Sidney Crosby suffered a neck injury, we were told. It was supposedly separate from his concussion issues, and announced by someone with the ominous title of neurological spine specialist, but we were reassured that it was fully healed. Nothing about that terse Penguins release was reassuring. Crosby has been more or less concussed for 13 months, and it's okay to start fearing the worst. This would be Crosby's seventh NHL season, which was right about when Eric Lindros approached the cliff.
This news was relayed during a brief semi-serious moment for the NBC broadcast team, incongruous against the carnival backdrop of the Skills Competition. It's hard to blame the Penguins, or the league, or NBC for being reluctant to dwell on it. Crosby is/was the most popular and most marketable player hockey had to offer, struck down in his prime. How do you expect a sport to deal with something like that? By revving up the old starmaking machine. It's fitting that soon after we heard the latest depressing news on Crosby, Patrick Kane stole the attention and the show.
Kane was the undisputed star of All-Star weekend, winning the Breakaway Competition with a pair of superhero-inspired shots. A sprawling Superman complete with cape and glasses, followed up by a disintegrating puck, and the crowd was eating out of his hand. Heeding the lesson of NBA dunk contests that creativity matters more than degree of difficulty, Kane allowed himself to be the merry prankster the NHL would be wise to showcase.
The NHL's good at this, the breeding and grooming of young stars. Every draft sees a good number of likable, bland, clean-cut North Americans with 30-goal potential. Kane is the rare one who landed in a good hockey market, unlike Steven Stamkos, and turned around a down franchise, unlike John Tavares. PK already has his Cup, has represented his country internationally, and is getting a chance to see if his Q rating can translate beyond hockey. He's been a video game cover boy, he's gone toe-to-toe with Discover Card's Peggy, and was the league's first choice for a new all-access documentary series. The NHL is making a concerted effort to put Patrick Kane in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
There was a time, after he punched and throttled a cab driver over 20 cents, when it seemed like this could never happen. For an image-conscious marketing machine, it doesn't matter how handsome and talented you are if you manage to get yourself arrested. But whereas the Patrick Kane public rehabilitation tour would like to portray his Off-Ice Capades as just youthful indiscretions (he is still only 23), maybe it's something they should embrace. Being a drunk makes him human. We like our good boys to have a dark side. The telochki-hunting Alex Ovechkin has always been a more relatable and interesting figure than upstanding asexual Sidney Crosby. We'd be bored and confused if we didn't consistently hear debauched stories about Kane, who is after all a young, rich, famous person let loose in Chicago. PK pops up a lot here at Deadspin, and we've been accused of unfairly targeting him. That comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of our coverage. We aren't vilifying his adventures; we're glorifying them. Patrick Kane is a goofy, unassuming party boy from Upstate New York, who plays clean and doesn't have his fun at the expense of others. In the universe of athletes behaving badly, he isn't all that bad. He's the hockey player we'd choose to have a beer with, to say nothing of trading lives for a day. If he isn't the squeaky clean choir boy advertisers want pitching their minivans, he's a charismatic and realistic face of the NHL.
So let's not forget that the Blackhawks are surging just a year after blowing up their roster, proving for a second time that you can build a team around Kane and Toews. Or that Kane is America's best hope at the next Olympics, and is capable of doing things like this. He's got the talent and the charm to be the league's flagship superstar, as long as he keeps his nose clean. But not too clean.