The Vent: Sidney Crosby overkill; solving the NHL’s shootout problem

The Vent is a column that hands the mic on Puck Daddy over to hockey fans to rant, rave and react to everything in the game. If you have a pitch for an editorial, or have one written, and want it featured on Sunday, email with the subject “The Vent.”

Writer Michael Traeger lives in Pittsburgh and is a staff writer for the Pittsburgh media website You can also follow and argue with him on Twitter @PolemicLicense. Here’s his piece called …

The Media, the NHL, and Soap: the Over-Selling of Sidney Crosby

“Crosby. Sid the Kid. Golden Boy. Cindy Crysby.

“Love him or hate him, you know who Sidney Crosby is. You know he plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and you know that he wears #87.

“You know that Crosby is good at playing hockey. You know that Crosby hoisted the Stanley Cup, and you know that Crosby scored the overtime goal that won gold for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics.

“You know this, because the NHL wants you to know this.

“To the casual viewer, hockey is nothing more than ‘Fight Club’ on ice, and at times, it's an apt comparison. So be it: if the NHL is ‘Fight Club,’ then the First Rule of the NHL is ‘You talk about Sidney Crosby.’

“Of course, this means that the Second Rule of the NHL is also ‘You talk about Sidney Crosby.’ And so the NHL promotes Crosby on the website, features #87 in commercials for televised games, and has its television partner, NBC Sports, run an endless loop of segments where broadcast analysts praise His almighty play.

“In short: Sidney Crosby is the all-singing, all-dancing hockey star of the world.

“As in “Fight Club,” the NHL’s marketing strategy of ‘Crosby, Crosby…and Crosby’ seems as contradictory as the members of ‘Project Mayhem’ having to recruit without being allowed to talk about Fight Club: how is the league supposed to ‘grow the game’ and increase NHL brand if they insist on talking about only one player?

“The answer to this question is complex, and goes far beyond the ice rink. First and foremost, the never-ending cascade of Sidney Crosby propaganda is not aimed at YOU. YOU are already a fan of the sport, and you already seek out articles, videos, and opinions on the game you love.

“YOU already have an existing rooting interest, complete with your own personal list of players and teams you like. You don’t need to be told that, for instance, the Chicago Blackhawks play in the Western Conference, and you already know that the Winnipeg Jets used to be the Atlanta Thrashers, thank-you-very-much.

“YOU already know the story of Sidney Crosby, and YOU may very well hate his guts.

“The coveted ‘casual viewer,’ however, may not know these things. The NHL front office sees Sidney Crosby the same way the NBA saw Michael Jordan in the 1980’s, and has patterned its marketing strategy accordingly: they see Crosby as a transcendent player who, for whatever reasons, always seems to find a way to be in the spotlight.

“Ever since the Penguins won the right to draft Crosby in a manner only David Stern and the NBA could appreciate, Crosby has played on the biggest stages that hockey has to offer­- the Stanley Cup Finals (twice) and the Olympics- and did so with success. This mainstream attention only added to Crosby’s popularity and marketability.

“Crosby’s media rise bears few parallels to that of his old landlord, Pittsburgh great Mario Lemieux. Lemieux was a reluctant superstar in his early years, struggling with both the English language and the pressures of print and television exposure.

“Lemieux became the face of the NHL upon his 2000 comeback in part because Lemieux (by then the owner of the Penguins) possessed a newfound understanding of the BUSINESS side of hockey.

“Lemieux embracing the league’s spotlight late in his career had little to do with ego, and everything to do with recognizing the important role he played in marketing the NHL and the game.

“Conversely, ever since his teens, Crosby has been trained to handle the media onslaught, and accepts his role in the bigger league picture. Even when he was not playing on the ice (as was the case during his lengthy bouts with head and neck injuries), Crosby still dominated the spotlight and conversation as the vocal face of the concussion movement in professional sports.

“That constant attention and constant exposure gives Crosby a high ‘Q Score.’ In marketing, a Q Score is a metric that evaluates a person’s name familiarity, and his or her relative appeal. Successful cross-marketing and high Q scores are why a random American on the street can correctly identify Shaquille O’Neill, Peyton Manning, and Tiger Woods with the sports they play regardless of whether or not they pay attention (or care) about the athletes themselves.

