Time for Crosby to become Sid the Adult
The nickname no longer seems appropriate: Sid is not a Kid anymore.
He may look like a kid with those large eyes and that wide, familiar smile. He may be only 26 years old, young to some of us, but not necessarily by sporting standards.
But here’s the startling number when it comes to Sidney Crosby, who sometimes, just not often enough, has been the best player in all of hockey: This is Year 9 of his National Hockey League career. And somehow that seems in need of recount.
For all kinds of reasons, this still seems like the formative stages of his career. He still feels like a resource untapped. Like the best has yet to come for Crosby.
And maybe it will. Maybe this year as the NHL returns to a full 82-game season. Maybe this is the year of Sid The Adult.
He has had his moments, his times in the past. A Stanley Cup win and a Stanley Cup loss in Pittsburgh. The Golden Goal in Vancouver in 2010. Just not enough of them to have all the hype meet all the expectation. Just not enough of them for those of us who want our superstars to be Gretzky and Lemieux all rolled up in a ball of Bobby Orr.
But what Craig Patrick used to say about the Lemieux years can now be said about the Penguins years with Crosby. Patrick, who built two Cup teams around Lemieux as the general manager in Pittsburgh, liked to talk about his window of opportunity.
“I have this window,” Patrick would often say. “Now it’s up to me to take advantage of it.”
It was always complicated with Lemieux, not because of his talent, but because of his health. Patrick’s Penguins won two Cups and probably should have won more. And it has been complicated the past three seasons in Pittsburgh with the Crosby guessing games: Will he play? Will he play again? Can he play? And at what level will he play?
Crosby was actually on a fast track, ahead of Gretzky, ahead of Lemieux, not in scoring from a different era way, but in career advancements. In Season 3 of Crosby’s career, the Penguins lost the Cup to the Detroit Red Wings in a series that could have gone either way. In Season 4, Crosby was holding his first and only Cup above his head.
It took Gretzky six pro seasons to win his first Stanley Cup. It took Lemieux seven years. Orr won his first Cup in Year 4, his second one in Year 6.
Not that we’re comparing Crosby, this generational player, with those generational players. This isn’t first among equals: This is best of an era against best of another era. And comparing the speed with which championships have been attained.
Crosby was on a fast track until he accidentally collided with David Steckel outdoors in Pittsburgh, even though he only won one scoring title, one Hart Trophy. Since then, it has been difficult to compartmentalize precisely who and what he is.
When Crosby has played over these past three seasons, he’s has performed at the highest scoring level of his career. In his past 99 games, he has scored 159 points: That is, over 82 games 131 point scoring pace.
Over the same period of time, he missed 113 games.
So he has sat out more games than he has played – primarily with his much-discussed concussion situation – and he hasn’t really played a full NHL season since 2009-10, which makes this season rather intriguing for Crosby, for the Penguins, for hockey fans and for those who want to see greatness.
Pittsburgh has hardly been in the express lane lately, despite being favoured just about every year as a playoff contender. The Pens lost their third-round playoff series last season to Boston, being swept in a horribly one-sided series by the Bruins. The year before, Pittsburgh lost in the first round. The year before that, the team also lost in the first round.
These have been the opportunities lost in Pittsburgh, opportunities that are tough to get back. But as another season begins, with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at centre with the Penguins, with Kris Letang on defence, with the hope that Marc-Andre Fleury can’t possibly be as terrible as he was this spring again, the Penguins are again the choice in the East. The early-season choice to do battle with the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings or whichever team comes out of the crowded West.
Jonathan Toews, younger than Crosby, with one more Stanley Cup, is not the serious face of the game, although he is certainly serious in a whole lot of ways. But this season can be a return of old for Crosby. It has that feel and hockey needs him to be the best player in the game.
Even if he’s not a kid anymore.