How Long Can Crosby Remain at the Pinnacle?

by | Jun 15, 2017 | Soapbox | 14 comments

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is at the pinnacle of his NHL career.

Pundits and fans are lauding Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby for leading his club to consecutive championships while earning himself back-to-back playoff MVP honors.

He’s at the pinnacle of his NHL career, but it remains to be seen just how long he’ll be there.

After 12 NHL seasons, Crosby now stands alone as this generation’s greatest player. His performance over the past two seasons should dispel any lingering doubts.

In addition to the Cup championships and postseason MVP honors, the Penguins captain won the Richard Trophy as top goal scorer in 2016-17, became a Finalist for the Hart Trophy in 2016 and 2017, was named a first-team All-Star in 2016 and likely will be again in 2017.

On the international stage, Crosby captained Canada to a gold medal at the 2015 World Championships and to victory in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, earning MVP honors and leading the tournament in scoring.

His great rival, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, is this generation’s top goal scorer and certainly ranks among the greatest of all time. While Ovechkin’s earned numberous individual NHL honors, he’s yet to lead the Capitals to a championship. He’s also not a complete a player like Crosby.

Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews was considered a better leader by captaining his club to three championships in six seasons. While Crosby’s Penguins won three titles since 2009, they became the first time in nearly 20 years to win consecutive titles and he became the first player since former Penguins great Mario Lemieux (1991, 1992) to win back-to-back Conn Smythe trophies. 

Within the next few years, rising young stars such as Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews could one day inherit the mantle of “NHL’s Best Player” from Crosby. Given their youth, they will likely be considered part of the next generation of stars. Once they each their prime, the first player they will be compared to will be Crosby. 

Crosby’s critics, of course, will continue to reject his status as this generation’s greatest star. Their argument, however, has considerably weakened.

Most tend to cite Crosby’s propensity for cheap shots and complaining to officials. Valid complaints to a point, but nothing that cheapens his legacy.

Many great players of the past had their flaws. Maurice Richard was hot-tempered and combative. Gordie Howe’s sneaky elbows are part of hockey lore. Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky yapped at officials. Mario Lemieux had a reputation for diving.

Such behavior was a byproduct of their desire to win and be the best. It doesn’t excuse their antics but it is part of their makeup. When Crosby retires and is enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, his faults will also be glossed over or chuckled about in remembrance.

The question now is how long can Crosby remain at the top. He turns 30 in August and enters his thirteenth NHL campaign this fall. He’s reached a point in his career when his best seasons are likely behind him.

Given Crosby’s conditioning, will to win, devotion to the game and the depth of talent surrounding him in Pittsburgh, he should remain among the league’s best players for several more seasons, provided he can stay healthy.

Between 2010-11 and 2012-13, concussion, neck and jaw injuries robbed Crosby of parts of three of his prime seasons. Concussion symptoms sidelined him from the opening two weeks of this season and knocked him out of the lineup for nearly two games during the Penguins second-round series against Washington. Both instances raised concerns over his long-term well-being.

Every time Crosby takes another hit to the head, every time he leaves a game doubled over in pain, every time he’s sidelined with an “upper-body injury”, the hockey world will hold its breath and wonder if this is the beginning of the end of his career.

Crosby could change his style of play to avoid injury, but that doesn’t seem likely. His game defines his greatness and success. He could remain healthy for several more seasons, but the threat of serious injury will always hang over him.

Several more years of greatness could lie ahead for Crosby. Maybe he can lead the Penguins to a third straight championship, securing their place as a true dynasty. On the other hand, age and the heavy workload of his long career could catch up with him.

All careers have their peak before the inevitable decline. Crosby doesn’t have many more prime playing years left. Time will tell how long he stays at the pinnacle. 

 








14 Comments

  1. Great write up. Props on the gloss over part. Look who has the nhl leadership award named after him? A cheap shot artist and pia to front offices throughout his career mr mark messier. Crosby might have a season or two left as the number 1 but the youth out there is so good they are hot on his heels

  2. With his work ethic which is second to none he can be for at least three years he is 29… This guy has a motor and a work effort like no one else. He is here in Los Angeles early in the summers working out with Nate Mckinnon and trainers. As far as cheap shots go do you know the crap that he has to endure from guys like Subban and Dubchinsky..and for the most part he turns the other cheek as he did in this playoff run… Subban had a UFC double leg lock holdong him down crosby gave him a little face rub in the ice….didnt hurt anyone (Like Milbury said and i don’t agree with him very often) boys will be boys…how about the nasty cheap shot Matt Niskanen gave Crosby knocking him out for three games. you inexperienced fans only see the retaliation..Crosby is a great player and good for the league..also Crosby doesn’t have goons protecting him like Gretzky did back in the day

    • Agreed Messier was a hell of a player but a huge cheap shot artist…

      Compared to Messier Crosby is a Angel….

  3. When I was a kid, I was a huge Lakers fan. It seemed like every year the Lakers and Celtics were battling. Then Jordan and the Bulls came along. Man did I hate Jordan. He just kept beating everybody.

    But now, 20+ years later, I’d love to see Jordan playing in his prime one more time. The same goes for Joe Montana, Mario Lemieux, Emmit Smith, Larry Bird, Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan etc. Sometimes when you’re watching greatness, you just have to sit back and appreciate what you’re seeing (even the guy pisses you off at the time). That is Crosby in a nutshell.

    • Do you remember the Flyers of the 70’s growing up watching the Penguins get destroyed going to the spectrum…i can see hating a team like that..well rooting against them but Crosby? he says the right things, he never gets in trouble off the ice, he is the face of the league does so many great things for the Pittsburgh community…don’t know why there are a lot of haters.

      • Earlier this season I saw him cut in front of the net, flip the puck (about 6-8 inches off the ground) at full speed to avoid the poke check and then bat it out of the air to score.
        That play to me is beyond ridiculous, yet I didn’t see it on every highlight reel show.

        That’s strength to fight off the check
        Vision to see the poke check
        Mental capacity to think of the play
        Skill to flip and hand-eye to score

        To do all of that in 2-3 seconds was one of the greatest hockey plays ever.

        Crosby isn’t the same player he was 5 years ago, he’s better. Skill is one part of it but like all greats he sees the game at a different level. Call it intuition, call it experience or call it gifted, the man does things that no one else can.

  4. Taz…agreed he is better…. that play you talked about sick for sure i played college hockey and 2 years semi pro and could never do that no matter how hard i tried even without pressure…

  5. Crosby is great, but I give it another 2 years before McDavid takes over the throne.

    • I’m saying three McDavid is the future and he is amazing and the throne will be his but I’m saying three years….mcdavid is fast and talented but he needs to start winning something the scoring title this year was a great start but remember Crosby missed 10 games.

      • Not to mention McDavid was very easily shut down in this years playoffs. Edmonton needs to address that. Draisaitl was by leaps and bounds the star in both series. Wonder what his new salary will look like.

      • Who’s to say Malkin wouldn’t have won the scoring title had he played the 20 games he missed. Crosby missed 7 games but McDavid having the best points per game solidifies that top spot for him. Hard to overlook Crosby’s 44 goals.

  6. If Sid can avoid concussions or other serious injuries, he should be able to stay at the top for another 3 years anyways. After that,likely McDavid or Matthews will be banging at the door

    • I should add that Matthews is not Sid or McDavid and we haven’t yet seen anything to indicate he will ever be that good; yet; but he will be in the top 5-10 players in the league in the near future anyways

      • Joey agreed matthews is a really good NHL player but he will not ever be near as good as Sidney Crosby or as good as Connor McDavid is going to be….