June 14, 2016 Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux celebrate after the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night to claim the fourth Stanley Cup in team history (Getty Images)
When the clock hit three zeroes Sunday night at San Jose, Sidney Crosby’s primary reward was the Stanley Cup. If you know him at all, you know that.
But, by winning his second Cup, Crosby’s legacy got a big boost.
Before Sunday, the Penguins’ core group (led by Crosby) was rightly considered to have underachieved. But now, with two Cups, a runner-up finish and an appearance in the conference final over nine years, that label has been stripped.
Crosby was a worthy pick as Conn Smythe Trophy winner for playoff MVP. He had three game-winning goals in the conference final against Tampa Bay. He was the best player in the final vs. San Jose, dominating more often than not. Crosby wrecked Games 1, 2 and 6. He had two primary assists in Sunday’s Cup-clincher.
It’s the “dead puck” era. Points don’t pile up like they used to. Crosby excelled via puck management, raw speed, hard work and “playing the game the right way,” as Penguins coach Mike Sullivan might say (and does, again and again).
Carl Hagelin called Crosby the “best grinder in the world.” Memo to Hagelin: Crosby doesn’t like that description. But Hagelin is right.
Crosby is a different kind of great player. But his uniqueness at the very top of hockey’s all-time hierarchy is a big part of what got him there.
And make no mistake. Crosby’s second Cup win has him firmly planted among hockey’s top 10 players of all time.
Crosby is a two-time Cup-winner. A two-time Olympic gold medalist. A two-time NHL MVP. A two-time NHL scoring champ. Now, he’s a playoff MVP. Crosby has won everything meaningful, and won everything but the Smythe more than once.
Crosby also has huge numbers: He currently ranks fifth all-time in points per game (1.327) and 12th all-time in playoff points per game (1.105). If Crosby produces at a reasonable rate over the next 10 seasons, he should get into the NHL's all-time top 10 for points. (Injuries allowing, Crosby will play at least 10 more years. His conditioning is incredible, and his obsessive focus shows no sign of abating.)
If Crosby’s career plays out as expected -- a third Cup certainly isn’t out of the question -- and the “dead puck” era is considered when looking at his stats, Crosby could be considered among hockey’s top 5.
Crosby won’t climb up among Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. But he’ll be right below that, alongside the likes of Rocket Richard, Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe. That’s an honor. For those players, and for Crosby, too.
The concussion issues that haunted Crosby’s career at the beginning of the decade are no longer a going concern. Crosby has missed just nine games over the past three seasons; he’s played in 279 out of 288 games.
His leadership skills should have never been questioned, but they’re perhaps more obvious now.
Crosby got a big lift via the influx of youth from the Penguins’ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm club. At 28, with a lot of paycheck-stealing senior citizens eradicated from the roster, Crosby finally feels like a true veteran in the locker room. The energy he gets from the likes of Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, etc., seems undeniable.
The finish of these playoffs likely meant a great deal to Crosby. Injury minimized his participation in Game 7 at Detroit in 2009. But he was unimpeded and relentless in Sunday night’s Cup-clincher.
Next season will be difficult for the Penguins. Those participating in the World Cup of Hockey begin training camp for that event in just 12 weeks.
Pile that tournament on top of a long playoff run, and fatigue will come fast and heavy next season for many of the Penguins’ key players. It’s crazy that Phil Kessel and Kris Letang didn’t make their respective teams, but it’s good for the Penguins.
Crosby will be fine, though. He never tires. Don’t bet against him. That should be a lesson learned from this year’s playoffs.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).