How good can 'The Kid' get?
The Kid, we no doubt all agree, is good. No, make that great. So, about the only questions left are how much better can he get and what is he hoping for next?
SCOTT MORRISON | Sep 26, 2007 | 17:31:27
The answer to the first remains to be played out, the answer to the second we can all pretty much guess. "We are all hungry to take the next step," Sidney Crosby says. "And I haven't won a Stanley Cup."
Now you have your answers.
Two years into his professional career, Crosby has lived up to the hype and the expectations and perhaps even exceeded both. After scoring 102 points in his rookie season, he was even better in his second. He finished with 120 points to win the scoring title, all the while helping his team improve by 47 points - the fourth biggest turnaround in National Hockey League history - and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. He was named a First Team All-Star and, in addition to winning the Art Ross Trophy for scoring, he also won the Hart Trophy, as most valuable player as selected by the media, and the Lester B. Pearson award, as the MVP as selected by his peers.
Now the perspective. He became the youngest player(at 19 years, eight months, younger even than Crosby admirer Wayne Gretzky was when he won his first a few months past his 20th birthday)to reach 200 points. He is the youngest player – in any professional sport - to win a scoring title. After the season, he became the youngest player to ever be named a full-time captain. He also is one of just five players to record 100 points in each of their first two seasons in the NHL. Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were 41-10-9 in games in which he earned a point, 6-13-0 in games he didn't. In fact, it is likely there would no longer even be a team in Pittsburgh, with a new arena in the works, if not for Crosby.
All that accomplished before his 20th birthday, which makes one wonder just how much better can the future get because the present is already pretty darn good.
Of all the big money spent in a curious off-season, one that left many believing the past two post-lockout years were a black hole and nothing had really changed in the NHL, the best money spent likely was the five-year, $43.5 million extension the Penguins gave Crosby, who still had one year remaining on his first contract. Talk about a blue-chip investment for at least six more years.
Indeed, over the summer the Penguins improved for both the present and the future.They got better on defence by signing Darryl Sydor from Dallas and also re-signed veteran forwards Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi. They added another scoring alternative in Petr Sykora, which will force teams to rethink how they defend Crosby.
Crosby even accepted a little less salary to leave room for the team to sign that additional help and keep the core group of youngsters together. On the heels of the kind of summer the Buffalo Sabres had, for instance, losing two of their best players for economic reasons, that could be significant.
“I really think with the group we have there’s going to be a lot of guys who aren’t looking elsewhere depending on the money and things like that, so we’ll see what happens," Crosby says.
As a result of both his and the team's success this past season, the dynamic has changed. Crosby has shown what his hard work, determination, feistiness and immense skill can do.The team also climbed to another level, thus the expectations for both grow, knowing the expectations for the team can’t be fulfilled without The Kid meeting his.
“It doesn’t really feel a whole lot different," he says of the pressure. "I think I put so much pressure on myself every year to perform that whether I had a good year or bad year last year I’ve learned to erase that season no matter how it went.We want to win, obviously. It’s a lot easier said than done, but like I said, just because we made the playoffs doesn’t mean it’s a gimme this year. I think going through the playoffs last year(losing in the first round to Ottawa in five games), you realize what it takes.You know there are times where you’re winning and not playing well and I think for us there were times last year when we won and we knew we didn’t play well.
"But we didn’t realize that could hurt us in a playoff game, where you can’t sneak by.We’re going to expect a lot more from ourselves throughout the season. Just that experience and knowing that extra level it’s going to take, it’s going to force us to raise our game. By no means are we a shoe-in for the playoffs.We have to earn our way in.”
Spoken like a guy who gets it. Spoken like all the great ones tend to speak.There was a moment at the All-Star Game last January in Dallas when it was very evident just how much Crosby had matured. It came off the ice an hour or so before the game when he was given the Mark Messier leadership award. A gauntlet had been arranged to lead Crosby back to the dressing room to avoid a mid-sized media gathering, but he realized who the award was named after, identified a few of the media in the room, jumped the ropes and dove into a scrum.
He understood his role as the ambassador, he respected the association to Messier, he knew how big the stage was. Asked over the summer what, of everything that had transpired - the new contract, the awards, the captaincy - meant the most he was dead on again.
“Probably(the captaincy)," he says. "You always dream of one day playing in the NHL and you always dream of hoisting that Cup and obviously everyone knows the captain is the one who gets to do that, so I’m hoping one day I have that opportunity. I think the captain is one of the biggest honours.”
And just a year after he was proclaimed, by many in and around the game, to be a whiner.
"There’s a reason I was given that honour and(Penguins management has)obviously seen what I did out there and liked the way I handled things and I’m just going to try and keep doing the same thing," he says.
Now, the Gretzky comparisons are as inevitable as they are impossible. There will never be another Gretzky, just like there will never be another Bobby Orr, but that doesn't mean there can't be another special player, or two, for his time.
"It's kind of a unique time, much like when I came into the league with Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky challenging each other," says Hockey Night in Canada analyst Craig Simpson, who played with both Lemieux and Gretzky. "If you look at what Crosby did in his second year, it is really almost mind-boggling, especially under the microscope and the pressure. Sidney has a real sense of history, he watched Mario and Gretz set records, and I think he's poised in his mind to do the same.