To the surprise of nobody, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
was named one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy on Thursday afternoon. Of course, after the regular season the 22-year-old superstar turned in during the 2009-10 campaign, the only real surprise at this point would be if he didn’t win the award.
The Hart Trophy, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, is presented annually “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.” Finding another player in the National Hockey League more deserving than Crosby of taking home an award with that description is almost impossible to find.
Crosby’s coaches and teammates certainly agree with that last statement, as they made their case for the young leader following the team’s practice at Southpointe on Thursday.
“I think that there is a certain aspect of skill that has to be there and is there and is part of that award,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think that the intangibles that he brings to the rink every day and to our team as a leader are becoming more and more evident when you see his career. He gets better in certain areas, and he approaches different things in his career for our team.”
“He is a guy who works hard every day,” linemate Bill Guerin added. “He shows up and shows leadership on and off the ice every day at practice and during games. I think that he has had a very consistent season. He has had many goals. I think that is a big accomplishment for him. He is a dangerous guy when you play against him.”
Naturally, and this will come as no shock to anybody close to him, Crosby spoke in more modest terms when he was asked what it meant to be nominated for the Hart Trophy for the second time in the last four years. Crosby won the Hart Trophy following his 120-point season in 2006-07, when he became the second-youngest player in league history to win the award.
“It feels good,” Crosby said. “I don’t really reflect on the season too often. You just try to be as consistent as you can.”
If Crosby is to capture a second Hart Trophy to sit on his mantle next to the one he earned as a 19-year-old, he will have to beat out fellow finalists Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, the two-time reigning champion of this award, and Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin.
While Ovechkin and Sedin undoubtedly had MVP-worthy campaigns themselves, Crosby had an all-around season for the ages.
Picking up right where he left off in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs, Crosby scored goals at a rate not seen in these parts during the regular season since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr terrorized goaltenders throughout much of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Crosby’s banner campaign began with a goal on opening night against the New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist, and his assault on the back of the net didn’t stop until he tallied twice against Dwayne Roloson and the Islanders on the final afternoon of the regular season, leaving him with a career-best and league-leading 51 tallies, which tied him with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, to earn his first career Rocket Richard Trophy. His 51 goals were 12 more than his previous career high of 39 set in his rookie season (’05-06).
“I was able to score a bit more this year and that was something I wanted to improve on,” Crosby said. “I think I did.”
In addition to scoring enough times during regulation to win his first Rocket Richard Trophy, Crosby was also deadly during the shootout, which had long been among the few chinks in his armor.
Crosby scored on eight of his 10 shootout attempts in ’09-10, with his eight goals and 80-percent shooting percentage leading the league. More importantly, Crosby ranked second with four game-deciding tallies, always an important category with teams so bunched together in the standings.
Crosby also wasn’t too shabby in the usual areas of the game where he stands out above the rest as well. He led the Penguins and finished second overall behind Sedin (112) with 109 points (51G-58A), the fourth time in his five seasons he has reached the century mark (only time he didn’t was 2007-08 when he missed 28 games due to a high-ankle sprain). His 109 points were the second-highest total of his career behind the 120 he posted as the NHL scoring champion in ’06-07.
Crosby also ranked at or near the top of the charts in the following categories: hat tricks (3, 1st in NHL), power-play goals (13, t-6th), game-winning goals (6, t-10th), shots (298, 5th) and assists (58, t-8th).
Crosby’s improvement wasn’t limited to just his offensive statistics. In an effort to become a player Byslma could entrust in any situation, Crosby didn’t just become a better faceoff man, he became one of the best, leading the league with 1,001 wins, 137 more than second-place Mikko Koivu of Minnesota. His 55.9-percent success rate on the dots ranked 11th in the NHL.
Crosby’s 21:57 minutes of ice time, which placed second behind Ilya Kovalchuk among forwards, and the first two shorthanded goals of his career, were also great barometers of his improved defensive prowess.
“I tried to work on those things,” Crosby said. “I didn’t do that for any other reason other than to improve. I wanted to help the team as much as I could. I don’t think just because you work harder in those areas you are going to get results, especially immediately. But it was nice to get them. Those are things you do because you want to improve. It’s always good to get rewarded for hard work.”
We can probably dig deeper and deeper into the statistics that further prove how spectacular Crosby was in ’09-10, but what further separates him from the rest of the pack are the immeasurable tangibles which cannot be found on any stat sheet.
Whether it was winning battles in the corner, making that chip off the glass to clear the zone or even dropping down to make a save or two when the time called for it, Crosby was always in the right spot at the right time when the Penguins needed him the most.
And as the Penguins’ leader, captain and face of the franchise, that’s the aspect of Crosby’s game which matter the most to the players he shares a locker room with.
“Sid is just Sid,” alternate captain Sergei Gonchar said. “He was our leader throughout the whole season. He does everything that a captain should do to lead the team.”