Sid turns his light on T.O.

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

The immortal sportswriter, Jim Murray, once wrote: "Only in sports, do we let our works of art and working artists fade out like light bulbs, while the claque rushes off in hot pursuit of the incandescence of a new one."

It's a natural enough instinct, we suppose, and in the case of the NHL in its darkest hours last spring and summer, the incandescence of Sidney Crosby shone the way.

Stars such as Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Al MacInnis and Igor Larionov had faded to black almost without notice, deeply admired but used up and of no more value to the hype machine.

Ah, but in Crosby, the NHL had a saviour, a new teen idol to rebuild its image, riddled by the bullets of a labour war, not to mention a generation of unwatchable hockey.

In the silence of last winter, you could hear Crosby coming like a freight train in the distance. The world junior championships, Rimouski's 35-game winning streak, 168 points in 62 games, the Memorial Cup. Crosby did not sneak up on the NHL.

He came at it full tilt and in the absence of anything else to focus upon, the media latched on to him and wouldn't let go.

It didn't hurt, either, that Crosby himself accepted the role without complaint.

"It gets to be part of your routine," he once said, "like putting on your equipment before practice."

It was a dream come true for the NHL as it attempted to gear up, almost from a standing start, to re-invent itself. A new day, a new star.

Three months into the most heralded career of the past two decades, the reality is rather different. As far as being the saviour of the NHL, well, Crosby's job is more or less done. That important role started winding down as soon as the lights came on in arenas all over North America and the game itself came back into focus: Faster, more artistic and high-scoring.

Let's face it, if Sid The Kid had done everything that he was supposed to do, he would be leading the league in goals, he'd be the best defensive player, he would have pledged his entire career salary to finding a cure for cancer and he already would have his own record label.

That's not to diminish what he actually has done on the ice. He has done plenty and that's why there will be a special buzz at the Air Canada Centre tonight when he makes his first appearance there as a professional.

He arrives here with 19 goals in 37 games, including the game-winner Saturday against the New York Rangers. Just a few months past his 18th birthday, he leads his team in scoring and an interesting race for the Calder Trophy is shaping up between Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin.

They, along with dozens of other skilled players all over the league, have been able to show off their talents this year as so many before them in the recent era of clutch-and-grab hockey, have not.

There is little doubt that Crosby, over the long haul, will be one of the greats of his era. Not only is he offensively gifted, but he has unusual lower-body strength that allows him to thrive in the heavy going. It has been said and written of him that he makes his best plays after contact, rather than before.

As far as saving the NHL goes, well, the league will survive and thrive on its own merits. Crosby will have his hands full simply helping to save the Pittsburgh Penguins. If he can do that, it will be an amazing accomplishment.

The Pens have underachieved mightily this year, in spite of Crosby. The youngster even called out his teammates earlier this season, rubbing some of them the wrong way in the process. Teenagers, no matter how precocious, aren't supposed to rag on their elders.

Says here that those slugs who object should first look at the standings and then into the mirror and, in the interest of self-preservation, figure out just whose light bulb is keeping the room lit.


Videos

Photos