Who knows how many more games Sidney Crosby will play in the NHL? Hundreds, maybe? He said Friday he hopes they all are with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But his next time over the boards when it counts, against the New York Islanders at PPG Paints Arena, will be one of the special ones. He is set to skate in his 1,000th game. Unless, you know, a Sharknado or some such thing plagues Pittsburgh between now and 7 p.m. Saturday.
As quirky and superstitious as Crosby is, he might cringe at even such a farfetched joke, but reaching this milestone has real meaning to him.
Getting to 1,000 games has been delayed some by various circumstances – famously a concussion in 2011, but also a high ankle sprain, a broken jaw, core muscle surgery, a few groin strains, and an NHL work stoppage in 2012-13.
The sure Hall of Famer and pretty much consensus top-10 best of all time sounds as if he wouldn’t trade the first 999 games for anything.
“I love it as much as I did Game One,” Crosby, 33, said Friday. “I’m grateful I’ve been able to play this long. I’ve gone through some injuries that have made me appreciate it more.”
Sidney Crosby, The Arrival
It was a handful of days after his 18th birthday and about a month before his first NHL training camp that Crosby, the Penguins’ prize in the lottery for the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, flew to Pittsburgh for the first time.
“I just remember the airport,” Crosby said of that visit. “The first memory I had was just the amount of people that were there. The excitement. And just how welcome I felt just from the very first day I got here, from that experience on.”
It wasn’t just savvy fans who were at the airport that day. A collection of reporters and news cameras were invited to the airport. We stood in a loose group on the baggage claim level. Passengers coming off the tram from the airside terminal usually came down one of two escalators, depending on which tram they were on. We were in position to watch both escalators.
At one point, not Crosby but Silicon Valley businessman Boots Del Biaggio rode down one side. Del Biaggio had submitted a letter of intent to become a lead investor in the Penguins.
Del Biaggio figured we had heard he was flying to Pittsburgh and were there to interview him. Awkward. Probably a good thing he did not become a major figure with the Penguins, considering he eventually had some legal troubles.
We resumed our Crosby watch. Memory fails to recall who first noticed, but rather than either of the escalators we were stalking, Crosby and a couple people from the Penguins organization suddenly were coming down a different escalator behind us.
It was difficult not to try to get an initial gauge on the teenaged savior of the Penguins descending toward us. He was dressed casually and, while he no doubt saw at least a large gathering and the cameras, he kept his gaze forward.
It was widely known he was well acquainted with dealing with reporters and fans, and it was widely said he was polite and cooperative with a lot of character.
So was he aloof? Intimidated?
When he got off the escalator, we all went to a corner under the escalator and he did a “scrum,” answering several questions from reporters in a straightforward manner. Then he got whisked away for a tour of the city, an introduction to the old Civic Arena and whatever else his orientation included.
Aloof? Intimidated? We know now it was neither. Crosby simply was a guy arriving at an airport who didn’t want to make a splashy entrance. Off the ice, that’s been his nature for all these years.
Sidney Crosby, The Achievements
From the moment he was drafted in 2005, Crosby was dubbed the savior of the Penguins franchise and, soon after if not then, the face of the NHL. And he was heavily marketed that way.
“I never thought that was fair to put that on someone his age,” former Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said recently.
The Penguins reported immediate and huge increases in ticket sales and season ticket interest. The league had him promoting everything, and reporters lined up to talk to him daily.
He patiently complied.
In fact, Friday, asked what advice he would give himself if he could go back to when he broke into the NHL, Crosby said, “Just to be patient. There are things you have to learn and things you have to experience in order to improve. It doesn’t happen overnight. Enjoy it as much as you can because it goes fast.”
He was talking more about on the ice, but all the off-ice demands didn’t seem to distract him on the ice.
Sitting at 999 games, Crosby has 1,276 points. That would rank him third all-time among players who reached 1,000 games with their original team, behind Steve Yzerman (Crosby’s boyhood idol) at 1,323 with Detriot, and Bryan Trottier at 1,291 with the Islanders.
It also doesn’t include his 68 goals, 121 points in 168 NHL playoff games.
“He’s not ready to relinquish the ‘best player in the game’ (title) that he’s carried here for a decade,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
Crosby has captained the Penguins to Stanley Cups in 2009, 2016 and 2017. He has won the Hart Trophy twice, the Art Ross Trophy twice, the Conn Smythe Trophy twice, the Rocket Richard Trophy twice, the Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay Award three times, and has won two Olympic gold medals, including scoring the overtime clinching “golden goal” in Vancouver in 2010.
He got edged out for the Calder Trophy. Dang that Alex Ovechkin.
Crosby is widely considered to have one of the best backhanders in the game, and possibly not just among active players.
Sullivan has often described Crosby as “the best 200-foot player in the game,” meaning his defensive play is as noticeable as his offensive prowess.
With a slew of young stars entering the league in recent seasons, it’s probably not accurate to call Crosby the face of the NHL anymore. But given his dominance on the ice this season at 33, even beyond his six goals, 13 points in 15 games, he remains among the elite and is hardly the face of an old-timer.
“I think as long as I feel good, I’m hoping to play as long as I can, and I don’t really have an idea of what that age is or number is,” Crosby said. “I focus on playing out my contract (through 2024-25) and seeing where I’m at then.
“I feel good, and I want to play as long as I can. I guess we’ll have to see.”
Sidney Crosby, The Admiration
So many have offered glowing descriptions of Crosby, not just as a hockey player but as a person.
Only he knows how many times he has sought out a child or someone with a disability to chat for a few minutes; or talked to someone facing a life-threatening challenge.
Leading up to his 1,000th game, some of those in the Penguins franchise have been asked about Crosby. Here are a couple of the best responses:
Coach Mike Sullivan:
“I’ve never been around an athlete in any sport that’s as driven as he is in being the best player he can be, and the willingness to make the commitment day in and day out to work on all (parts of) the performance. He’s a great mentor for our young players. He’s a great example for all of us how to maximize the opportunities we have as individuals.”
Defenseman Kris Letang:
“His teammates see things that most people don’t see. New guys coming in, he goes house-hunting with them. He goes to restaurants with them. He tells them what to do and where to go, how the team operates. I can just speak for myself – he’s been really good to my family and my son, would come up to the school and have a chat with him. There’s so many things he does that people don’t even know. It’s just incredible. And at the same time, he has all those responsibilities of being the face of the league, and he’s been captain for so long. He’s just a tremendous athlete, person, leader. It’s just incredible what he’s done.”
Aloof? Intimidated? Hardly.