When Sidney Crosby entered the NHL in 2005, expectations were incredibly heavy. Before he even stepped onto the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins, hockey fans were already comparing him to Wayne Gretzky, and initially the hype was warranted.
In his second season, Crosby led the league in scoring and won his first MVP award. Two years later, Crosby won his first Stanley Cup. It seemed like he and the Penguins were juggernauts poised to dominate the NHL — and those Gretzky comparisons were, well, plausible.
So why do we find ourselves here? Years later, it seems like Crosby’s never quite lived up to the same expectations. No question, he’s one of the best players in the league. But that’s the point. Has he been far and away the best over the last decade? No way.
And a more pressing question: How will we really remember Sidney Crosby?
Obviously, the Nova Scotia native is one of the best players of his generation. His only real rival is Alexander Ovechkin, whose postseason struggles are highly documented. Crosby’s won two MVP awards and two Stanley Cups, and the Penguins have consistently been a contender in the Eastern Conference during his career.
But, really, ask yourself: Has Crosby really lived up to the hype? He’s only led the league in points one time since 2006-07. And ever since posting a career-high 51 goals in 2009-10, we’ve seen a noticeable dip in his level of play. It appears we’ve seen the best of Sid the Kid.
We’ve always heard the jokes about being a flopper. We’ve heard the whiner insults. Those probably don’t help his legacy. But not all of this is Crosby’s fault. Starting in 2010, he’s sustained several concussions that have left him unable to play for significant stretches of time. He’s stayed healthy the last few years, but there’s still a constant fear that Crosby’s one hit away from missing a meaningful amount of games. He even sustained a concussion in Game 3 of his current playoff series against the Capitals, but he returned in Saturday night’s Game 5.
Another factor hurting Crosby’s legacy is that the Penguins are not the best NHL franchise during his career. The Los Angeles Kings have won two Stanley Cups as well, and the Chicago Blackhawks have captured three. Obviously hockey is a team sport, and it’s unrealistic to to expect a player to win a championship every year. Gretzky won zero Stanley Cups after being traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings and people don’t hold it against him.
The Penguins are poised to reach the Eastern Conference finals this week, and they have a shot at becoming the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since 1998. That would definitely improve Crosby’s legacy.
It’s hard to believe, but he is only 29-years-old right now. Doesn’t it feel like he’s 49? He could play several more seasons after this year and continue producing as one of the best players in the league. But considering his history of concussions, it’s also possible his career will be cut short before his achievements reach the level of the sport’s greatest stars.
He still has time to cement his full legacy, but don’t be surprised if in 20 years you have to explain to younger NHL fans why Sidney Crosby was one of the greats — but one that never truly lived up to the enormous hype.
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