“Put simply, people who know nothing about hockey have still heard of Sidney Crosby. Hockey fans all laughed and snickered when a College Jeopardy contestant identified the 2011-2012 scoring champion nicknamed 'Geno' as 'Sidney Crosby,' but that example is a perfect microcosm of NHL exposure to non-fans.

“Evgeni Malkin was the reigning NHL MVP, had led the league in scoring, and even boasted a Conn Smythe playoff MVP trophy to his name…and yet nobody knew who he was.

“Can you imagine an ESPN-fueled world where SportsCenter didn’t cram the names of the NBA MVP candidates down everyone’s throats?

“Can you blame ESPN when the one major sport they don’t have a broadcast rights with- the NHL- has nightly highlights, and SportsCenter’s producer has to decide how to pay lip service to the one sport ESPN actively does not want to promote while simultaneously keeping their viewers informed, engaged, and not changing the channel?

“The producer’s decision-making process goes something like this: ‘Do I show an extended highlight package where Shane Doan scores a hat trick and the Phoenix Coyotes win 5-2, or do I show Crosby with a goal and an assist and a Penguins win?’

“Of course the ESPN producer pulls the Crosby clip, because the casual viewer doesn’t know who Shane Doan is, and the casual viewer finds it impossible to believe that Phoenix, Arizona has a professional hockey team.

“As such, after eight years, the Crosby Media Effect has become cyclical and self-perpetuating, and at this point, the NHL and NBC have aligned their fortunes with that of the Pittsburgh center, despite the fact that the NHL isn’t lacking for other viable superstars.

“The league has tried to promote Alexander Ovechkin as something akin to the ‘Anti-Crosby’ (complete with his face that only Mother Russia could love), and tried to build on the success of Ryan Miller’s 2010 Olympic campaign.

“Still, the league’s advertising tactics leaves many unanswered questions: given his success, why is there no avalanche of NHL promotions involving Jonathan Toews? Toews has more Stanley Cups than Crosby (2) and also won gold with Canada in 2010. While he lacks the personal hardware Crosby has amassed, any student of the game would readily acknowledge Toews' place within the pantheon of current game greats. And if not Toews, why not Americans Jonathan Quick,= or Patrick Kane?

“Admittedly, the issue with promoting and marketing some NHL stars comes down to language barriers and broad international appeal. Fair or not, American companies tend to want to market American players. Not speaking fluent English naturally makes promoting products in English difficult: for as endearing as Evgeni Malkin and his malapropisms are to fans (‘I'm score’ comes to mind), for advertisers, it’s a red flag.

“So why doesn’t the NHL just create multi-player advertisements instead of choosing ONE player (Sidney Crosby)?

“Beyond the headache of trying to align multiple players and their different availability to fit a shooting and reshoot schedule, most NHL superstars have a series of personal endorsement deals that easily conflict with those of other players, thus preventing them from ever appearing on camera together.

“The logistics and costs also tend to grow exponentially as more and more players and components are included in the advertising and commercial process. The more players that are added to a shoot, the longer and more complex shooting schedules become, and the more time design teams must spend in editing and cleanup.

“Finally, Sidney Crosby also has TV ratings working on his side: the Pittsburgh Penguins have racked up the highest regional sports ratings of any team in the country, and have more raw viewers than much larger markets such as New York and Philadelphia.

“Record TV ratings + high Q Score is a simplistic rational to give when assessing Crosby’s appeal to the NHL advertising brass, and an unsatisfying answer to fans that would like to see other just-as-worthy players receive national media attention.

“In the end, however, the sum value of Sidney Crosby to the NHL, and the reason why the NHL chooses to singularly promote Crosby, is not his stats or his freaking khakis, but the fact that everyone- whether they love him or despise him- knows #87, and they know #87’s name is Sidney Crosby.

“…and maybe, just maybe, Gary Bettman’s power animal is a Penguin too.”

I don’t think it’s a sin to market Crosby, and I also think the NHL has done a great job developing teams that fans make time to watch rather than marketing stars. But I know for some, any Sid is too much Sid.

• • •

Reader Dennis Gray has a suggestion for overtime:

“I have a really simple suggestion to improve the shootout: add some more skaters. This has been a personal pet idea of mine for a couple years now.

