Throughout his NHL career, Sidney Crosby has been about being the youngest to achieve everything possible. He was once the youngest player ever to score 100 points in a season. Was, at the time of his appointment, the youngest team captain in NHL history and was the 11th youngest to reach 1,000 points in his career. That was the way of Sid the Kid.
As he turns 31, he’s not a kid anymore. He’s a grizzled veteran of 13 NHL seasons, who suffered career-threatening concussions and an assortment of other bumps and bruises as the game has given him almost as much as he has given back.
Crosby didn’t have to be good when he came into the NHL in 2005. He had to be great. He started his career at a time the league was coming off a year-long lockout NHL owners needed to restructure spending and finance as multiple franchises edged to the brink of folding. The beginning of Sid the Kid was a period when the NHL’s golden scoring age had closed. Star power was in a vacuum as Wayne Gretzky had long since retired, Mark Messier played his last season just before the lockout, Mario Lemieux’s skills had diminished to the point he lasted only 26 games into Crosby’s rookie year and Steve Yzerman retired following Crosby’s rookie year (2005-06).
And Crosby was great. He instantly became the star to which the NHL hitched its wagon and Crosby drove the Penguins to Stanley Cup glory in only four years.
Those days are waning but they are not gone. Crosby has been remarkably consistent the last four years and even played every game last season for the first time in his career. He’s two years removed from winning the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy as the NHL’s goal-scoring leader and remains the NHL’s active leader averaging 1.29 points per game.
Though Crosby is not done by any stretch, turning 31 is often the fulcrum where the great players’ peak begins to shift from wax to wane. At that age, Gretzky scored 121 points, but only broke the century mark twice more in his career. Lemieux put up the last of his 100-point seasons then retired for the first time because of back ailments. The ageless Jaromir Jagr notched 74 points as a 31-year-old with the Capitals and Rangers and only beat that total twice more in the 13 years since. Messier had the last of his 100-point campaigns at 31, while Yzerman had 85 and never broke 80 again,
Only Gordie Howe truly excelled after 31 as the game itself leaned toward a more dynamic offensive product. In the 20 years that followed, Howe put up at least the 73 points he scored with Detroit 11 times, including an incredible 102 at 47 with the Houston Aeros of the WHA. Howe, though, is the exception but Crosby is still widely considered to be one of the two best players in the world beside Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.
If there is anyone who will be surprised if Crosby, like Howe, plays until he’s 50? He’s got the drive, the will and is in better physical shape than most who came before. Because of his drive, there could be a time when people say ‘Crosby is the oldest NHL player ever to…’. It is difficult to bet against him.
Until then, Crosby will continue to add to his totals and move steadily up the NHL’s all-time lists – and potentially put another Stanley Cup ring or two (or three?!) on his fingers, before his photo hangs in a renovated bank vault in downtown Toronto where the aged remain ageless in the Hockey Hall of Fame.