Pittsburgh sports legend Hines Ward enjoyed a cameo in the recent blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises,” as did fellow Steelers Ben Roethlisberger and James Farrior, among others. But perhaps Sidney Crosby is the local athlete who fits best in the popular trilogy’s final installment.
Like Christian Bale’s Batman, Crosby has gotten accustomed to spending the majority of his time away from the action that made him famous. Also like the Caped Crusader, much of his recent rehabilitation has been shrouded in darkness and mystery.
But unlike the fabled Dark Knight, Crosby didn’t have to fake his own death (spoiler alert!) to save Pittsburgh, er, Gotham City. In fact, the countless games Sid has missed over the last two seasons could help create a convenient dividing line in his career.
This summer has been mercifully devoid of the concussion rehab drama that dominated the previous offseason, when rumors of continued trouble with lingering symptoms kept No. 87 in the headlines. That lack of news can be interpreted as a return to normalcy for Crosby, or as close to normalcy as he, the Penguins and their fans can hope.
Whether or not Sid has truly moved to his “post-concussion” stage – and it’s impossible to tell – we do know last week brought his 25th birthday. That milestone coincides with what appears to be an era of increased responsibility for the young man still known as “Sid the Kid.”
Yes, Crosby has captained a Stanley Cup champion, captured an Olympic gold medal for his country and won an NHL MVP and scoring title, all while establishing a perch atop the sport. He was once again looking like the best player in the world upon his return to the ice this spring, producing at prodigious levels late in the season and into the playoffs.
At 25, however, Crosby will be expected to fill out his resume away from the rink, which has long been his safe haven. This week, he joined fellow stars Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin to help represent the NHL Players’ Association in the ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
It doesn’t sound like much, but Crosby has shied away from putting himself “out there” regarding any controversial issues during his first seven NHL seasons. He also recently went on the record saying he was optimistic there wouldn’t be a lockout, putting subtle pressure on the league.
Not only will his duties as face of the NHL increase, but so will his obligations to the Penguins whenever the 2012-13 season gets going.
With the ownership situation in Phoenix stabilizing, Shane Doan will likely not be joining the Penguins via free agency. That means this year’s club likely won’t have a Bill Guerin/Gary Roberts-type player to shoulder some of the leadership load. A glance at the current roster reveals only five players born in the 1970s, which puts more of the onus on Crosby to be a vocal presence in the dressing room, a role he reportedly hasn’t felt comfortable in.
But, as evidenced by his “I don’t like ‘em” rant about the Flyers in the playoffs, perhaps Crosby’s tiresome ordeal with concussions has given him more of a carefree attitude about speaking up. For all the personal hell he’s been through, it’s possible he’s lost some of that youthful inhibition.
Of course, much of the above is conjecture. 25 is just a number, and while Crosby can now rent a car in this country, living a quarter century doesn’t provide magical maturity powers.
Nevertheless, I think we’ll see more residue of Sid’s personal and professional growth this season than in any other previous campaign.
Unlike Batman, Crosby doesn’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice to succeed. However, accepting more “lead actor” responsibilities will further cement his superhero status in Pittsburgh and in the NHL.
UPDATE: Crosby front and center as NHLPA chief Donald Fehr describes his group’s first offer of the CBA negotiations
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