"Instead of three rounds, one skaters vs. the goalie, make it three rounds, two attackers against a defenseman and the goalie.

"You're still going to get a winner in pretty much the same amount of time, but this adds elements that are supposed to decide a hockey game (like defense, timing, chemistry, strategy, etc.) to the former offensive skills show.

“I would suggest starting both teams at their respective blue lines, use all the same rules the shootout currently has regarding forward progress with the stipulation that passes can be backwards. The people who deride the shootout as a skills competition are still going to be unhappy, but I personally think this addresses the legitimate concern that hockey games are being decided by something that looks nothing like hockey.

"This doesn't solve all the problems with overtime, it'll be forever broken until the point system is fixed so every game is worth the same amount of points (the 3-2-1 system or simply 2 points for a win, none for any kind of loss, I frankly don't give a damn which), but this is a suggestion to fix the shootout, at least.

“Also, can we imagine for a moment a game in the balance with Pittsburgh against, say, my Boston Bruins? Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on a 2-on-1 rush trying to beat Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask for the win? How is that not fantastic?

It’s a premise your humble editor as long argued for: That one of the inherent flaws in the shootout is that it has no semblance of the team competition that preceded it. What say you to this suggestion?

• • •

Reader Travis Culham wants to see more accountability from teams and coaches when it comes to supplemental discipline:

“From what I've gathered in the past year and a half, the NHL is attempting to clean up its image, specifically hits to the head.

“As we've by now learned, if a 220-pound man drives his elbow into your head, you are likely to end up with a concussion, and that could be a bad thing. The Department of Player Safety has begun to take steps to reduce the amount of hits that cause potentially serious injuries.

"The concept of not hitting a player in a vulnerable position, while seemingly obvious, is brilliant. If it is enforced, you should see more shoves and pushes instead of steam rolling over players who are in the 'danger zone', which by the way, is taught to the youngest of the young in minor hockey here in Ontario. Three feet away from the boards is where you never want to be, I learned that around the time I was ten. Why a 25 year old being paid millions of dollars can't wrap his head around that idea I will never know. I digress.

“The real issue that I feel is hindering the elimination of these events in the game are the coaches, general managers and owners. For example, let's take a look at Ray Emery.

“In full disclosure, I myself have suffered from concussions, though I doubt not nearly to the extend that an NHL player does. I am also a Flyer's fan and have been since 2007. However, I was flat out appalled by Emery's actions in pummeling the back of Brayden Holtby's skull. He acted aggressively, and very well likely could have injured another human being. Following the game, both Ed Snider and Paul 'I Can't Believe I'm Not Fired Yet' Holmgren defended Emery and his actions stating that they didn't see anything wrong with the way they acted.

“Just the other night, the star child of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nazem Kadri, took a run at Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, who had to leave the game after the collision. Now either Kadri is a huge Josh Harding fan, or he took a run at another NHL player attempting to 'rattle' him.

"Guess what Kadri? You injured him. As I saw on TSN the next day, Randy Carlyle took to defending his player following the game. He didn't see anything wrong with Kadri pretending to be a more skilled John Scott and trying to hurt both Backstrom and later in the game Mikael Granlund. Carlyle actually said he didn't believe it was deserving of a match penalty for the Granlund.

"Sorry Carlyle, if you're player takes away from the physicality of the game that makes it as great as it is by stepping over the line and making contact with the head, yeah, yeah he does deserve the penalty.

“There will never be any significant change in the league until one day it becomes the consensus view across the NHL that it is OK for a owner, coach or general manager or player to acknowledge their own player was in the wrong. The focus should be on the fact that your own player crossed the line, took a penalty and put your team in a situation where they had to kill a penalty or play the remainder of the game with one less player on the bench.

"A team should absolutely defend their teammates, and support them through all disciplinary actions, but at the same time, at some point someone is going to have to say that, ‘Yes he did that. Yes it was wrong. He got the suspension because he played outside the rules of the game and attempted to hurt a fellow NHLPA member. I can't wait until he comes back because we miss him on the ice.’

“There should not be anything wrong with that, but yet for now, it's taboo among the NHL's players and management.

“Until then, we're going to continue to see Marc Savard-like situations, and no one wants anymore of those.”

All for tougher penalties against the men who hire and play injurious players.