Ever heard the saying, “When he wins a Cup, then we can talk about his leadership!”
We’ve heard it with Alexander Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals. Piling 50-goal seasons and Rocket Richard Trophies is nice and dandy, but where’s his Cup? Oh, he has none? Some leader he is! Currently, Jumbo Joe Thornton is within inches reach of capturing his first Stanley Cup this post-season. Since he doesn’t have one though, and the San Jose Sharks, much like the Capitals, are perennial chokers, which means Thornton is a terrible leader and captain.
As big a fallacy is this may be, there is a sliver of truth to it. A true leader can get his team to rally and overcome the odds. Something the Capitals haven’t done, something the Sharks and Blues haven’t done, although they’re both getting closer and closer each year, and many other great leaders have yet to achieve with their respective teams.
Then there’s Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. When the Penguins took a 2-1 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning, times were great. Playoff sensation Phil Kessel was keeping up his point-per-game pace in post-season action flowing, young netminder Matt Murray was leaving opposition flabbergasted with each ridiculous save, and Crosby’s leadership was aiding the Penguins in achieving the Stanley Cup finals in remarkable fashion. Of course, like any other series, things can change and before long, the Lightning not only tied the series, they took a commanding 3-2 lead. That’s when the critiques started to come out. The main focus point was the leadership of one Sidney Crosby.
A Memo to Those Who Doubt Sidney Crosby’s Leadership
It wasn’t enough when Jeremy Roenick, NBCSN broadcaster and former NHL player, decided to call out the Penguins captain, questioning his lack of leadership and how he should model his work ethic around a player like Jonathan Drouin. You know, that kid that pouted when he wasn’t playing for the Lightning and refused to report to their AHL affiliate after being sent down. Crazy how things can be forgotten of so quickly. Perhaps we can give a break to Roenick, after all his job does call for controversial opinions and as they say, no publicity is bad publicity. That is what it accomplished. As the story goes, Crosby scored the overtime winner later that night, forcing the foot down Roenick’s throat just a little further, but not enough to spoil his appetite for his serving of crow that he’d have to consume a little later.
After the Penguins surrendered games four and five, losing back-to-back games for the first time since January, the leadership debate came back to the surface, rearing it’s ugly head. So how did Crosby respond? By being the captain that he is, and the best player in the game, and scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 5-2 win, forcing a game seven in Pittsburgh. This put Crosby’s totals to 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 17 games this post-season.
But let’s wonder where his leadership went.
Have we forgotten that Sidney Crosby has already won a Stanley Cup? How can one question a player’s leadership to strap a team to his back and win Lord Stanley’s most prized possession, when he’s ALREADY DONE IT? The fact remains that regardless of winning the entire thing or not, this whole narrative never goes away. If Ovechkin scored a hat-trick in every playoff game, leading the Capitals to four consecutive series sweeps and the most convincing Stanley Cup run of all time, he could not go the distance the following year and have his leadership questioned all over again.
What makes the Penguins such a strong and intimidating team is that leadership can be found all over. Not just Sidney Crosby, but from Evgeni Malkin too. Phil Kessel and the HBK line. Fourth-line center Matt Cullen. Kris Letang on the back-end. Matt Murray in goal. Mike Sullivan behind the bench. All these names provide a significant boost in leadership and a guiding voice to keep up the confidence and never lose faith. Don’t believe me? Here’s some of the quotes following their game six victory. After reading through them all, come back to me and tell me the critics are right when leadership is the problem in Pittsburgh.
“I just told them to embrace the moment. It’s a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story. They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: ‘We’re going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh.’ And, certainly that’s what they did. When Sid’s playing that way, I think it certainly gives our bench a big lift.”
–Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan to the Associated Press
“We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate. I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great. Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this you, don’t do anything special, just do your job. I think that’s gotten us this far.”
-Captain Sidney Crosby said after the game.
That doesn’t sound like lack of leadership coming from the Penguins dressing room, does it?
Here’s some interesting final thoughts; If Sidney Crosby can score a game-winning goal in game 7, he’ll become just the second player in NHL history to score four game-winning goals in a single series. He currently has three, making him the first player in Penguins history to do so since Kevin Stevens achieved it in 1991. The only other player to notch four game-winning goals in a single series is Mike Bossy. Let that sink in for a moment.
Gold medals, Stanley Cups, Championship titles everywhere he goes. Tell me again how Sidney Crosby lacks leadership.