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The Hart Trophy Case for Sidney Crosby



Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL Trade rumors

Improbable as it seemed just days ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a hold — admittedly, a tenuous one — on a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and people across North America are beginning to notice.

They also seem to be catching on that Sidney Crosby is having an exceptional season. Good enough that some outside of this region have begun to suggest that he merits consideration for the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s most valuable player.

Or, to be precise, to the player “adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”

The Hart is not, per that wording, supposed to recognize the best player in the league, although one guy certainly can qualify on both counts. And while Crosby has few, if any, equals as a 200-foot player, those who are prolific point-producers tend to generate the most support in voting by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

It’s no coincidence that the four players who have been mentioned most often in Hart projections — Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon, Edmonton center Connor McDavid, Tampa Bay winger Nikita Kucherov and New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin — are the top four scorers in the league before Sunday’s games.

Toronto’s Auston Matthews, the league’s runaway leader in goals, with 64 going into the Maple Leafs’ game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Scotiabank Arena Monday night, figures to show up on a lot of ballots. David Pastrnak of Boston might, too.

And make no mistake, any of those six would be a worthy recipient of the Hart. They’ve all put together outstanding seasons for teams that have had a lot of success.

Crosby’s offensive stats are not nearly as gaudy as those of the players mentioned above. Oh, they’re extremely impressive — 40 goals and 45 assists in 77 games — but he’s not making a run at his third Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer.

However, it would be folly to measure Crosby’s contribution solely by those numbers.

That would, for example, ignore that he has taken 1,765 faceoffs, 209 more than any other NHL player, and won 58.7 percent of them, fourth-best average in the league. It’s hard to generate goals if you don’t have the puck, and Crosby has made sure the Penguins end up with it the majority of times he handles a draw.

There is not, however, a stat that measures Crosby’s greatest impact on the 2023-24 Penguins: His absolute refusal to let their season end as miserably as it appeared destined to.

Aside from a brief stretch flanking the trade deadline, when he lost longtime linemate Jake Guentzel and was held to two assists in eight games, Crosby has been a dynamic, positive force in the majority of games, sometimes singlehandedly carrying a team whose lineup was laden with players who seemed to lack passion and purpose.

And while he is not the only reason for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ surge during the past week — that would undersell the goaltending of Alex Nedeljkovic, the revival of Evgeni Malkin, and the sudden roster-wide commitment and focus to playing well, among other things — Crosby is the biggest.

If not for all he did — and how much he cared — during those long, dreary months of winter, the Penguins would be competing (probably not very hard) for nothing more than their place in the draft lottery during their five remaining regular-season games.

And that is being awfully — almost incalculably — valuable to one’s team.

That Crosby is doing all of this at age 36, when many of his peers are worried about getting in good enough shape that they don’t embarrass themselves in alumni games, makes it all the more extraordinary.

But his age is not — and should not — be a factor in the Hart balloting, anymore than long-ago Pirates shortstop Freddie Patek merited extra support to play in the two all-star games in which he appeared after going to Kansas City because he was very good for a guy who stood only 5-foot-5.

Crosby is, at best, a longshot to collect his third Hart this spring, but it’s safe to assume that, if forced to choose, he wouldn’t hesitate before picking a playoff berth over an individual trophy.

Which is simply more evidence of exactly why he is worthy of this one.