Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates up the ice with the puck against Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on October 29, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh has been home to the best hockey player in the world non-stop since 1984. We know what that guy looks like, and he looks like Connor McDavid.
But not right now.
At 29, Sidney Crosby is a bit young to be telling those noisy kids to get off his lawn. But that’s the position Crosby is in -- he’s the old guy already.
The most recent draft’s No. 1 pick, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, announced his presence with four goals in his first NHL game. Edmonton’s McDavid led the league in scoring going into Sunday’s action. Matthews and McDavid are both 19.
Hockey’s most motivated player still has more motivation.
Not that Crosby needed it. Crosby’s obsession with conditioning and preparation is only exceeded by his compulsion for routine/superstition. (That’s a whole other disturbing story.) When Crosby fades, it won’t be because his dedication has waned. It will be because his skills age out.
That’s not happening yet.
Crosby missed the season’s first six games after being concussed. Since his return, he has four goals and one assist in three games.
Memo to McDavid: Don’t look back. Someone might be gaining on you.
Crosby’s whirlwind return isn’t surprising. He won a Stanley Cup and then a World Cup of Hockey, winning MVP in both competitions. Crosby is now inarguably among hockey’s top five players of all time, though some stupidly argue.
The same applies when debating who is currently hockey’s best.
The Maple Leafs are the English team in Canada and haven’t won a Cup since 1967, when the NHL had six teams. Matthews’ perceived role to lead the Leafs out of the wilderness gets him extra PR cachet. But no one has yet suggested that Matthews is in a class with McDavid, let alone Crosby.
Matthews is really good, though. He could stickhandle through a crowded elevator.
Comparisons are already being drawn between Crosby and McDavid, and rightly so. McDavid will ultimately be hockey’s No. 1. It’s a matter of when.
Crosby and McDavid are very similar. Besides each player’s smorgasbord of speed and talent, they both play a painstakingly selfless team game. Their only goal is to win. Alexander Ovechkin can’t necessarily claim that.
McDavid is 2 inches taller, but his core strength doesn’t compare to Crosby’s. Crosby is a superior shooter, and no one plays better on his backhand.
Crosby is tops now. McDavid is 10 years younger. Will McDavid’s prime best Crosby’s? Not impossible, but hard to imagine.
The media will proclaim McDavid as being better than Crosby well before he reaches that plateau, because that’s what the media does.
But to position himself among Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr as Crosby has, McDavid must establish something unique about his game. Crosby doesn’t like this description, but he’s the best grinder ever. He’s got third-line grit plus generational, otherworldly skill. That’s Crosby’s niche.
Since returning to the lineup, Crosby has done a good job protecting his turf.
It gets personal Nov. 8, one week from tomorrow, when Edmonton visits PPG Paints Arena. That’s the first head-to-head meeting between Crosby and McDavid. The hype will be unbearable. What happens means relatively little. It’s just one game.
But Crosby and McDavid each has a sense of the occasion to match his talent. If you don’t have a ticket, get one.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).