Like Gretzky, Crosby will silence his critics

Updated: January 10, 2007, 5:56 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

When you arrive with the kind of hype that surrounded Sidney Crosby, there's going to be a degree of skepticism. With the buildup he received, there will be those looking for ways to tear him down. Perhaps it's just human nature to believe, "Hey, no one can be that good."

Well, let me tell you, Sidney Crosby is that good. He's more than that good. Six months shy of his 20th birthday, Crosby is the very best player in the NHL.

Judging by the recently completed All-Star voting, many of you agree. Crosby received a league-high 825,783 votes, nearly 200,000 more than any other player. That's a pretty significant statement of support for a player of his age and experience.

Sidney Crosby
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesSidney Crosby will play in his first All-Star Game on Jan. 24 in Dallas.

The stats certainly back up the argument for Crosby. He leads the league in scoring (65 points in 38 games through Tuesday's games) despite playing in fewer games and averaging fewer minutes per game than anyone else in the top five.

But, with Crosby, it's more than a numbers game.

At his tender age, he's already adept at a lot of the important little things that often go unnoticed. Yeah, he can pull you out of your seat with a highlight reel play. (Did you catch his diving goal against the Lightning on Sunday?) But he constantly impresses with his hockey smarts and competitiveness in all three zones. As one scout put it, "Crosby excels in all areas of the game."

Now, there remain a few skeptics. There will always be those who are looking for reasons to hate. After all, some people hate for no reason. In the early '80s, there were several seeking to shoot holes in the game of a young Wayne Gretzky. Like Crosby, Gretzky was labeled a "whiner" and "diver" by some critics early in his legendary career. Maybe those slings and arrows are just part of the price you pay for greatness. Like Gretzky, Crosby eventually will silence those voices. He's too good not to.

Crosby is like Gretzky in another way. Upon arrival in the league, they were both tasked with the difficult job of propping up the NHL. They were handed that extra burden whether they wanted it or not. In Crosby's case, he has been asked to do so at a time when the league continues to heal from some self-inflicted wounds. As such, he gets the thrill of dealing with many of us in the media. He does so with maturity beyond his years, as well as professionalism that isn't easy to find. Plus, he hasn't let the attention alter his focus.

But perhaps the best thing I see in Crosby is his desire to be better. We place high expectations on our stars. In many cases, those expectations are higher than their own. That isn't the case with No. 87. His expectations of himself far outreach ours.

The kid is better than the hype. It's rare that we can say that about anybody or anything. As hockey fans, we're going on a long ride with Crosby.

If you haven't gotten on the bandwagon, there's still plenty of room.

Coyotes not-so-ugly

After a dreadful start, the Coyotes were left for dead in the desert. But, suddenly, Gretzky and Co. have found new life, winning seven straight games, including a sweep of a five-game road swing. After a 5-2 win in Dallas on Tuesday, the Coyotes reached the .500 mark and moved within three points of the final playoff spot in the West.

While there have been several reasons for the stunning turnaround, Gretzky and GM Mike Barnett should get credit for two under-the-radar moves that have helped the franchise.

First, the decision to sign free-agent center Yanic Perreault has proved to be a good one. The club made the move on Oct. 30 in an effort to replace then-injured pivot Steve Reinprecht. Perreault, 35, posted a career-best 57 points for the Predators last season. He became a free agent when the Preds moved to get bigger up the middle. Perreault remained on the market after the season's start because he was rehabbing from offseason surgeries.

In 30 games, Perreault has contributed 13 goals (including four game-winners) and 11 assists to bolster the club's attack. A faceoff wiz, his skills in the circle have helped the Coyotes get more time with the puck.

The addition of goalie Mikael Tellqvist, acquired from the Leafs for journeyman winger Tyson Nash and a fourth-round draft pick on Nov. 29, has been another big plus. Prior to his arrival, the Coyotes didn't have an adequate backup for veteran stopper Curtis Joseph. Neither David LeNeveu nor Mike Morrison could fill the bill. That spelled trouble for CuJo, who was getting worn down by the heavy workload.

Tellqvist, who had impressed with his play for Sweden during international competition, has been like a "1-A" in Phoenix. In his short stay, he's compiled a strong 7-2-2 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average. Most important, he's made the 39-year-old Joseph more effective because the veteran doesn't have to carry the load alone.

It's been a very bumpy ride for Gretzky and Barnett in Phoenix. Seven games don't make a season, but perhaps the two men have started to grow into their jobs. Remember, neither had held his current position before coming to the Coyotes. These little moves, as well as the recent addition of defensive forward Kevyn Adams, tell me they're starting to figure it out.

Let me get this straight …

Rangers coach Tom Renney earns a spot on The Hockey News' list of the Top 100 People of Power and Influence list, but his boss, Rangers president/GM Glen Sather, doesn't rate at all?

In case anyone has forgotten, Sather holds those lofty positions with the league's biggest-market team. He's a multiple Stanley Cup winner and he's already in the Hall of Fame. And, if he so desires, he can fire Renney. (He's not going to.)

If Sather doesn't have power and influence in this league, than no one does. Period.

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.