by Shawn Annarelli
When the Penguins open their season in Vancouver Thursday night, Sidney Crosby will not lace his skates with his brethren.
The face of the NHL is still recovering from the effects of two headshots in the span of fives days to start 2011.
First, Crosby received a blind side elbow to the left temple from Washington’s David Steckel during the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Four days later Crosby’s head was slammed from behind by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman.
The two hits have kept Crosby out of playing hockey for nearly 10 months.
Not long after Crosby’s concussion was deemed serious, the NHL began to crack down on head shots.
Pittsburgh’s own Matt Cooke received a 17-game suspension at the very end of the season for repetitively headhunting, but players, coaches and fans from around the league complained of inconsistencies in the way the NHL handed down punishments for head shots.
This season the NHL’s new head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan is putting his gavel to use.
Shanahan has suspended nine players during the preseason for 31 games and is placing videos on YouTube to offer fans and the league an explanation for each suspension he dishes out.
Still, this new and more comprehensive system will not heal the wounds of Crosby and the grief of the Penguins.
It will also not absolve hockey from its contradictory stance on fighting, where the sport still allows grown men to land heavy rights, left jabs and grand uppercuts among two willing participants.
If the NHL wants to clear its conscience altogether, the league should ban all hits to the head in every situation, because that is what will eventually happen anyway.
There is no reason to delay the inevitable.
Steelers feeling the pain
The Steelers are a pack of lemmings on the edge of a cliff with Ben Roethliserger leading the way.
And if Roethlisberger goes down the team will follow.
Roethlisberger and Aaron Smith borded an airplane back to Pittsburgh from Houston with boots protecting their ankles.
James Harrison can only partially see out of his right eye due to a broken orbital bone and will be out for weeks.
The offensive line has had six behemoths go down at separate points in the season, and only Maurkice Pouncey and Chris Kemoeatu have remained unharmed.
Rashard Mendenhall and Bryant McFadden each are suffering from pulled hamstrings.
The Steelers are broken and battered and on the verge of collapse.
Get the picture?
Let’s hope the next shot isn’t Roethlisberger being pushed over the edge.
Are you ready for some football?
ESPN’s Monday Night Football directors have decided they’re all set without Hank Williams’ iconic MNF intro.
Williams was dropped from ESPN airwaves after arguably comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler.
In reality, the country singer only used the two in a comparison to say that two political enemies are unlikely to play golf together, as President Obama did with political rival and House Speaker John Boehner. Williams said that was about as likely as Hitler playing golf with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Isreal.
Apparently, mentioning the President and Hitler in the same breath is grounds for ending the beginning of the show regardless of context.
Playoffs offer no payoff for Rays
Tampa Bay’s baseball team might be the luckiest sports franchise on the field and the unluckiest off it.
The Rays, who overcame a nine game deficit in 20 days to make the playoffs, couldn’t garner fan support in the Tampa area if they offered free tickets on the street.
Tampa Bay may have been able to overcome improbable odds – they had a 0.3 percent chance to make the playoffs with 17 games left in the regular season – but they couldn’t sell out a playoff game once they reached the postseason.
Tampa Bay’s fan base only filled 78.5% of Tropicana Field’s 34,078 seats.
The lack of love shown for one of the best teams in baseball could lead to a change of scenery for the Rays.
After all, the Rays drew the second-lowest attendance among all baseball teams in 2011.
Tampa Bay has made their point clear.
They do not care about baseball.
Alvarez nearing strike three
Pedro Alvarez arrived at 2011’s spring training facilities in Bradenton, Florida 15 pounds overweight.
Not too soon after he pulled his hamstring and sat out nearly half the season.
Finally, Alvarez ended the Pirates season in anticlimactic and similar fashion.
The Pirates disappointing prodigy recorded his eightieth strike out in the last pitch of the team’s season.
He accomplished this feat in 235 at-bats, meaning he struck out once every 2.94 at-bats, more than any starter in the league.
His .561 on-base plus slugging percentage was eighth worst in the major league among players with at least 235 at-bats.
Having had the worst season of his professional career, Alvarez followed his amazingly poor performance with refusing the Pirates’ request to have him refine his talents in winter league ball.
If the Pirates are ever going to complete their current rebuilding project they’ll need their hefty cornerstone to pull his weight.
First, he’ll have to lose it.
Sweet Play of the Week
Joe Paterno held his weekly press conference on Wednesday and somehow managed to receive Sweet Play of the Week honors.
But, hey, any time an 84-year old says he’ll be “swaggering” the rest of the season he deserves some sort of meaningless award.
I’ve now given him such an award and look forward to Paterno showing off his swag against Iowa on Saturday.
Sour Play of the Week
NBA czar David Stern can’t seem to do anything right, and now his league’s players are bailing one by one on the upcoming season.
Toni Parker was the latest player to give a proverbial vote of no confidence when he signed with a professional Italian basketball for the low price of $2,000 a month.
The NBA season is due to start on Nov. 1, but dozens of players have sought employment in European basketball leagues for contracts that the manager of a McDonald’s makes.
Kobe Bryant could be the next player to jump ship and make a move to Italy while Stern, NBA owners and the NBA’s player association squabble over fans’ money.
Did You Know?
- Argentina’s version of Dancing With The Stars featured one of its contestants, Cinthia Fernandez, completely naked.
- ESPN came out with its annual BODY magazine issue, featuring 22 professional athletes completely naked.
- The Steelers defense has forced only one turnover in five games dating back to its Super Bowl loss to Green Bay.
- Tiger Woods’ former mistress Rachel Uchitel married former Penn State running back Matt Hahn at the Little White Wedding Chapel, the same chapel Britney Spears first exchanged vows in.
- The NFL will sell tickets for the first time to fans for the Super Bowl’s Media Day.
Like it, Love it, Hate it? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or topic ideas for next week’s Weekly Sports Replay. Have a good one, Shawn.