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Penguins' Crosby already ranks among game's greats

by Dan Rosen

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby still has more than half of his career in front of him, and there's a growing consensus he's already a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I'd have put him in the Hall of Fame last night," NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes said.

Mike Rupp, Crosby's former teammate, also said he'd vote Crosby into the Hockey Hall of Fame if Crosby never played another game. Former NHL goalie and longtime television analyst Darren Pang said the same thing. So did NBC analyst Eddie Olczyk, who was Crosby's first NHL coach.

"No doubt," Pang said. "There isn't even any hesitation on my behalf."

"I would for sure, because of the personal history," said Olczyk, who will call the NBC Game of the Week on Sunday between the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks at United Center (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, City).

Olczyk said the only blemish he can find on Crosby's resume is the disappointing finishes the Penguins have had since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. Crosby has been the face of some of that disappointment in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, particularly last season when he had one goal and nine points in 13 games while playing with a bad wrist.

"You can blame the coaches all you want, but it always falls on the shoulders of the best players," Olczyk said. "With the teams they've had, obviously it's disappointing to say the least that they haven't been able to get back to the Stanley Cup Final.

"But I just think knowing what he did for the franchise, what he's done for the League, what he's done in the Olympics, very few players can have the impact both on and off the ice that he's had."

At this point you might be asking yourself, "Why is it relevant to talk about Crosby and the Hall of Fame?" You might even be saying, "Yeah, we already knew Crosby was great; what's your point?"

Consider the milestone Crosby reached last week. It's the hard-data proof why he already is being called an all-time great by people who have decades of experience.

Crosby finished his 600th NHL game Wednesday with 825 points, ninth all-time for players through their first 600 games. The eight players ahead of Crosby are in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Wayne Gretzky (1,451 points), Mario Lemieux (1,215), Mike Bossy (921), Peter Stastny (901), Bobby Orr (864), Jari Kurri (848), Bryan Trottier (830), and Denis Savard (827).

Crosby scored two goals Thursday in a 5-4 shootout win against the Ottawa Senators. He has 827 points, which is tied for 135th all-time, 15th among active players. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider where Crosby ranks in games played.

Entering playing Friday, he was tied for 160th among active players in games played and is tied for No. 1,097 on the all-time games played list. All of that makes Crosby fifth in points per game at 1.376. The four players ahead of him are Gretzky (1.921), Lemieux (1.883), Bossy (1.497) and Orr (1.393).

Crosby's teammate, Evgeni Malkin, is next closest on the active list at 1.206. Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is at 1.180. New Jersey Devils right wing Jaromir Jagr, a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame and the fifth leading scorer in League history, is at 1.171.

"Think of those games played, and that points-per-game is a huge stat," Rupp said. "That's impressive to me, even more than the point total whenever Sid will be done. That's what he on average contributes to his team each game."

Rupp said it's even more impressive when you consider that Crosby never has played regularly with a forward considered one of the elite scorers in the NHL.

Crosby's most common linemates in recent seasons have been Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. He's added David Perron this season.

Kunitz averaged 0.609 points per game in 315 games before coming to the Penguins; he has averaged 0.803 in 391 games with Pittsburgh. Dupuis averaged 0.386 points per game in 419 games before coming to the Penguins; he has averaged 0.559 in 434 games with Pittsburgh.

Perron is averaging 0.764 points per game in 17 games with the Penguins, all on Crosby's right wing. He averaged 0.600 points per game in his first 456 games with the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers.

"You have a guy that is almost like a Tom Brady in hockey, surrounded by good players but not players of his caliber and he's making them that much better," Rupp said. "Tom Brady wins Super Bowls without star receivers and without a great running game. Sid is that good that he can make all of these players better and still get the points he's getting."

Olczyk estimated Crosby would have as many as 20 more points per season if he had a premier goal-scorer on his wing.

"He's going to set that guy up and that guy is going to score when other guys can't," Olczyk said. "You could probably add in another 120 or so [career] points if he had a guy who could really be a threat offensively when it comes to goal-scoring."

The questions now with Crosby are what more he can do, how much longer he can do it, and where will he rank when he's done?

Sidney Crosby
Center - PIT
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 39 | PTS: 58
SOG: 157 | +/-: 9
"Everybody is careful about all-time rank because he's not even close to being at the end of his career yet," Pang said. "But the fact of the matter is Sidney Crosby can define a game with one move just like all the great players that have played the game could do. When you look at the game, the way it's played now, the way the preparation is now with the video, the systems, the size of the equipment, the ability of the goaltenders, the numbers and the way he plays the game, shows that in the end he will rank in that top echelon of all-time greats."

For Crosby to get into the top five he'll need close to 1,000 more points. Jagr is fifth right with 1,784 and he's still playing. Jagr likely will pass Ron Francis, who is fourth with 1,798.

Ovechkin is the only player ahead of Crosby on the active scoring-leaders list who is younger than 30. Ovechkin, 29, has 866 points in 734 games.

"I don't know if he's going to be able to play that long [to crack the top five]," Weekes said. "I know he does everything in his power to play that long, the way he lives, the way he prepares, his attention to details, his work ethic. All of that stuff he controls the best that he can so he's giving himself the best chance he can to play a long time. But that's a lot of hockey, a lot of hard hockey, plus Team Canada commitments. I don't know. We'll see. I'm hoping he can."

Olczyk said he thinks Crosby, 27, can play another 1,000 games if he stays healthy. That would mean he'd have to finish this season and play another 12, putting him just shy of his 40th birthday when he hits 1,600 games.

Crosby has missed 158 games with injuries, but most of that is a result of concussions, not muscle or joint injuries that eventually wear down a body. If anything, missing that much time early in his career might make Crosby fresher later, sort of the way it has worked for Jagr after his three seasons in Russia.

"Is he on the 10 tee box or is he just walking up the eighth or ninth fairway?" Olczyk said. "With the conditioning and the way he skates you'd think he'd be able to play another 12 years just because he can skate so well and he's never going to lose his distribution abilities. It's certainly food for thought."

But that's not the point. Crosby already has defined his greatness with his production and his accolades.

He has won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, and a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship. He has won the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy twice each, and likely would have had them each two more times if not for injuries. He is four points off the NHL scoring lead this season.

"The numbers at the end, we'll all sit back and determine where he's at," Pang said. "But there's no denying that he's going to be one of the great players in the history of our game."

He already is. That's the point. The numbers don't lie.

"It's important that people recognize greatness," Weekes said. "Don't wait until after. In Sid's case, if you're not a Pens fan, so many people rag on him. I don't know what else you want him to do. He's a Hall of Famer in my book."


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