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Michael Farber
October 08, 2007
From phenoms to grand experiments: Answers to the essential questions
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October 08, 2007

Here's The Latest

From phenoms to grand experiments: Answers to the essential questions

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What's the latest on Sidney?

This was a big off-season for Sidney Crosby, old-fashioned in his modesty but a certifiably new fashionista. The Penguins' 20-year-old center joined with Reebok to produce a signature line of casual wear, Rbk SC87, while his work clothes got a makeover from the league (each club has new, sleeker uniforms with design tweaks) and a C was added--the perfect accessory for the aspiring hockey icon. In late May, Pittsburgh made Crosby (right) the youngest NHL captain ever, after he had led the league in scoring with 120 points (despite playing the last four weeks on a broken foot) and taken the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

In July, Crosby signed a five-year, $43.5�million extension to stay with the Penguins through 2012-13; his annual rate is roughly $1.3 million less than he could have gotten under cap rules, freeing money for the club to sign other players.

Crosby was on the Gretzky Track his first two seasons, putting up numbers not quite as startling as Wayne Gretzky's but ones that traced a similar arc. The bar is out of sight for season 3: Gretzky went from 55�goals and 164 points in his second year to NHL records of 92�goals and 212�points in his third. Crosby can't match that, but he can still lead Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup in a shorter span than the five seasons Gretzky needed to win the first of his four Cups in Edmonton.

Who's the next wunderkind?

After being spoiled by the virtuosity of Crosby, Capitals left wing Alexander Ovechkin and Penguins center Evgeni Malkin the past two seasons, fans must settle for a 2007-08 rookie crop that's coated with grit instead of stardust. The top forward may be Chicago center Jonathan Toews, but a defenseman named Johnson should break the offensive players' hold on the rookie of the year award. The question: Which Johnson?

The NHL is rarely a haven for 19-year-old defensemen, but the Blues' Erik Johnson (near left), a 6' 4", 222-pound puck mover, is precocious. The top draft pick of 2006 had four goals and 10�points while being named best defenseman at the '07 world junior championships. "He makes a good first pass," says St. Louis vice president Al MacInnis, a Hall of Fame defenseman, "and his transition game is strong." Then there's strong-willed Jack Johnson (far left), no relation, of the Kings. The 20-year-old is the type who will leave a mark--often one that's black and blue--and could be a hitter in the mode of the Flames' Dion Phaneuf once veteran teammate Rob Blake helps smooth the rough spots.

What's up with London?

The league opened its season with across-the-pond hockey last weekend. While shipping the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings eight time zones away to London (that's England, not London, Ont.) makes little sense on the surface, there was, as always, an economic imperative. Phil Anschutz's entertainment group owns the new arena, O2, in London. He also owns the Kings. That the Ducks are the Stanley Cup champs, winning the title after the London games were set, was an added fillip. The teams split the two games, both of which were sellouts.

Prague or Stockholm might host season openers in coming years, and with the growing strength of the Russian Super League and the 2008-09 start of a soccer-style European champions league for top club teams, the NHL, which has begun to ruminate about expansion to Europe, needs to plant a flag. Said deputy commissioner Bill Daly, "We want to build a league platform that will help us connect with our European fans."

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