Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux
The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup, there is still another week before the NHL Draft and even more time until free agency begins. This can be a boring time for hockey fans.
So, how should we pass the time? I vote for speculation on comparison between eras! For a Penguins fan, what better pot-stirrer than comparing Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby?
On the surface, it may seem silly. But consider the local media wondered aloud many times last season if Crosby's year would be considered along side of the greatest seasons in NHL history.
A couple of blows to the head in January rendered it a moot point, but Crosby has compiled a pretty good resume so far. Many critics complain that he is the NHL's poster boy. But how does he stack up against a player who had the waiting period for the Hall of Fame waived?
Is it a runaway for Le Magnifique or will Sid Vicious hold his own? There's only one way to find out, start the slideshow!
Sidney Crosby: So far in his career, Crosby has averaged a goal every two games. In the post-lockout era, he has established himself as one of the deadliest goal scorers. Only one of six seasons has been below the 30-goal mark. Even more stunning is the fact that the sub-30 season was not his concussion-marred 2010-11 effort, but his 2007-08 campaign.
His career has produced highlight reel goals of him batting pucks out of mid-air, sliding on his stomach to tap one in or heading into the middle of four defenders to flick a wrist shot by the goalie.
Mario Lemieux: As the video above shows, in an era where obstruction was tolerated and encouraged, players still couldn't stop Lemieux. Grab him, hook him, tackle him—it never mattered.
From the first shot on his first game through the last shot before his initial retirement, Lemieux filled the net with pucks. If there was any question he still had the ability upon his return in December 2000, he quickly calmed that by scoring in his return game. Lemieux is still ninth on the all-time goals list.
Sidney Crosby: Sid routinely dangles with the puck to buy time and find players streaking to the net or posting up for a well-timed backdoor pass. He currently has three seasons with more than 60 assists and can find the smallest opening for a pass.
Mario Lemieux: Aside from Lemieux's rank as a Top 10 all-time assist guy, it has often been joked in the Pittsburgh area that he could have turned a club sandwich in to a 20-goal scorer. If it got to the net, he would bank it in off the sandwich.
His ability to draw defenders' attention allowed his linemates to clean up. For evidence, see Rob Brown's 49-goal season in 1988-89.
Sidney Crosby: Aside from a brief stint with Marian Hossa and the times he played with Evgeni Malkin, Crosby has found himself on a carousel of wingers. Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Bill Guerin were all better for playing with Crosby.
In the salary cap era, it is expected that Crosby will take guys and make them capable top line players. Still skeptical? Colby Armstrong skated with Crosby for the bulk of his time here.
Mario Lemieux: While it is true that Lemieux made anyone that played with him better, he also benefited from better linemates over the course of the 1990s. Guys like Kevin Stevens and Rick Tocchet did not need help to be great goal scorers. Their numbers may have improved, but they were both solid goal scorers.
The fact remains that Mario Lemieux was such a great player that literally anybody could play alongside him. He could change his game to bring any player to his level.
Sidney Crosby: The "C" was placed on Crosby's sweater in 2007, when he was at the age of 20. At the time, some thought it was given to him because he was the team's most talented player, but not necessarily its best leader. While there have been ups (Stanley Cup win) and downs (team seeming to quit on Michel Therrien) during his tenure, if the true test of a captain is his teammates respect—Crosby passes the test with flying colors.
Mario Lemieux: If we are using the respect of the players as the true test of a captain, Lemieux again passes the test. It is worth mentioning that Lemieux had trouble with coaches, much more so than Crosby. Many cite the "country club atmosphere" the team emanated in the 90s as a reason it didn't capture more Stanley Cup Championships.
But, in terms of player respect, Lemieux was top notch. Former referee Kerry Fraser offers a tale worth reading about the respect his players had for him at http://www.tsn.ca/blogs/kerry_fraser/?id=368750
Sidney Crosby: Crosby has picked his spots to drop the mitts in his career, but he has held his own. Because of his concussions, it will probably be a very cold day before he engages in his next fight. Hockeyfights.com shows Crosby as having five career NHL fights, with a 4-1 record.
Mario Lemieux: Lemieux had the size to not worry about his scraps, thought he did not regularly throw down. Hockeyfights.com lists him as having six career NHL fights. He is voted 2-0 in the fights that are ranked at the website.
Edge: Let the controversy begin. Crosby.
Sidney Crosby: Crosby quickly became the face of the franchise after being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. His jersey can be spotted on just about every kid in town and even made a cameo on Jim Carrey's back in the film Mr. Popper's Penguins.
Even better for parents is that Crosby is the quintessential role model off the ice. He purchased a charity suite at the Consol Energy Center and has countless other projects to use his status for good. It sure does not hurt that he produces on the ice as well.
Mario Lemieux: How can you place a ranking on a man who has been attributed as saving the Pittsburgh Penguins on multiple occasions? Well, even though some of those saves have come after his playing days ended, this is still going to be Lemieux's category.
The June 27, 2011 ESPN: The Magazine lists Lemieux as the fifth best "Ultimate Boss." One could write all month about the things Lemieux has done for charity. But to see one of the most touching endeavors, search the internet for information on the "Austin's Playroom" projects.
Photo courtesy of mariolemieux.org
Sidney Crosby: Crosby has one of the strongest work ethics, according to teammates. They often comment on how remarkable it is for someone with his natural ability to train as hard as he does.
Mario Lemieux: Lemieux did not train seriously until his return from retirement, by most accounts. Local media joked that in the early stages of his career, his idea of training was to "not order french fries" with his meals.
Sidney Crosby: 2010 Winter Olympics goal vs. USA...in overtime...to win the Gold Medal.
Mario Lemieux: 1987 Canada Cup goal vs. USSR.
Sidney Crosby: You never hear Sidney Crosby complain...about the media, I mean. (Calm down, Pens haters.) In every city, the media swarm him to ask the same questions over and over again. A trip through Canada for him is like when The Beatles came to America.
Crosby is incredibly gracious in his dealings with the media. Many of the Pens haters will critique him for being the poster boy of the league, but few would deal with the intensity of the spotlight's glare as well as he does.
Mario Lemieux: Lemieux generally shies away from the media, even as an owner. In his prime, he was more than content to let Wayne Gretzky shoulder the burden of promotion for the NHL.
Sidney Crosby: Aside from a groin problem that occasionally flares, a broken foot, and a freak ankle injury, Crosby has been pretty durable in his NHL career. Last season cast some doubt on that, with his loss of half a season to concussion problems.
Whether or not this issue will return is a story for another day. As of right now, he seems on track to return, so hopefully his health will remain.
Mario Lemieux: The debate of Lemieux's place in history often is accompanied by the phrase "if he was healthy." Back problems, hip problems, Hodgin's Lymphoma and a heart condition are among the most serious of problems he experienced in his career.
Edge: Crosby, as of right now.
Sidney Crosby: While much of Crosby's story is still to be written, he has an incredible resume at such a young age. His work ethic and dedication should serve him well as he adds to the pages already down in the book of hockey history.
Mario Lemieux: One can debate Lemieux's place in history based on his raw talent. Many say that he should rank no lower than third in the all-time debate. My bias growing up watching him makes it tough for me to allow anyone but Gretzky the ability to pass him on such a list.
Even then it would be done begrudgingly. Bottom line, Lemieux is one of the all-time greats in the sport of hockey.
No disrespect to Crosby, but Lemieux edges him out six to five in my categories.
Maybe someday the result will favor Crosby. But for now, Lemieux reigns supreme in the Pittsburgh hockey landscape.