Sidney Crosby is the greatest hockey player in the world.
Let’s get that up and out there, loud and clear. Let’s make sure there are no questions, set-backs or qualms from the peanut gallery because it is true.
As Sportsnet’s resident Youtube expert, Steve ‘Dangle’ Glynn once said “Sidney Crosby is the first, second, and third best player on your team.” And he’s so right that it has actually caused pain to some of our friends out in the Eastern part of Pennsylvania.
When Sidney Crosby is on his game he will do everything from scoring goals, to stopping them, to answering every question the media can throw at him. He is unparalleled in this decade and there is absolutely no way to ignore it now. Not after he just skated in his third Stanley Cup Final, won it for the second time and captured perhaps the only trophy he had yet to make his own – the Conn Smythe. And on Sunday night when Sidney Crosby won the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he completed a circuit of wins that only one former player has ever done before – the legendary Joe Sakic.
So today, as a companion to Kevin’s story that ran before Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, let’s talk about 87 and how this determined man from Nova Scotia has become one of the All-Time Greats.
January of 2013 is when this story started writing itself. Long before Matt Murray, or Olli Maatta even made their professional debuts. When Sidney Crosby was able to take off the suit and tie that he had been wearing begrudgingly during labor negotiations and put his skates back on. Finally, finally, finally healthy the greatness began to ooze from him like it has always seemed to. His line with the undrafted Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz was unstoppable. Not even a broken jaw kept him down for long and when he returned to the ice during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs he was already in flight.
Unfortunately his team would fall in the Eastern Conference Final to the Boston Bruins when it became clear that they needed more than just the two-headed monster to win. This need for more past Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, became urgent. It wasn’t, however, until 2015 that this help truly began to arrive.
Phil Kessel, then Nick Bonino, then Carl Hagelin all joined the Pittsburgh Penguins via separate trades. Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr signed as free agents. And then, during the season, Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz were added to bolster the blueline. And this was the actual key to the Penguins great run.
Sidney Crosby and his work beyond the frozen sheet of ice to make guys like these, as well as call-ups Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Oskar Sundqvist, Daniel Sprong and Matt Murray among others feel at ease. This is the real Sidney Crosby. The one whose hand you can see clutching Pascal Dupuis’s shoulder in the team’s Championship photo. The man who lives for not just the game on the ice, but his teammates off of it.
But this shouldn’t minimize what he’s done on the ice. In the Stanley Cup clinching game, Crosby had two assists including setting up Letang’s game winner. He consistently drove play in both ends of the ice, won 13 of his 17 draws and had four shots that made it on net. In the penultimate round of these playoffs he scored three of the four game winners to help lead the Penguins past the Tampa Bay Lightning. He saved his best hockey for the last part of the season and down the stretch, so that even when he wasn’t scoring he was still controlling the play so completely with his linemates that there was literally no chance of the opposition scoring.
Sidney Crosby may not have had as many points as Phil Kessel, who led the Penguins in goals and points, but he led them in a way only Crosby could. He’s been to the promised land before. With so many guys who have never been there behind him, he led by example. He illustrated flawlessly how to rise above whatever the game and your opposition throws at you, even if what the opposition is throwing is Joe Thornton crosschecks to the head.
When it was most important he stood up, not just with his numbers, but with his demeanor and the way he played the game off the ice with the media and refusing to throw insults. He even took time, after Game 1, to speak to members of an Asian media outlet one-on-one that came to cover the game.
And yes, just a few days after the hockey world lost the only man to be called Mr. Hockey, Sidney Crosby emulated Gordie Howe at the SAP Center. With the number 9 patch on the back of his helmet, Crosby worked to emulate those things that Howe did and held in highest regard. He did his best to bring those skills to Game 6, as if the legend’s passing reminded him of just how great he wanted to be, to ensure his team went home victorious.