Since the last full season lost to disputes between players and owners, there has been one face of a 30 city, league that plays in two nations, adherents of a dozen religions, and millions of people. With the aid of enormous advertising dollars, his own native talent, and the cooperation of the NHL’s owners and media organs, that face has been Sidney Crosby. He won a cup early in his career, and has won a Hart Trophy, the Mark Messier leadership award, the Maurice Richard, and picked up not one but two Ted Linday Awards. We know he prepares the right way, every time he comes back from an injury, he slides right back into place with the same skill and guile as before. His preparation, or skill aren’t the question. They never were.
The question is; can you count on Crosby?
When the chips are down, will he be there. In the past three seasons he has missed more games than he’s played. To put things in perspective, goalies even the elite ones rarely play more games than elite skaters. Sidney Crosby got into 36 games in the lockout shortened season. In a normal 82 game season the busyiest goalies top out at about 50 games. Some will hit the 70s, but those are rarities, those are goalies equivalent to skaters who go two or three season without missing a game at all. Sixteen goalies played as many or more games as Sidney Crosby last year. Of those goalies, Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars and Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild considered injury prone. Evgani Nabokov was 37 and appeared in 41 of the Islanders regular season games, and all six playoff games. Jonathan Quick had back surgery in the off season, and was not himself for stretches of last season and played 37 games with a solid backup.
Sidney Crosby is now entering his ninth NHL season. In exactly 0.0% of his seasons has he played all of the games. He’s come close twice, in two seasons he’s played 81 games. Of all the injuries, that have been disclosed, you can only point to the games lost to groin injuries as possibly being related to fitness, but those can happen in normal training, game action or just day to day life. There isn’t much that can be done about them and most athletes will get them.
It’s the other injuries that are worrisome. The concussions and post concussion syndrome which have cost hims more than 100 games are concerning all individually, cumulatively they are troubling. On top of those are bone injuries that suggest that however willing the spirit might be, the body isn’t able to keep up with the punishment of being an NHL star. Multiple ankle and foot injuries dating from to the first half of his rookie season, and then the mysterious and apparently contagious “lower body injury”, and most recently a facial injury that cost him a dozen regular season games and a playoff match. By comparison Alex Ovechkin who plays a much more physical style and entered the league at the same time has never missed more than 10 games in a season, has played all 82 twice. Another comparison is Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers who’s combined hits and blocked shots trend from the mid 300’s to well over 400 each season. Since being called up in the 2006-07 season has missed just four games to injury.
When the ultimate crucible of the sports world is ended and the Conn-Smythe trophy is handed out you look at the players, and see who performed their best, who reached a new height, who carried their team. Sometimes it is the guy you expect. Those occurrences aren’t a real surprise, Tim Thomas was invaluable in the Boston Bruins win, take it back a year and it is absurd to even ask if the Chicago Blackhawks would or could have won without Jonathan Toews. Flip your history book forward to the Los Angeles Kings becoming the second California team to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup and no one in the world doubts that that Jonathan Quick is the sole reason the made the playoffs much less won the Cup. Look back to when the cup was raised skyward for the fourth time after the lockout and you have either an anomaly in the win, or an incongruity in the NHL’s marketing.
Evgeni Malkin won the Conn-Smythe that year. Malkin and Crosby played an equal number of games. Malkin only averaged 9 seconds more per game than Crosby as well. But break down the numbers and Malkin was better; 7 powerplay goals to 5, 22 assists to 16, and 36 points to 31. At crunch time, Malkin put up 8 points. In the same spot light, Sidney Crosby had just three, essentially 1/3rd the production of his team mate. In the same series Malkin also went way out of character and engage in his first NHL fight earning and instigator and a misconduct.
Injuries undoubtedly played a part in the tremulous performance of Crosby in that series, but isn’t that the point? Every regular season and or post season chips away at him. A sometimes funny man once said eighty percent of success is showing up. So I’ll ask the question; When its crunch time, can you count on Sidney Crosby?