It was hardly a happy new year for Penguins star Sidney Crosby. First came a blind-side collision in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1; four days later a check into the boards knocked Crosby out of a game in Pittsburgh. The Penguins labeled Crosby's injury a "mild concussion" and put his recovery time at about a week. But after more than two months there's little indication that Pittsburgh's captain is ready for ice time in the near future. Losing Crosby for the season would certainly be a blow to the Penguins' postseason hopes, but the effects of their captain's absence could reach well beyond western Pennsylvania.
The NHL without Crosby is not exactly golf without Tiger, but his absence is keenly felt. (The Feb. 6 Penguins-Capitals game drew 1.3 million viewers, down a half million from the same matchup on Super Bowl Sunday last year.) While the league insists that it has never marketed itself solely through one player, it is rare that one of its campaigns doesn't feature Sid the Kid. In the four-year history of the Winter Classic, Pittsburgh has taken part twice—and it's not because Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik is a huge draw. This year the NHL pitted its two biggest stars, Crosby and Washington winger Alex Ovechkin, in that New Year's Day game and reaped unprecedented attention (thanks in large part to HBO). Now, though, with Crosby conspicuous only by his absence and Ovechkin slogging through a down season, it seems imperative for the NHL to cast its spotlight on other players.
Chicago's Stanley Cup run last year brought attention to young Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but there are even more options in the NHL pool. The top team, the Canucks, has Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Swedish twins who each rank in the top five in scoring, and Tampa Bay's young sniper Steven Stamkos is on pace for a second straight 50-goal season.
"It's got to be tough for the league when you have a guy like [Crosby] out," Penguins center Jordan Staal says. "But it's definitely a league with a lot of great players. We don't want just one guy carrying the league." Especially one who's not even on skates right now.