On Sept. 7, 2011, I was fully immersed in the world of cover letters and effective action verb use in a resume. It was an exhilarating yet equally terrifying time; my adult life had begun and I had to decide what I would do with the tools amassed in my 22 years. But on that day, I was disturbed with how contrasting my position was to that of Sidney Crosby's. Here I was, starting down my own career path, while he would field questions about potentially ending his career. A gifted athlete not even two years older than me. The thought was jarring at how much potential would be lost because of a careless play on New Year's Day.
The last eight months for the Penguins captain had been an unfair whirlwind of unknowns and unanswered questions. A press conference was vital to setting the record straight, especially since it had been almost six months since Crosby's last media appearance. Many hoped the piling questions and rumors that accompanied an eerily silent Penguins organization would be answered. However, the only clear statement from the conference was that Crosby's status remained unclear. Dr. Mickey Collins made one note that stuck out to me: "The types of symptoms Sid had, initially, are exactly the type of symptoms that we see that end up taking the longest to recover from concussion."
The longest to recover. I was thrilled to hear another arbitrary prognosis. More of the same. Pens fans at that point were over the rumors and the word "concussion," just wanting to see Crosby don the Penguin logo and go back to the way things were. Months later, our wishes were granted and we watched Crosby reclaim his superstardom by popping the puck over Anders Nilsson's shoulder with a flick of his wrist. The relief was short-lived as Crosby's name became reunited with "concussion-like symptoms." Our worst nightmare was fully manifesting before our eyes, and that moment, many wondered if we were witnessing the next stage of Crosby's hockey career.
I look back at those awful months and still can't believe what has conspired since then. Concussion-gate did change Crosby, but not the way we thought. After a relatively quiet second return, Crosby somehow elevated his game once again and is playing out-of-his-mind hockey.
Remember this tweet?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Again: I think a national TV audiencesaw Crosby pass baton to Giroux as NHL's best player. <a href="https://twitter.com/search/%23NotAHomer">#NotAHomer</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/search/%23Flyers">#Flyers</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/search/%23Pens">#Pens</a></p>— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) <a href="https://twitter.com/BroadStBull/status/194216524469370880">April 23, 2012</a></blockquote>
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Sam Carchidi most certainly jumped the gun with that statement. Did Giroux outplay Crosby in the playoffs? Definitely...but it ends there. The only "passing" I'm seeing is Crosby surpassing expectations in every way imaginable.
He has steadily increased his point per game average since entering the league. Excluding his Hart/Ross season, he was averaging ~1.32 PPG his first five years and then came the offensive explosion. He averaged 1.61 and 1.68 PPG the next two years and is currently nursing a 1.61 average (though Crosby did hit 1.73 last week following his five-point game against the Islanders). His highest average PPG "season" came when Crosby was his most vulnerable; a portion of that season was bookend-ed by time lost with concussion-like symptoms or related complications. Thriving in such a situation speaks to the player Crosby has become.
I have never been much of a fan of the "Who's the best player in the NHL?" debate, primarily because there's no accurate way to quantify such a title. What does it take for a player to lose the title once he's claimed it? For example, Crosby couldn't have been the "best player in the NHL" in the 2012 playoffs because other players were better. So was Crosby still the "best player in the world" or was he simply "not the best at the time"? Is there even a difference?
Instead of getting bogged down in meaningless, media-driven titles, Pens fans are better off embracing exactly what sets Crosby apart from the rest: It's his creativity inspired by work ethic. Looking back to Collins' science lesson, the vestibular system contributes to balance and movement and Crosby's is second to none. Crosby's supremacy in the way he can react to in-game situations speaks to his creativity. Crosby is notorious for constantly improving his game and when you work that hard at something, it translates in perfecting maneuvers in a different way. Crosby doesn't simply collect passes. He receives them at his feet as they bounce on the ice while on the rush and kicks them up to his stick while defensemen are hot on the trail. This creativity can't be defended because there is no blueprint to solve and stop it. It's completely unpredictable. Often times, the best a defenseman can do is take Crosby down which is why he draws so many penalties.
A loss in creativity is what attributes to players losing their superstardom. Take Alex Ovechkin, a player who was cream of the crop at the beginning of his career but has since cooled to mere mediocrity. What happened to plays like this that graced weekly highlight reels? Ovechkin's spark is gone and it's from a lack of creativity. He's become predictable; his moves have been carved in the ice for all to see and defend with ease. The proof is in his PPG which went from a 1.4 in his first five seasons (excluding his 92-point season) to a 0.91 average the following three seasons. Pens fans certainly don't mind this turn of events, but it truly is a shame to watch. Then again, it makes Crosby's successes of late that much sweeter.
To think two years ago, we weren't even sure if Crosby would play again.
If the last few years have taught me anything, it's that we have to embrace the talent we have in the NHL. We don't know when a player will lose his creative edge or if a devastating injury can cut a promising career short.
But most importantly, as I watch Crosby feed backhanded dish passes over two sticks and spin out of checks on the goal line while maintaining possession, it has taught me that no obstacle is impossible for Crosby to climb.