In the pure definition of a generational player, Sidney Crosby is one in that he is the best
forward player of this generation. But I have a stricter definition. I don’t think of a ‘generational’ player as in ‘once in a generation,’ I see it as ‘creates a new generation.’ That is, a player that alters the game moving forward. Crosby has not done that. Ultimately his impact on the NHL will be left to gather dust in the Hall of Fame, another in a long list of very, very good, but ultimately not transcendent players.
Sidney Crosby has only been good at the things that have made very good centers very good for decades. Yawn. In fact, Crosby has done worse. Rather than pushing the NHL in a new direction, he has reinforced old tropes that refuse to die, like the notion that star players need to achieve a level of physicality by hitting, fighting, or playing dirty. Something that is probably going to shorten Connor McDavid’s career if he doesn’t tell the good ol’ boys in Canada to shove it.
No, the player that has most altered the direction of the NHL heading forward is Raffi Torres. Raffi Torres isn’t a dirty player, at least not in that he’s out there slewfooting you every night. He’s not a big hitter in that he’s racking them up game in and game out – he’s logged fewer than one per game in his career. Torres is a master of using circumstance to injure players and claiming accident.
The NHL admits that some oft-accidental infractions, such as high sticking and tripping, should be penalized regardless of intent. Hitting a guy in the head though? Not so much. Until Raffi Torres came along and showed that all it took was a minor tweak in circumstances when a player behaves recklessly to cause a catastrophic injury. (The NHL should have learned this with Todd Bertuzzi, and probably years before that.) Suddenly the term “principal point of contact” entered our discussions. Suddenly we now have hybrid icing. (There are more high-profile inspirations for this change, but I think the willingness to bash the shit out of someone in a vulnerable position is a legacy that has been left by Torres more than any other player.)
When it comes to hitting, the NHL is afraid to punish accidents. It doesn’t take ill-intent to dramatically change someone’s life though. The NHL thinks it can only punish players that are out there to kill someone. But that leaves staying silent on the players that lack that intent, but aren’t entirely displeased with the result. This is dangerous, both for the players, and for the league. Raffi Torres, more than anyone (and only slightly) has started to bend that arc.