It's Crosby vs. McDavid, but Sid Raised the Bar in So Many Ways
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It’s Crosby vs. McDavid, but Sid Raised the Bar in So Many Ways

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Long-suffering Edmonton Oilers fans dubbed him McJesus. When once the hockey world dubbed Sidney Crosby as the next great one, Connor McDavid was dubbed the next Sidney Crosby. Indeed McDavid is tearing up the league on the stat sheet but that equals only part of Sidney Crosby’s legacy.

Pittsburgh Penguins fans weren’t exactly long-suffering when Crosby arrived unless you count a few years of watching a team dismantled by economic inequities that would have made MLB blush, and Mario Lemieux surrounded by KHL and AHL talent. But the Penguins were in trouble nonetheless. Pittsburgh was (is?) a fickle hockey town that did not show up for a team that wasn’t a Stanley Cup contender. A new arena was far from assured, and the team teetered on the brink.

In that context, McDavid didn’t have to save the Edmonton Oilers franchise. Instead, McDavid has been tasked with resurrecting it. Saturday, for the first time since the early days of Crosby vs. Ovechkin, the league has generational players competing for the public opinion title of “Best in the World.”

“There’s always a little bit more. There’s always expectations and a few more eyes on those games,” Crosby said Wednesday.

McDavid has scored a remarkable 395 points including 134 goals in his first 301 NHL games. He would have more but Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Branon Manning not-so-unintentionally helped McDavid break his collar bone during McDavid’s rookie year.

Crosby also suffered through the initiation rituals of the NHL, and Crosby has raised the bar well beyond points scored. Since Crosby became the youngest player to win the Art Ross Trophy, the youngest captain to win the Stanley Cup, Crosby kept winning. To whit:

  • Three Stanley Cups
  • Three Ted Lindsay Awards
  • Two Conn Smythe Trophies
  • Two Olympic Gold Medals including “The Golden Goal” to beat the U.S. in 2010.
  • Crosby is the only member of the Triple Gold Club (World Junior Championship, Olympics, World Championships) to Captain all three teams
  • Crosby was also the captain and MVP of Team Canada in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

Inexplicably, Crosby has only two Hart Trophies as hockey writers annually chase the shiny new toy rather than the gold standard. But it’s the additional things like playing for Team Canada in the World Championships in 2018 which separate Crosby. Elite, veteran players just don’t often do that, but Crosby did in 2015 and again in 2018.

In 956 career games, Crosby has 1233 points including 451 goals. Crosby reaching 1500 points seems assured, and after that, could he catch Mark Messier and Jaromir Jagr for third and second all-time? That’s part of Crosby’s legacy–chasing all-time records from all-time greats.

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Crosby is also the leader of his generation; not a leader, but the leader whether he wants to be or not. He forced a greater conversation into concussions. The hockey world treated head injuries like ordinary bumps and bruises. It was a test of manhood to play despite concussion symptoms, and in fact, players routinely avoided admitting them.

Until Crosby went through hell and back in 2011 and beyond. In that singular aspect, Crosby helped to change sports.

Crosby’s legacy includes buying equipment for learn-to-play programs, taking time to pick out winter coats for children who may not otherwise have them, and leading with a rigid understanding of his place and face in the game.

Also inexplicably, Crosby is asked about every league story and development as if he has the power to fix it. That’s another responsibility foisted upon Crosby who carries them with the same tight composure with which he carries his team.

“Experience helps, that’s probably the biggest thing. (I’m) still learning even after a number of years and different situations that come about,” Crosby said of his front-man status in the NHL. And Crosby has done it in the age of social media. Where not only does everyone have an opinion but those opinions can gather momentum and quickly become perception, regardless of the reality.

“I didn’t have (social media) my first couple of years, so it’s probably a little easier for me to stay away from that,” Crosby said.

With multiple Stanley Cups and the C on his sweater, Crosby has moved from a great player category to an all-time great. Is he a top-five player of all time?  While McDavid popped for 116 points (41g, 75a) last season, Crosby at 31 years-old also scored 100.

Crosby has also not suffered the steep decline in his late 20s and early 30s which most scoring leaders suffer. That’s just another bar raised for McDavid, who thus far has propelled the Edmonton Oilers to only one playoff appearance in four seasons and not yet changed the culture.

It’s a long shadow cast by Crosby and a lot to ask McDavid who is Crosby’s equal on the ice. But that’s the legacy of Sidney Crosby. It’s not a few Stanley Cups or an iconic goal. Nor is Crosby’s legacy being the youngest to win awards. Crosby’s legacy is doing it all, maintaining the high level on the ice and doing it all off the ice, too.

If McDavid is the next Sidney Crosby, the league is in for a treat because Crosby has raised the bar to unimaginable heights.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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