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June 13, 2017

Like it or (most likely) not, Crosby and Milbury are good for the game of hockey

Hockey fans in Philadelphia and local sports fans, in general, might want to start a movement to have Nashville noted as a sister city. It doesn’t matter that sister cities are supposed to be located in other countries because the fans of the Nashville Predators put on a show worthy of Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Finals.

In fact, the Nashville fans may have moved into a class of their own. They literally took to the streets to watch the games, but it was their passion inside the building that made them special.

Philadelphia sports fans should have felt a solidarity with the Nashville fans who wore their emotions on their vocal chords as they hounded Sidney Crosby and Mike Milbury throughout the series. These names are familiar targets to local hockey fans.

Believe this:

If somehow the Pittsburgh Penguins had ended up in another playoff series with the Flyers, the stories across the sports landscape would have been focused on the Philadelphia fans howling at Crosby and Milbury. The level of vitriol for Crosby was born here in Philadelphia, and there were even displaced Flyers fans holding up signs to remind people that Crosby was pure evil.

The hatred in Nashville literally came to a head in the middle of the finals when Crosby was caught repeatedly bouncing the head of the Preds’ P.K. Subban against the ice. The result of this transgression was a confusing call in which both players were sent off the ice for, of all things, holding.

Holding? Maybe Subban was holding Crosby -- but how dribbling a player’s head against the ice, as Crosby was clearly doing, constitutes “holding” is beyond explanation.

Well, it was beyond explanation until someone asked Milbury, who used his pulpit as a network analyst at NBC to suggest that Subban had it coming to him. According to Milbury, Subban had been hounding Crosby through the entire series and thus was getting his due.

Mind you, Subban had caused a bit of a stir earlier in the series when he was asked what Crosby had said to him while they were jawing at each other and he jokingly said that Crosby accused him of having bad breath.

Subban clearly has an outgoing personality, one that doesn’t sit comfortably with some of the NHL’s old school traditionalists.

Like Milbury.

There have been a few hockey players with that sort of high-visibility personality like former Flyer Jeremy Roenick. It is rare ... and for the most part, Subban is a huge plus for the NHL and certainly for Nashville where they know something about the value of show biz.

Milbury has been pretty clear about his disdain for Subban’s style, and his comments did not play well in Nashville (warning: NSFW). It was much the same reaction Milbury got from the fans in Philadelphia when he announced his hatred of the Flyers and their fans – a claim made because of the Philadelphia teams that used to regularly beat his teams during his playing career.

But love them or hate them, both Crosby and – yes, even Milbury – are good for the NHL.

There has always been a hockey trinity of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe. ... Fourth place on the list always goes to Mario Lemieux ... And then there is Crosby – who will only be 30 when he enters his 13th season next fall.

The Crosby argument is easy. He remains the best player on the planet, at least until Edmonton’s Connor MacDavid and the Oilers get that wagon rolling. Crosby was a turbo engine during the regular season and the playoffs, capping things off once again with his name on both the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.


Milbury gives you his unfiltered opinion, a trait he has displayed since his playing days when he rightfully called out the head of the NHL Players Association for selling out his players. It’s the same sort of direct approach that Milbury used as a player, coach, general manager and TV analyst.

Milbury makes mistakes. And he takes huge missteps. But he has a genuine opinion on the way the game should be played and he isn’t afraid to take the unpopular stance – no matter where the next game is going to be played and if he has to be in the stands.

There will be no parade for Milbury after the season, and if there were, most of the fans would be throwing tomatoes, but he would accept his role as villain and run the same route next season.

As for Crosby, you might not appreciate him, but the city of Pittsburgh will hold another parade on Wednesday when the Penguins will celebrate their second consecutive championship. The back-to-back titles put the Penguins in a pretty exclusive club – they’re the first to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in the era of the salary cap.

More than that – and this will be difficult to hear – it also puts Sidney Crosby into some pretty rarified territory as one of the brightest stars in the history of the league. Quite literally, this puts Crosby in the list of the greatest players you can name on one hand.

There has always been a hockey trinity of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe. That’s undisputed. Fourth place on the list always goes to Mario Lemieux, who engineered the other Penguins championship era.

And then there is Crosby – who will only be 30 when he enters his 13th season next fall.

It was pretty cool to see a fan base in Nashville become as upset with Crosby as fans of the Flyers. He became their biggest villain during the Stanley Cup Finals, but by the end, they must have come to the same conclusion as everybody else. 

By the end, they had to realize Crosby was just too much to handle.

Crosby is just too good, and it’s even more annoying when you hear Mike Milbury remind you of that fact.