Captain Crosby good for both Penguins and the NHL
As the Ducks' Scott Niedermayer ponders whether he will lift the Stanley Cup overhead or quickly hand it off to Teemu Selanne, and the Senators' Daniel Alfredsson hopes he still has a shot at participating in the ceremony himself, the big news had broken in Pittsburgh.
No, the Primanti Brothers aren't taking the fries out of the sandwich.
Lynn Swann hasn't downgraded his ambitions following his failed gubernatorial bid, purchased a condo in downtown Pittsburgh and announced his candidacy for mayor.
The Penguins' wunderkind now is Captain Sidney.
In theory, because Pittsburgh-area establishments presumably have tighter standards than those Hollywood haunts that serve any customers over the age of 15 as long as they have appeared on the cover of People magazine, Sidney Crosby won't be able to exercise the captain's prerogative of inviting all the boys out for a couple of beers and join in the toasts. (Plus, at the end of the night, pull out the credit card.)
Otherwise, though, it makes perfect sense.
At age 19, he is the youngest captain in NHL history, getting under the wire with the offseason announcement and beating out Vincent Lecavalier (barely still a teenager when he donned the Lightning's C) for that distinction.
After passing on assuming the role in midseason, he decided the timing was right now. And there's something both classy and appropriate about that. Rather than having it happen during a season, the formal announcement Thursday is a cleaner transition. And it also seems right that it comes in the wake of the Penguins' survival as a Pittsburgh-based franchise finally being secured after years of maneuvering, bluffing, negotiating and even hoping for jackpots to align on slot machines.
A passing of the torch? Not really. He already had the torch. Now it has been lit.
There never has been a single standard for the captain's role, unless perhaps it's the "eyeball" test. Who does the C look right on, given both his own stature and personality, and also the state of the roster? It can be a savvy veteran with tenure, and not your best player, as was the case when Scott Mellanby filled the role with the Thrashers. More often, it's best when the choice is obvious and not even open to debate, and that the captain has what amounts to earned, yet unchallenged, professorial tenure.
Steve Yzerman with the Wings.
Joe Sakic with the Avalanche.
Jarome Iginla with the Flames.
But the picture is changing a bit, don't you think? In the cap era and the increasing rarity of career-long or long-term stays with one franchise, it makes more sense than ever -- both in the short term and long term, and for competitive and public relations reasons -- to award the C to the young star.
If he's up to it, if he has the aura; and that has to do both with talent and a leader's credibility. If he's capable of being the spokesman, in lobbying and consultation with the guys in the striped shirts; in postgame media scrums at his stall after the games; and, perhaps more important than ever, as the public face of the franchise. In Ottawa, for example, it seems clear that Jason Spezza has far more potential "captain" material than Dany Heatley.
Sakic was in his early 20s when he donned the C for good. In the adjusted standards of today, he would be up to it sooner.
Last week at the Cup finals, commissioner Gary Bettman again attempted to fire a pre-emptive strike in advance of the inevitable news that U.S. television ratings would be belittled and somewhat embarrassing for the first two games and downplay the significance of the low representation of U.S. newspapers from outside Los Angeles at the Ottawa-Anaheim series.
I tried to get him going about whether the NHL should cease being so defensive about issues such as that, and he did -- to a point.
"Nielsen TV ratings are but one measure," Bettman said. "It doesn't define us. The research also says we have somewhere around 50 million fans, some avid, some casual. What it tells you is that people who follow this game, who are passionate about this game, don't watch it on television in the United States as much as we'd all like. But you know what? There probably are two or three other sports who do better than we do, and there are a bunch of niche sports that don't even come close. We don't have to apologize to anyone for what we are.
"This game and the players associated with it are the best in all of sports, and we'll find our own level over time. This isn't a 60-minute game. This game gets played year after year, generation to generation. We've been around since 1917. We'll be around for hundreds of years going forward."
What's that got to do with the C?
The NHL, more than the other big four major league sports, is both nurturing and appropriate for new media treatment -- podcasts, Web coverage, in-house Web sites, YouTube highlights -- and it is tightening its embrace of the younger demographic that can type text messages longer than their term papers in 27 seconds on their cell phones.
Emphasizing youth and marquee power should be part of that strategy.
It's a fine line, and I'm not saying the captaincy should go to the player whose bio gets the most hits.
But if the league's vibrancy in a changing world depends more than ever on alternative measures of fan passion and interest, it's time to further chip away at this reluctance to showcase the stars. We've seen a little bit of that in the past few years, but not enough, because deep-rooted traditions die hard.
Showcasing the stars is not distasteful. It's not bad protocol. It's not risking the deterioration of the "one-for-all, all-for-one" mentality in the dressing room and on the ice to have one player featured in the local and national ads, as well as on the case of the video games.
Crosby's selection (which should come with a no-whining sticker) might seem a no-brainer, but it should be the leading edge of a slight reassessment in the conventional thinking.
The franchise player, projecting into the future, should be wearing the C, even if by former standards he hasn't paid all his dues.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."
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