Sunday, December 18, 2005

Is it a solid hockey move? Or one of desperation?

The announcement that Sidney Crosby has been named an alternate captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins is raising more than a few eyebrows around the NHL this weekend. With the turmoil in Pittsburgh of the last few days, yet another level of controversy has been reached with Super Sid getting handed an A for his jersey. The one that used to belong to long time veteran John Leclair, who took it all in stride.

The new head coach Michel Therrien made his choice on Friday and since then there has been many different takes on the decision. Some look at it as a way of endearing himself early on to the budding superstar and his equally famous captain and owner. It’s been a rather rocky season thus far, let alone the last seven days in Pittsburgh, with the suggestion the team may be on the move in 2007 and then the firing of head coach Ed Olczyk who could not get much performance from his team of public skating fan dressed up as hockey players.

While one does question Olczyk’s credentials as a head coach in the first place, it became pretty apparent this season that the team assembled by Craig Patrick for him is not exactly giving their all in the early going this year. There are suggestions that the youngest Penguin is already getting a swelled head about his importance to the team and by giving him a higher profile position the Penguins are courting internal strife in the dressing room for the rest of the season.

The situation has become so controversial that it even made it to the hockey pulpit that is Coach’s Corner, where Don Cherry made quick work of the promotion of Crosby to the Alternate captain’s position. Cherry said he didn’t believe that Crosby was ready for the task at hand and more importantly would end up being more divisive to a team already steeped in turmoil. Basically stating that Crosby has not earned the position yet Cherry basically claimed it was just a way for Therrien to get into Mario Lemieux’s good books from the get go. The inference being that it’s still Lemieux calling the shots in Pittsburgh and the coach is but the guy to open the gate regularly for line changes.

There may be a grain of truth in the Cherry argument, even if he has had issues with Crosby in the past. The pressure of all of this on an eighteen year old, may cause him some problems as he tries to get his career off to a solid start. Rather than letting him ease his way into the league and gradually reach the plateau many expect for him, the Penguins seem to want to fast track his every move.

It’s a dangerous thing that they are doing in Pittsburgh; an already underperforming squad now will have a new target for their frustrations. Long time veterans may not take kindly to “advice” from an eighteen year old wunderkind, especially one who has an inordinate amount of time with the boss.

There’s no stopping Crosby’s potential in the NHL, but by putting him on the hot seat so early in his career the Penguins are not making things very easy for their future franchise player!

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