The sports world is cyclical. We build up heroes only to tear them down at the first sign of decline or change. Then we circle back to find the players that most remind us of our fallen idols, eager to elevate someone new to demigod status. We are seeing this happen in the NHL, with Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar under fire for their early struggles.
It’s fair to look at those three and criticize their statistical outputs. Crosby is on pace for a 51-point campaign, Toews is tied for 97th in overall points and Kopitar has struggled in Los Angeles. Analysts and fans are scrambling for answers while trying to figure out what is ailing these suddenly vulnerable warriors.
This isn’t a complicated situation, though.
Time, fatigue and injury have worn on these champions, and being sports fans, we unceremoniously go scrambling for an ample replacement. We turn to the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid. A branded “changing of the guard” for the NHL, sold as the second coming of the 2005-06 season when both Crosby and Alex Ovechkin dragged the league out of a lost season and back toward relevancy.
It’s painless and perhaps too easy to forget great moments.
The Cole Harbour native — more so than anyone else, like it or not — has been this generation’s top superstar. A generational talent that helped pull the Pittsburgh Penguins (and perhaps the NHL itself) from the brink of extinction.
Now he’s 28 and doesn’t seem capable of dominating like he used to. He can still be one of the top players in the game, but the days of him taking over an entire playoff series are over.
As fans we can learn from what is happening now, and it’s important we do so. The game has changed a lot since the ’80s when offensive juggernauts ruled and goalies were an afterthought. There will never be four players breaking the 100-point barrier on the same team again. We may never see another season where four players crack 100 points across the entire league. Goals are down, risk-free hockey is king and a botched attempt at a creative play will live on forever in GIF form.
That’s why it’s paramount that we actively spend time and energy watching McDavid and Eichel in their first five or six years. These are gifted offensive players capable of breaking the game’s mold for moments at a time. A half-decade sounds like a long time, but these players will eventually fall under the same gravity that is dragging Crosby down now.
Never mind that it only takes one hit to the head to derail an otherwise historic campaign.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we know it now. 2010-11 would have been the best of Crosby’s career. Instead he only played in 41 games and would struggle with ongoing concussion issues for years.
Who knows what might have been had Crosby not dealt with concussions, but that’s not what we’re getting at here. The point is that we should enjoy these absolutely electric talents while they are playing high-voltage hockey. When McDavid comes to your town, get a ticket and go see him play. When Eichel is on television, stop what you’re doing and watch him for a period or two. Instagram can wait and Twitter isn’t going anywhere.
In this way we can truly appreciate what we have while we actually have it. We don’t have to lean on retrospect and fables. We can bear witness and enjoy the moment.
It’s easy to take players and teams for granted. We don’t wait for television shows anymore. We binge watch entire seasons of Bob’s Burgers in one sitting and have an entire world of entertainment at our fingertips. Say the words “OK Google” or “Hey Siri” and you can find anything in an instant, be it a cafe that is open until 2 a.m. or the latest The Walking Dead episode.
We don’t tend to enjoy things as they play out. Instead we are a downhill-rolling, all-consuming generation that is on to the next cool thing before we’ve taken the time to enjoy the here and now. Maybe it makes sense to approach Netflix in this manner, but we shouldn’t be watching this wonderful game the same way — don’t watch hockey the same way you watch everything else.
Turn off your cell phone, turn up your broadcast and really enjoy these players for what they are right this instant. Appreciate their All-World talent and marvel at the skill. Truly drink it in.
We haven’t done a good job of doing that with the first wave of our cap era superstars. Maybe we can get it right the second time around with McDavid, Eichel and whoever else establishes themselves as a high-end player in this league.