Many fans pan what they consider to be the spoiled, temperamental attitude of Penguins star Sidney Crosby, but it is little different from those of most superstars of yore.

Crosby no choirboy.

NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury’s comments earlier this week to a Philadelphia radio station regarding Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby landed the colorful former GM in some hot water, resulting in an apology from Milbury to the Penguins organization, if not directly to Crosby himself.

Milbury was talking about Crosby’s role sparking a late-game melee between the Flyers and Penguins last Sunday:

Little goody two shoes (Crosby) goes into the corner and gives a shot to [Braydon] Schenn. Schenn was late to the party, he should have turned around and drilled him right away, but I guess better late than never,” said Milbury, who is an analyst on CBC and NBC.

“So you know, Crosby gets cross-checked, big whoop. He said after he came back from his 35th concussion, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m not going to get into this scrums, I’m going to stay away from that stuff.’ He couldn’t help himself because there’s a little punk in Crosby.

“He’s not the perfect gentleman. He’s not the sweet kid you see in interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. I’d say screw him, hit him.” 

That prompted considerable outrage from Penguins pundits, bloggers and fans, as well as Crosby supporters around the league.

Yahoo! Sports’ “Puck Daddy” Greg Wyshynski, meanwhile, wondered what game Milbury has been watching the past seven years, since it’s been apparent to anyone with eyes Crosby is far from being a “little goody two shoes”.

Crosby’s always had these shades of gray. He’s never been the Golden Boy. It’s one of the reasons he’s the NHL’s most popular and divisive player: Awe-inspiring talent mixed with an attitude and behavior that’ll agitate you with the fury of 1,000 Esa Tikkanens.”

He’s the kind of player Milbury will love when he realizes he’s raging against a reputation Crosby’s hasn’t had since he was a rookie.”

Crosby established that long ago, during his NHL debut season, when he became the first NHL rookie to reach 100 points and 100 PIMs.

Milbury, while wrong to make light of Crosby’s concussion history, is nevertheless correct – belatedly so – when he said Crosby isn’t a squeaky clean player. As Wyshynski noted, it’s just weird Milbury’s only arriving at that conclusion now. Talk about “late to the party”.

The darker side of Crosby’s on-ice personality has drawn criticism from some pundits, bloggers and fans over the years, from his complaining to officials, to his jumping an unprepared Brett McLean during a face-off, to his nut-shotting Boris Valabik.

Many of the worst infractions occurred earlier in Crosby’s career, and it can be argued he’s put his worst tactics behind him as he’s matured. Regardless, there’s no denying he still plays with a gritty edge which infuriates his critics.

Crosby is no “goody two shoes”. But then again, most superstars of his ilk throughout hockey history never were, with some committing infractions more grievous than anything “Sid the Kid” has done on his worst day.

Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard was as renowned back in the day for his fiery temper as much as for his goal-scoring ability.

Richard finally snapped in March 1955 when, during a brawl against the Boston Bruins, he struck Bruins forward Hal Laycoe three times with three different sticks (!), then twice punched the linesman who was trying to restrain him.

For that, Richard was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, sparking the infamous “Richard Riot” in downtown Montreal.

“Mr. Hockey”, Gordie Howe, receives a considerable amount of fawning press nowadays over the effectiveness of his tactic of sneakily elbowing opponents in the face and head in an effort to both intimidate them, and prevent them from trying to knock him off the puck.

ESPN  did a memorably funny promo  over a decade ago,with Howe showing then-ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann what he’d do to get respect from opponents. It was done for laughs, but make no mistake, Howe did those things for real during his long, stellar career, and those on the receiving end weren’t laughing.

Howe also wasn’t shy about laying on the lumber, or shoving an official if he didn’t agree with a call.

If a modern player employed such tactics nowadays, he’d be pilloried for deliberately trying to injure opponents and being disrespectful toward officials.

Boston’s beloved “Number 4”, Bobby Orr, was never a dirty player, nor did he go out of his way to hurt opponents, but when angered would go almost berserk attacking and beating any player who dared cross him. Orr also wasn’t above giving officials a piece of his mind when calls didn’t go his way.

“The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky, was frequently criticized by opposing fans during his glory years in Edmonton for whining to officials over questionable calls.

Mario “Le Magnifique” Lemieux was often taunted and called out by fans for not only complaining to officials, but for trying to draw penalties by diving, a tactic which in today’s NHL would result in penalties, fines or suspension.

Flyers fans in particular absolutely despise Crosby, which is part of what makes the rivalry between the two teams so enjoyable. They have every right to taunt Crosby, but they also shouldn’t forget the greatest Flyer of all time, former team captain Bobby Clarke, was considered in his day one of the dirtiest players in the game.

Some of the very tactics Flyers fans deride Crosby for became part of Clarke’s legend, something most chuckle about or gloss over when remembering what a truly great player he was.

Crosby’s antics are no different than his predecessors. If anything, they’re mild compared to those of some of hockey’s past greats. He’s not a “golden boy” beyond reproach, but neither is he “a punk”.

Sure, his occasional antics can be said to detract from his superior talent, but perhaps if so many of his lesser-talented opponents weren’t trying to take liberties, perhaps he wouldn’t feel the need to get in his own digs.

As Crosby matures, it’s likely that chip on his shoulder will wear down, just as it did for many stars before him.

Crosby’s one of those great players whose drive to succeed also harbors a bit of a mean streak, which occasionally bubbles to the surface, but he’s not a headhunter, nor does he go out of his way to deliberately injure an opponent.

Crosby’s no “Mr Nice Guy”, but he’s never pretended, or tried to be, that kind of player. He’s a supremely gifted superstar with a bit of a edge. Over time, especially after he’s retired (which hopefully won’t be anytime soon) and his greatness finally and fully acknowledged by fan and foe alike, that edgy part of his game will be forgiven, ignored or forgotten. Just like his predecessors.