?

That hit concussed Crosby and could easily have ended his career. As it was, it simply prevented him from playing for the better part of a year.

That would make for a heck of a marketing campaign, wouldn’t it? Come watch the world’s best hockey player sit in a darkened room while avoiding any unnecessary movements.

Riveting.

And if anyone somehow harbored a belief that the league might have had misgivings about the way the Steckel hit was (not) handled, they surely have been disabused of that notion over the past day.

When Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba targeted Crosby’s head with an elbow during the second period of New York’s 5-3 victory in Game 3 and didn’t get as much as a dirty look from referees Wes McCauley and Garrett Rank, the idea that it is still open season on Crosby was confirmed.

And the league might as well have issued a press release reinforcing the point Thursday, when the oxymoron that is the Department of Player Safety didn’t see fit to have Trouba explain his action in a hearing, let alone be assessed a suspension or one of those laughable “maximum amount allowed under the CBA” fines that barely constitute pocket change for players in today’s NHL.

Trouba obviously is the culprit here, but he made it clear 24 seconds into Game 5 that he has zero respect for opponents or for the game when he was caught delivering an elbow to Jake Guentzel, who just happens to be another of the Penguins’ most effective players in this series.

Detecting a pattern yet?

It’s completely understandable that the Penguins would seek vengeance for Crosby in Game 6 Friday, doing something nefarious to knock an impact player like Adam Fox or Artemi Panarin out of the series. (Why waste energy going after a middle-pairing defenseman like Trouba, unless it’s to prevent future assaults?)

That would be ill-conceived, at best. One never knows when an NHL referee is going to do something completely unexpected – like, you know, enforcing the rules as they’re written – and the Penguins don’t want to give New York’s power play more opportunities than are absolutely necessary.

Especially if it turns out that Trouba’s elbow knocked the Penguins ’best player – that generational talent mentioned earlier – out of more than part of the second period and all of the third in Game 5.

The best way to avenge Sidney Crosby would be to win Game 6 – a genuinely daunting challenge, under the circumstances – and let the Rangers spend the weekend packing their belongings for an early offseason.

And if some Penguins player would be inclined to let Trouba know in the post-season handshake line exactly how the team feels about his classless, despicable attack, well, nothing wrong with that. In fact, perhaps all of them could skate right past him without extending their hand.

Of course, in a real league, Trouba wouldn’t be around for a handshake line, no matter when the series ends or which team wins it.

If the NHL actually cared about protecting its players, let alone its most accomplished ones, Trouba would be in street clothes until the next round. Or next season.

Boy, talk about a hypothetical.

It doesn’t matter than most leagues try to protect their most gifted players, and to create circumstances that allow them to perform to the best of their exceptional abilities.

Not when the only thing the NHL seems intent on proving that the greatness of hockey is best illustrated by the game’s ability to survive the people who oversee it.

It’s been that way for generations.

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