He came out of the gates like a man possessed.
That total seems unattainable in the NHL these days. Completely out of reach.
No player has had that kind of impact on the collective scoresheets since Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux made the annual Art Ross competition a two-man show throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
But a fully healthy Crosby, who now has 12 goals and 30 points in 24 games after his game-winning goal against the Islanders on Friday, could put up gaudy numbers with just a few stretches of his explosive offense. He is primed to dominate again, and as he creates separation from others in the early points race, he could finally reclaim the title of The Next One
The NHL has been waiting for that.
It’s a role that’s been essentially vacant since The Great One and Magnificent One hung up their skates. It’s a title others—like Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros—have previously been christened with, only to disappoint on some level.
Lindros showed glimpses of greatness but his abrasive, reckless style ultimately shortened his career. His off-ice demeanor didn’t do him any favors either. And that’s where Jagr has always fallen short; his quirky personality unable to reach a broad audience of hockey fans.
Crosby is the total package. A professional. A genuinely nice guy. As accommodating, down-to-earth and accessible as any star athlete in any major professional league. Most interviewers will tell you that. He’ll talk about almost anything, from the photo on his driver’s license, to his aversion to selfies.
Early in his career, the NHL marketing moguls used Seinfeld-esque commercials to make you believe you had to choose between edgy goal scorer Alex Ovechkin and the wholesome playmaker Crosby. As my years covering the league have progressed, more and more feedback about Crosby from peers and fans has seen a global warming to the clean-cut kid, even from those who previously favoured Ovechkin. Crosby's effort and talent grow on you. And when arguably the greatest ever to play calls him the greatest in the game today, it goes a long way in influencing the masses.
This season’s spectacular start shouldn’t surprise anyone. Only troublesome injuries seem to have slowed him from joining the living legends as a true hockey icon.
He has a Stanley Cup, he’s won scoring titles and Hart trophies. He’s scored a gold-medal-winning goal at the Olympics. His career points-per-game is fourth-best in league history.
If those things don’t impress you, his celebrity crush is Jennifer Garner—who is 15 years older than him. (Now that’s maturity).
Crosby has the opportunity to make the most of his solo spin in the spotlight now that his closest rival—outside of Ovechkin, who has taken a backseat to sniper Steven Stamkos in recent years—is out for months with a broken leg. The Stamkos injury presents an opportunity for Crosby to re-introduce himself as the NHL’s poster boy after years of his own physical ailments getting in the way.
The league has long hoped he would re-energize the game. After losing an entire season to the lockout and changing the rules to create more offense, they kickstarted the new era with a draft lottery set up to showcase their next can’t-miss kid.
The league needs Crosby to be the kind of player who dominates the highlight reels to create new hockey fans and build upon some promising ratings south of the border.
Groomed in Lemieux’s guest house, a mature-beyond-his-years rookie was well on his way to re-invigorating the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2005-06. He cracked 100 points in his first season, joining Gretzky and Lemieux as just the seventh NHLer to accomplish that feat.
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He followed up with 120 points as a sophomore. A high-ankle sprain limited him to just 53 games in his third year, but he still posted 72 points before knocking off another pair of 100-plus-point campaigns.
That’s when the ascension paused and concussions took over his life.
A pair of hits to the head in the same week had him sidelined for the better part of two seasons from 2011-2013. He suited up for just 63 games—still producing at a ridiculous rate with 103 points in that span—before last year’s lockout offered him an extended resting period. When an errant puck broke his jaw in March, he was lucky enough not to suffer another concussion, but the story once again became ‘what could Crosby do with a full season?’
With a little luck, we’re about to find out.
And the results could be spectacular.