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Too many good players? Hmmmmm

Friday, 02.29.2008 / 12:00 PM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

One Ice Age reader, and Penguins fan, wonders if his team would be better off with only one superstar player on it.
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Dan from Tucson wrote in with a very interesting question. Can a team, in this case the Penguins, have too many good players? An excellent point to ponder.

***

Phil,

I have to ask, as I am sure others have also, could it be that the Penguins are a better team with only one real superstar to focus on and center their game plan around? And to go even further, could it be that (Evgeni) Malkin, a bigger, stronger, just as offensively well-equipped center, is a better player than (Sidney) Crosby?

I have watched the Penguins since 1993 and have stuck with them through good and bad (real bad). I was happy as anyone to see Crosby become a Penguin, however watching Malkin last year and this year, I can see how he is just as good, if not better than Crosby. Plus, he has a great size advantage and a longer reach. Let's see what Crosby can get us as far as defense on the trade market.

-- Dave, Pittsburgh fan living in Tucson, Arizona

Hi Dave. I think just about everyone in Pittsburgh just fainted reading your note.

I cannot envision a scenario aside from alien invasion that would see either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin traded. But you do raise an interesting point. Is a team better served with one standout player playing the premium minutes and getting first dibs on linemates and whatnot?

Off the top of my pointy head, the answer is no. Unless you stumble into some sort of personality clash, it always is better to have more than one great player. We see the evidence this season. When Crosby got hurt, Malkin stepped in and has done a phenomenal job. Trust me that Michel Therrien will burn the midnight oil to devise a plan to get both players their minutes.

And keep in mind a very, very important consideration. When you get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams that feature only one line often head home early because the opposition shuts them down. That doesn’t figure to be a problem in Pittsburgh with both Malkin and Crosby making life miserable for the opposition.

***

Hi, Phil,

You claimed pretty loudly that everyone needs to let the Wings-Avs rivalry go. I think Colorado's Laperriere and Detroit's Downey didn't get the memo.

Anyone who saw last night's game now knows that the rivalry is alive and kicking. And not just for the high hit on Lidstrom, or the first fight, but I think the spark was the melee at the beginning of the 3rd, when IP and AD started to mix it up again, and AD was jumped from behind by another Av (sorry, I don't know who yet).

Sorry, but now I think you're going to have a very hard time trying to convince people that this rivalry is over.

-- Corie Mattar, Napa, Ca.

Check the mailbag again Corie. Others wrote in claiming the rivalry was over. Not me.

***

Phil, you mention that you moved to New Jersey when you were in the eighth grade. You and I are probably not too far apart in age (I will be 41 in June). I grew up in Brooklyn, NY.

When I was in that grade the New York Metro area was in the midst of the great Rangers versus Islanders rivalry. That rivalry extended to street and roller hockey played in Bay Ridge. Upon being introduced to someone one would ask: "Rangers or Islanders?" It took over the city. Prior to that the Rangers always had great fan support and good media coverage. In fact, the Rangers had good media coverage up until a few years ago.

Now, the NY Daily News may (if we are lucky) feature a recap and/or a short story by hockey writer John Dellapina. Brooklyn did not receive cable until 1987. I had to make due with two or three Rangers games per month on the old WOR Channel 9.

However, there is no shortage of Knicks coverage. That's right. The Knicks have arguably the worst team in the NBA and they get more coverage than the playoff-contending Rangers. Some of this is due to ideology. Some senior members of the Daily News sports department dismiss hockey as professional thuggery and basketball (numerous players with criminal records) as being a gentlemen's sport.

Some of this also has to do with the New York City's demographics. Many of the hockey-loving families (mine included) have left the city proper. With basketball considered the "city" game, hockey is left in the dust.

I now live in the Poconos (and commute to NYC daily). Hockey, which was so popular that we had large ice and in-line leagues here in the late 1990s, is dying. My area has a hockey club which participates in the Lehigh Valley Scholastic Hockey League. Since we are one of the few teams not to get any school district support, the club has fallen upon hard times.

This is not unique to my area. Feedback I am getting from friends, family and business associates around the country is that hockey interest and coverage is declining in many formerly strong areas of the country. New England, Upper New York State, Michigan and Minnesota are as strong as ever, but interest in hockey is waning in the Mid-Atlantic region. Maybe that is the problem? It is a Mid-Atlantic phenomenon. Maybe Basketball and Soccer will dominate this region (little league baseball is also on the decline in my region). Still, youth hockey, dominated by private clubs, is still among most cliquish and least available sports.

Phil, I hope you are correct that hockey is doing fine, but it tends to do well in isolated spots. In Wilkes-Barre, where the Penguins have done an outstanding job of supporting youth and scholastic hockey, it has taken off. If more teams took a page out of the Penguins' book, hockey's popularity would be far greater than it is now.

-- Tom Byrne

Hi Tom. I’ve got nine years and an AARP card on you! I remember watching the Rangers on the old Channel 9 with Jim Gordon and Bill Chadwick all the time.

On to your points. You are right on the mark with the coverage in the Daily News. John Dellapina is passionate and knows his stuff, but his editors have decided to give hockey the short shrift. I’m sorry to say that I think there is a pronounced anti-hockey bias from many, many sports editors in the United States. They have undoubtedly heard all the tales that hockey players are accessible and cooperative, but they just don’t care about the sport. Unfortunately, the closed minds of a few impact the many. As far as a solution to their bias, I’ll admit I don’t have a lot of ideas aside from putting as much content as possible on NHL.com to give hockey fans a home.

Regarding hockey at the grass-roots level, the NHL, USA Hockey and the various leagues around North America do whatever they can to promote the game. But in terms of scholastic sports, what with school budgets, hockey often is in a vulnerable position because of the associated costs, especially ice rentals.

***

I have been reading Marcie Garcia's stories on players and thought a really good one for her would be a story on Malkin.

He's a little tough to interview because of his self-consciousness about his English, but his story would be fascinating since we know so little about him.

-- Trevor

Thanks for the suggestion Trevor. We’ll see what we can do.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.



 

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