There’s been a lot of talk in the sports reporting world about the decline of NHL superstar Sidney Crosby. An uncharacteristically slow start to the year point wise for the Cole Harbour native has excited the North American sporting press because it’s been the source of countless two paragraph click bait articles as an easy out topic for a slow day. Everyone seems to be asking “what’s going on in Pittsburgh” and “what’s wrong with Sidney Crosby?”
There was only one article, done by VICE sports, that actually covered the career of Sidney Crosby in depth and it was interesting read. It gives great individual statistical detail so I won’t repeat those numbers. Besides, I think the answer to both questions is the same, and is much simpler than in-depth stats.
The Penguins franchise was in disarray until they won the Crosby sweepstakes and they put all their eggs in his basket. They haven’t really tried to build around him at all in the past several years. They’ve just let Crosby and Evgeni Malkin build what they could.
As a rookie he finished 6th in league scoring, then won the Art Ross the following year. Malkin won the Calder that same season. The next year Crosby would have won the Art Ross again but for a high ankle sprain. Instead, Malkin led the way and finished second in league scoring. In year three Crosby was third in scoring and Malkin was the Art Ross winner. They won the Stanley Cup in 2009 after just three years of playing together, things were just peachy in Pittsburgh and the future looked bright.
Here’s the thing though. Look at the roster for 2007-2008, their first deep playoff run. Sergei Gonchar, Petr Sykora, Jarkko Ruutu, Gary Roberts, Daryl Sydor, Marion Hossa, Mark Recchi. Those are some pretty decent depth guys to compliment the two headed monster of Crosby/Malkin. It was much of the same in the following championship season, adding in Ruslan Fedetenko and Miro Satan. Yet even with these types of players, the Penguins always were a one or two trick pony. The power play was the same 5 guys for the entire two minutes and it has always been a high risk/high reward set up. Instead of taking slightly lower percentage shots more often, they always wait and make the one prettiest pass they can for the sure goal. When it works it ends up in the net and on the highlights but when it fails it looks awful. I remember wondering why they would never even once in a while start with the Jordan Stall led number two unit who would often create magnificent chances in the 20 seconds they got after the first unit sometimes wouldn’t even get a shot. This is why the Penguins power play is streaky, and why sometimes in playoffs it was and is non existent. After a while they just stopped bringing in or couldn’t afford those players and hoped Crosby and Malkin could carry the load. Unfortunately, injuries have riddled both players and it’s been rare to get them rolling at the same time. The fact that the Penguins are always a favourite is a complete credit to those two superstars, Kris Letang, and an inconsistently great goalie. As it is, in this miserable campaign that has people asking the tough questions, the team sits 4 games over .500 and 9th place in the Eatsern Conference. I’m sure the Oilers would love to have these kinds of problems. The real issue over the years in Pittsburgh is too much dependence on one player.
So what does that have to do with Crosby as an individual? If what I’m saying about the team is true, how has he been so good even with no supporting cast in recent years and why has he slowed this season? How about because in an 11 year span a player is bound to go through a slump? The reason we marvel at players like Sidney Crosby is because they can do things at the highest level all the time. That’s not normal. Repeat that to yourself. As a sign of the franchise dependence on Crosby look no further than this current campaign, otherwise known as the Kessel Experiment. The Penguins started out 0-3 and were .500 until Crosby finally came alive and recorded points in 4 out of 6 games between team games 10 and 15 on the year. The club jumped from 5-4 to 10-5 during this stretch. In fact, in the first 8 games in which Crosby recorded a point the Penguins went 7-1. In their first 8 games without him hitting the scoresheet they went 4-4. Malkin to his credit has carried a lot of the load this year and looks like a different player as far as consistent compete level, but he hasn’t been able to make the difference Crosby can on nights when he’s on. Much was made of the fact that Crosby was over 200th in league scoring at one point. He now sits a still rather modest 76th, but that’s quite a jump. The Penguins play a streaky style and depending on the time of year people are going to love him or rag on him. What I hate is it will be the same people doing both just to sell articles.
A change of linemates (again), a new coach, and a streaky power play have all been contributing factors to Crosby’s slow start, but he’s now recorded at least one point in 6 of the last 8 games and even at 76th is just 5 points out of the top 30. He’s only 5 points behind Ovechkin and in fact has 8 power play points next to Ovechkin’s 5. To all those reporters out there who say he works out too much and its catching up to him, who say he’s been injured too much and will never be the same, who think his desire has diminished and he just doesn’t care as much anymore, I ask that you be prepared to stand by those statements in 2 months, 6 months, 2 years, and 5 years from now. Either you think he’s done or you don’t, but pick one and stick with it. Don’t rip on him this year and then love him in the Olympics.
Verdict: IF he stays healthy Crosby will finish in the top 20 in scoring and he’ll even help Kessel get to 30 goals. I’ll stick by that.