Is Sidney Crosby a Hall of Famer If He Doesn't Return to the NHL?

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Is Sidney Crosby a Hall of Famer If He Doesn't Return to the NHL?
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There is no arguing that a healthy Sidney Crosby is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.  Even the most spirited Crosby-haters can agree on that.  What is not so clear is whether or not Crosby should be admitted to the Hall if he is unable to return from his concussion. 

There are some very strong points to be made on either side - those who argue against his admission claim that he hasn't played long enough to be considered a Hall of Famer, those who argue for it say that his accomplishments thus far are enough to compensate for his lack of durability.

To get a grasp on where Crosby stands, let's take a look at what he's accomplished in NHL and international play since being drafted in 2005:

- In his very first season, he notched 102 points, good for 6th in the league.

- The following year, 2006-07, he won three NHL awards: the Art Ross (scoring title), the Hart Memorial (MVP as determined by the media), and the Ted Lindsay (MVP as determined by the players).  He is the youngest player in NHL history to win a scoring title and the second youngest player to win the Hart Trophy.  Crosby's dominance helped the Pens make the playoffs for the first time in 5 seasons.

- On March 31, 2007, he was named team captain.  At 19 years and 297 days, he was the youngest player in NHL history to have that honor bestowed upon him. 

If Sidney Crosby were to retire today, should he be in the Hall of Fame?

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- He led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances; they won the Cup in 2009.

- In 2009-2010, he tallied 51 goals to win his first Maurice Richard Trophy.

- He ranks fifth all-time in points per game (1.388) behind only Gretzky, Lemieux, Bossy, and Orr. 

- At 16 years, 4 months, and 21 days, Crosby became the youngest player to notch a goal in the World Junior Championships.

- In 2006 he competed with team Canada in the World Championships and became the youngest player in the history of the tournament to win a scoring title (16 points).   

- In the 2010 Olympics, he scored the game-winning goal in the gold-medal game against the USA.

- His stat-line in international competition: 20 goals and 17 assists in 28 games.

All stats can be found at Hockey-Reference.com.

As of right now, Crosby has 215 goals and 357 assists over 6 NHL seasons.  If we stretch those numbers out over the next 10 seasons with an average of 68 games per season, his career totals would be 569 goals (21st all-time) and 946 assists (15th all-time) for a combined 1515 points (15th all-time). 

Of course, ten years from now Crosby would be only 34-years old and could still have productive years left in him. 

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Cam Neely was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005 despite appearing in only 726 NHL games.
Those numbers give you an idea about what sort of pace he's on but they ultimately mean nothing to the Hall of Fame committee.

What does matter is Crosby's status as an icon; not only in hockey circles but the general public as well.  It's rare that a hockey player becomes a household name, especially in this day and age, but Crosby has become an exception. 

Whether a player's popularity should be used as a credential for admittance into the Hall is debatable, but there is little doubt that it does, in fact, influence the voters.  Take the story of Cam Neely into consideration.  Neely played in only 726 games over 13 NHL seasons and was forced to retire due to injury after the 1995-96 season. 

In his prime, he was a premier goal scorer with the ability to step up his game when it mattered most.  He put up back-to-back 50 goal seasons in 1989-90 and 1990-91 and tallied 89 points in 93 playoff games.  He also scored a Gretzky-like 50 goals in 49 games during the 1993-94 season. 

While those numbers are indeed very impressive, he simply didn't stay healthy long enough to accumulate elite-level career totals.  He won one award during his 13-year injury-plagued career: the 1988-89 Bill Masterson Trophy for sportsmanship.  He never won a Stanley Cup (as a player, at least) and never competed in international competition.  He was very well-respected by the media and was voted into the Hall in 2005.  Today he is considered "the preeminent power forward of his era." 

Neely's case proves not only that public esteem carries a certain amount of weight in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters but that players with injury-shortened careers can be admitted to the Hall as long as they dominate while they're on the ice. 

Crosby certainly falls into this category. 

The question is whether or not his unique accomplishments and high-profile status would be enough to outweigh an extreme lack of longevity.  He's skated in only 412 NHL games, 314 less than Neely.  To put that number into perspective, the last skater to be inducted into the Hall with less than 500 games played ended his career in 1952

If Crosby was inducted today, he would be the first player since 1975 to be admitted with less than 415 games played. That might be too much of a stretch for even the most generous of voters.

But, again, if any player is worthy of breaking the Hall of Fame mold, it's Crosby.  Very few players can boast a resume consisting of an Olympic gold medal, a Stanley Cup, a scoring title, a goal scoring title, and an MVP all before their 24th birthday.  And no other player, except Alexander Ovechkin, has achieved such widespread popularity.

If this debate ever becomes a reality, the Hall of Fame committee will have quite a dilemma on their hands.  But, as hockey fans, let's hope it doesn't. 

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