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From The Silly To The Lazy And Back Again

In a "special" to, Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox tells us that "we shouldn't nitpick Crosby, Ovechkin's play." Aside from the grammatical issue I take with the headline (it should be "Crosby's, Ovechkin's play", as they don't share a single on-ice performance), the article itself is rife with the kind of reporting that is all too prevalent in sports journalism these days - a writer coming up with a thesis and then trying to cram his evidence into the mold he's made, rather than letting the facts lead him to a conclusion.

For the sake of organization, we'll take Cox's claims in the order they appear in the article. Batter up!
Ovechkin and Crosby came into this season with such a hurricane of hype behind them, it would have taken a truly sensational individual performance to have nudged one or the other out of contention.
The fact of the matter is that one of these rookies (I'll let you decide which one) came into the season with a "hurricane of hype" while the other entered the campaign with maybe a steady rain of publicity. Perhaps even a thunderstorm of buildup. But certainly not a hurricane of hype. And there has been a "truly sensational individual performance" that should nudge one of the two forwards out of contention. Which brings us to:
The Russian scoring whiz seems to have the edge in Calder consideration, but the vote is expected to be close, making this year's rookie race one of the most memorable between two sensational scorers ... [as the two] arm wrestle for the coveted silverware.
Henrik Lundqvist is 30-10-9 (9th in the League in wins with fewer losses than all but one of the men ahead of him) with a goals against average of 2.15 (3rd) and a save percentage of .925 (3rd) - how is he not in the running for the Calder in Cox's world? Oh, and if Sid and Alex did arm wrestle for the Calder, my money's on the Russian.

Now Cox gets to the meat of his article - the bashing of the two players in the article in which he tells us (right in the title, no less) not to bash the two players.
Along with the attention and the praise, however, gradually has come a sense that as the NHL season grinds on, both young men are either finding themselves victims of over-exposure or revealing warts that previously might not have been detected.
I'd take issue with him lumping together a season's worth of "Crosby is a crybaby" (his word) articles with one isolated blemish on Alex's otherwise-spotless record, but that's the least of my quibbles, and I covered an integrally-related point here. On to the substance of Cox's analysis:

In Ovechkin's case, the most negative moment of his sparkling season came in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on March 20, when he was benched 14 minutes, including the last three minutes of the second period and first 11 of the third.

The reason? Coach Glen Hanlon was biting his tongue afterward, but close observers believed Hanlon finally had enough of Ovechkin's penchant for taking overly long shifts. In that game, the explosive rookie averaged 58 seconds for each of his 20 shifts, too long in a league in which 45 seconds is considered a long outing.

The next game against Florida, Ovechkin played 35 shifts, and cut his average sortie down to 47 seconds. But by the following match against Tampa Bay, he was back up to one minute and four seconds, perhaps a not-so-subtle message from burgeoning star to the coach of a team with a losing record. [Emphasis added]

The first two paragraphs are accurate enough, but the third is lazy journalism run amok. In the Florida game, Ovechkin had 27:44 of ice time on 35 shifts - 47 seconds per shift, as Cox noted. The following game against Tampa, sure enough, Alex's shifts were up to an average of 1:04. But what Cox doesn't tell you (because he probably has no idea) is that it was due in large part to six consecutive minutes of power-play time during which Hanlon called a timeout so he could keep his top unit and his superstar on the ice. Ovechkin's ice time for the game was actually down two minutes from the Florida game. And what about the games since then? On Saturday night in Carolina he had 25 shifts for 22:25 of ice time (54 seconds per shift) and last night he had 25 shifts for 18:52 of ice time (45 seconds per shift - still too long for Cox's liking). In fact, for the year Ovechkin has averaged 53.25 seconds per shift, 29th highest in the League. I really doubt anyone is sending any not-so-subtle messages, other than the one that Cox is sending that he doesn't care to do much research in order to substantiate his assertions.

And what about Cox's claim that the NHL is a "league in which 45 seconds is considered a long outing"? Of the top 100 scorers in the League, only eight average less than 45 seconds per shift (rounded to the nearest second), and only one of those eight (Brian Rolston) is in the top 75 in scoring. Interesting. I guess Cox meant that 45 seconds is considered a long outing for second, third and fourth line players.

Cox goes on to detail the reputation Crosby has earned, complete with quotes from opposing players, before telling us that all of these criticisms "amount to nothing more, really, than nitpicking" and that both players are remarkably mature for their respective ages, especially since both play for horrid teams (Cox notes that Lundqvist has had it easier playing for a winning team that, we can only infer, has little to do with the Swede's play).

The underlying point that Cox is trying to get across is that there is not much difference between Crosby and Ovechkin and the seasons they've had. This fits right in with the theory that the Canadian media is trying to hype a Calder race where there isn't one (that is, with respect to Crosby and Ovechkin), and it is somewhat artfully done in the guise of a piece purporting to praise both players. Of course, if all the criticisms was really unwarranted and/or just nitpicking, Cox wouldn't have written them into the article (it's somewhat reminiscent of when Fox News Channel pretends to be doing their role as informer by reporting on one of Matt Drudge's borderline-slanderous claims, knowing full well all they're really doing is fanning the flames).

Luckily for us, the article soon comes to a close, but not before Cox, who has saved perhaps his best for last, announces that "[b]oth players have been godsends for franchises with very murky futures in their current locations," thereby breaking news to Caps fans, players, and no doubt majority owner Ted Leonsis alike that their team may not be long for Washington. I'll give Cox this much - at least he ends his article where it started, in utter ridiculousness.

Update: Eric at Off Wing Opinion has some thoughts on this article as well.