December 3, 2013 / 2:53 pm

Column: NHL Stars Make Big Impact, But Don’t Lose Sight of Role Players

Every sport has those names that immediately catch your attention. Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, just to name a few. Then there are your superstar rivalries: Manning-Brady, Kobe-LeBron, Jeff Gordon-Dale Earnhardt Jr., and many more.

Much like any other sport, the NHL has names that immediately stand out. Every hockey fan has heard of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane by now. Still, hockey is a team game, and because there are six players on the ice for each team at once, every player is important, even those that are not superstars.

As great and legendary as Wayne Gretzky was, he did not win the Stanley Cup four times without the help of Mark Messier, Craig MacTavish and others in Edmonton. In fact, once he joined the Los Angeles Kings, he never won the Cup again.

The same can be said about today’s “superstars.” Contrary to popular belief, one player does not single-handedly turn around his team in hockey. Therefore, it is important when following a sport like the NHL to look at the team aspect of the game.

With a team such as the Chicago Blackhawks, players like Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp are often overlooked, simply because of the superstar status of Kane and Toews, but they are still very important to their team. Additionally, if the Blackhawks’ dramatic Cup clincher last June was any indication, clutch goals can be scored by even the least expected players. For example, how many people outside Chicago had ever heard of Dave Bolland until his Cup winner in Game 6?

I’ve always felt that when it comes to the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin rivalry, the idea that Crosby is better simply because he has won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal and Ovechkin has won neither is somewhat legitimate but highly overhyped.

I’m not taking anything away from Crosby. He is one of the best players in the sport today if not the best, and hockey in Pittsburgh would be irrelevant if not for him. Still, one cannot continually carry the team on his back, and Crosby has been able to team with Evegni Malkin and Brooks Orpik in Pittsburgh. His lackluster performance for Canada in the 2010 Olympics prior to his gold-medal winning goal is a perfect example of how teams, not players, win championships.

Even with his superstar status, Jonathan Toews is a great example of a defined “team player.” When asked by a fan last summer how it felt to have won the Stanley Cup more times than “the supposed Michael Jordan of hockey” (referring to Crosby), he publicly stated his refusal to accept such praise and credited his success to his teammates on the Blackhawks. Of course, after winning the Conn Smythe award in 2010, he struggled during parts of last year’s postseason, but thanks to stellar play by his teammates, that was soon forgotten and he was able to redeem himself in the Finals.

With that said, even with all the “Toews vs. Kane” debate Blackhawks fans often have, it does not matter which of the two players is better. It will during the Olympics this February, but that’s beside the point.

The same is true in any city. Sidney Crosby does not run the show in Pittsburgh, the Sedin brothers are not essentially co-mayors of Vancouver, and there is more to the Detroit Red Wings than Henrik Zetterberg. As Herb Brooks put it while coaching the 1980 U.S. “Miracle on Ice” team, “the name on the front of your jersey is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back!” I’m sure if Herb were still around, he would be “so sick and tired of hearing about” how great one specific player is, with all due respect.

-Adam Reinhart