It's hard not to get amped watching the NHL's "History Will Be Made" ads. We all know a memorable moment is coming, and Pittsburgh fans surely wonder if it's coming Wednesday. The Penguins play the Lightning in Game 7 of their first-round series, and it sets up the goosebump-raising possibility that Sidney Crosby will return to heroically lead his team into the next round.
"There is still no timetable for his return," says agent Pat Brisson. "He is doing better, however."
Hockey is made for such a moment. By this time of year, the old phrase "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying" is replaced with "If you ain't in a sling, you ain't trying." Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, for example, had a bandage on his head, stitches all over his face, and a nose plug even before he played his third playoff game this month. So playing through pain is both heralded and expected, as it has been since Toronto's Bobby Baun returned from a broken leg in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals to score the game-winner in overtime.
Of course hockey has no trademark on this sort of bravery. Just saying the names "Kirk Gibson," "Curt Schilling" and "Willis Reed" conjures images of some of the greatest acts in sports history. And Crosby, although he's an international hero for his ability to win both a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal by the time most of us graduate from college, doesn't have that kind of overcoming-physical-agony moment. (Sorry, but withstanding the Buffalo cold in the first Outdoor Classic doesn't count.)
In fact, a lot of Crosby haters thought it was lame when the Pittsburgh captain spent the final period of the 2009 Cup Finals injured on the bench, only to skate out to grab the silver chalice and disappear without shaking hands with the Red Wings.
This would be a chance to show fans and foes alike what kind of warrior he really is.
But it's a terrible idea.
The worst thing that could have happened to Bobby Baun or Kirk Gibson or Willis Reed was further pain and anguish. The worst thing that could happen to Crosby is not only far worse than those things, but also impossible to forecast. He's not only one big hit away from the end of his career; he's one big hit away from a lifetime of wondering how awful the next year or decade will be for him. That's not worth the risk to him, to the franchise, or to hockey.
The Penguins can win a series and maybe more without him, but can they win a Stanley Cup or several with him out of hockey completely? Doubtful. Right now he's a 23-year-old future No. 1 overall draft pick. If he sits out Wednesday and the Penguins lose, they have a 24-year-old future No. 1 overall draft pick. That's really not such a terrible outcome of a series loss.
Those who still think Crosby should play might do well to remember that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are not only the time of heroics, but also the time of hits. Perhaps you recall the devastating hit Scott Stevens put on Eric Lindros in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals after the Flyers star returned from a concussion he sustained that season. Lindros was never quite the same again.
And few can forget what happened to Paul Kariya in the 2003 Finals:
Kariya came back too, and scored a thrilling goal to lead his team to a Finals victory. That was a truly awesome performance.
But Kariya is out of hockey at age 36 with post-concussion syndrome. And so despite his courage and leadership in a big moment, it's unlikely the NHL will be producing a "History Will Be Made" commercial about him.
Whatever the stakes this week or this season, we don't need Sidney Crosby to be the next Bobby Baun.
We need him to be the next Sidney Crosby.