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A COMING OF AGE
Michael Farber
June 18, 2009
EARLIER THAN GRETZKY OR LEMIEUX, CROSBY ETCHED HIS NAME ONTO THE NHL'S HOLY GRAIL
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June 18, 2009

A Coming Of Age

EARLIER THAN GRETZKY OR LEMIEUX, CROSBY ETCHED HIS NAME ONTO THE NHL'S HOLY GRAIL

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That is the innate Crosby, something so deep in his hockey DNA that even multiple championships will not breed it out of him. When I returned home from watching Crosby with Rimouski that winter, a friend asked what I thought. I remember saying that while I couldn't be sure that Crosby would win a Hart Trophy—he would in 2007—I could guarantee he would never win a Lady Byng. He had the requisite amount of NHL sandpaper in his game, even then.

"I don't look for excuses for people," Penguins defenseman Philippe Boucher said during the finals, "but his first couple of years in the league, he was being criticized for certain things [like whining about the officiating]. But look at how much pressure there has been on this kid. It's going to show up in certain ways, and for him, that's the way the pressure got to him a little bit—if it did at all. It wasn't the worst thing. It wasn't off the ice. It wasn't [tabloid] stories about him. It wasn't a lack of caring, a lack of leadership."

"I think the best thing about Sid's leadership recently is he's just doing it on the ice," Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "Some guys are good talkers in the room. He does that at times. But I think the best thing that he's done is just play his game. Even [in Game 6], he didn't have [a point], but he played his game, he played our system. Maybe he didn't get a whole lot offensively, but he didn't give up anything defensively. To me that's the mark of a good leader."

Indeed. There were times during the finals, when Crosby was excoriated for not producing more points, which would have been a valid criticism if the NHL had suddenly metamorphosed into the NBA. Crosby ain't Kobe. He doesn't have to take the last shot. He is not exactly going to have the puck on his stick each time down the ice.

Crosby invariably contributed. After being abused on face-offs in Game 1, winning just six of 20, Crosby won 47 of 88 in the remaining six matches. This is a measure of Crosby: He takes a flaw and burnishes it until it gleams.

"As a coach you put Sidney Crosby on the ice to win a face-off late in the game, on a penalty kill, because he's your best guy in that spot," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said before Game 7. "That says something about the player. He's just not out there to put his name on the score sheet. When he's making a great defensive play in the third period down low, makes a great read and we get it out of the zone, those are plays that maybe we didn't take a picture of, but they are duly noted.... He plays defense. He's won face-offs. I think he's one of the best players in the world because he can win a face-off at a key time. That's a huge asset, and it's also a great way to lead."

There were random acts of leadership in the finals that Bylsma declined to share that day, which truly was a shame. Crosby is still viewed too often as a petulant referee baiter, a corporate spokesman or a product of NHL promotion. Bylsma could have offered a peek at the Crosby who was able to take a dressing room, look it in the eye and give it a nudge. But that was going to have to wait.

Well, the wait is now over for Crosby. And when he did a small whirl around Joe Louis Arena with the grandest of trophies, it seemed as though the hockey world really hadn't had to wait all that long.

THE KID'S ALL RIGHT
ON THE SURFACE SIDNEY CROSBY'S PRODUCTION IN HIS first four seasons doesn't compare with that of Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux for the same period. Delve deeper, however, and Sid the Kid really does live up to the hype. The NHL has changed. In both Gretzky's and Lemieux's first four seasons an average of 7.62 goals were scored in NHL games. However, in Crosby's era the average was 24.7% less during the season than it was for Gretzky and Lemieux and 29.2% less in the playoffs than it was for Gretzky. (Lemieux missed the playoffs in his first four seasons.) When you adjust for deflation, Crosby's numbers match up very nicely.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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