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Crosby: One of Hockey's Greatest

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On June 12th, it was more than a simple narrative that was slayed by Sidney Crosby during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, his raising a second Stanley Cup should trigger what should be the coronation of a legend, one of hockey's greatest players of all-time.

Our society loves to build up, then tear down our heroes and celebrities.

That love-hate really does eat players alive in the National Hockey League. Far too often, fans and media alike enjoy ridiculing an athlete and finding the tiniest weakness or mistake to vilify and tear them down to the point of breaking them.

Look how the fans, media and even the organization treated Phil Kessel in Toronto. When the fish bowl has a floodlight constantly beaming on you, it can only do one thing, build a shell around yourself and everyone else.

When the Crosby lottery rules gave teams a shot to win the right to draft him in 2005, we didn't hear fans and media in any city talk about how he would be a bad player on their team. In fact, all 30 teams wanted Sid the Kid.

The Distinguished Men of Hockey

When any conversation debates the top players to ever play, it usually includes Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr in an order that leans heavily towards the era in which you watched the game or where you grew up watching the game.

These four are THE faces on hockey's Mt. Rushmore.

The late Howe was a respected man in the game, likely because he handled himself with elbows and fists. There's a reason why a goal, assist and a fighting major in the same game is known as the Gordie Howe Hat Trick. There's excitement in hockey fans when it happens in today's game, even knowing what we do about concussions and CTE.

But as much as Howe used those giant forearms and hands to defeat opponents, he was forever known to be classy. That's the character trait you want your son to exhibit or the boy your daughter meets while away in college.

And in Pittsburgh, we've been really lucky to see what class is since the arrival of Lemieux in 1984.

Everything Mario did on the ice using his skill was to be the best, the greatest. Off the ice, no player has done more for his community than him as the Mario Lemieux Foundation is a fabulous organization that has helped so many children and adults and we know everything he's done to keep this team in Pittsburgh as an owner.

When Mario was tearing up juniors, he was often compared to another legend, Wayne Gretzky.

It really was Wayne's World as he had a collection of teammates that could play the game at his pace and style, while being there to keep him clean. It was a different era when Howe, Lemieux, Gretzky and Orr played as goaltenders were small, equipment was lean and coaching techniques didn't go overboard with defense like today's coaches tend to do because of the short life cycle behind the bench.

Gretzky broke records but even after moving away from the ice palace of Edmonton to Los Angeles, he shaped the game that saw expansion in the sun belt. Do we even see teams in Anaheim, San Jose, Arizona, Dallas, Nashville, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Carolina if Gretzky doesn't move to LA to be the rock star?

While Howe was in the later stages of his career, Bobby Orr was taking the league by storm as the most dominant defensemen the game has ever seen. Orr was not only a quality defensive player, he could skate like the wind and would make his way up the ice, end to end and score or setup many goals.

Just like Howe is remembered with the Gordie Howe Hat Trick, Orr is what comes to mind when a defensemen goes end to end on a rush. He was so unique and if it wasn't for knee problems, we'll always wonder, like so many do about Lemieux, what could have been if he was healthy for 20 years.

What Could Happen, Did

That seems to always be the question in sports, why didn't player x do a, b, and c in his career. I've often heard, what could happen, did.

As I thought about Crosby's place in the game, it was clear to me that he's never going to push one of the fearsome foursome of Howe, Orr, Gretzky and Lemieux off hockey's Mt. Rushmore.

After Crosby lifted Lord Stanley's Cup for a second time, the conversation about his place in the game being in the top five or top ten started to hit the airwaves on the radio, newspapers, and internet.

"Where do you place Crosby with the all-time greats?"

"Is Crosby a top five all-time player?"

When I think about the next class of players in hockey, I can't help but think of the old greats like Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull, Ted Lindsay and Maurice Richard.

I struggle with any of the goalies, as so much of a goalie's success is oriented with the success of the team around him. I put goalies in their own class like Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk, Ken Dryden and Vladislav Tretiak.

While I recognize Orr's prolific history, he's alone in that regard for defensemen. Have there been really good players like Niklas Lidstrom, Doug Harvey, Denis Potvin, Ray Bourque, Larry Robinson, Eddie Shore, Paul Coffey and Slava Fetisov, yes but I don't view any of these guys are part of the distinguished class of the game.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention other greats at center such as Mark Messier, Phil Esposito, Bryan Trottier, Steve Yzerman, Ron Francis, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Sergei Fedorov or wingers like Guy LaFleur and Mike Bossy.

Noticeable with their exclusions were Alex Ovechkin and Jaromir Jagr.

The 'Great 8' is a superb shooter and hitter but really, if you take time and space away from the left-wing circle, he's been neutralized far too often. Fair or not, he hasn't risen to another level to lead his team to the promise land. He had the pieces around him this season and couldn't get it done. Win a Cup, maybe I'll re-think his place in the game.

Final Two

The last two guys on my list to battle for fifth place on the NHL's all-time list are Jagr and Crosby.

It might be surprising but when I view Crosby and Jagr, I see so many similarities. Both won Stanley Cups at a young age, dominated the league, went through a rough spot with injuries and had plenty of people (fans/media/teams) rooting for his demise.

We're finally seeing the respect for Jagr's love of the game in the twilight of his career since returning to the NHL.

While Jagr might never erase the memories for his 'dying alive' pouting that eventually drove him to be traded to Washington, it might have been the only way for Jagr to get out from the shadow of Lemieux.

He had some legendary performances, none better than playing on one leg to defeat the New Jersey Devils. It was the greatest performance of Jagr's career

Jagr is the NHL's third all-time scorer with 1,868 points (749 goals, 1,149 assists) behind Messier's 1,887 and Gretzky's 2,857.

There was always something a little different about Jagr, something that just never allowed for his artistry on the ice to be given the just due it deserved.

Now, he's a 44-year old winger leading a young Florida team with dreams of lifting a Stanley Cup.

Five in Time

Right now, Crosby is about to embark on the second half of his career and though what we've seen has been legendary, it hasn't been enough to chip away and add a new face to hockey's Mt. Rushmore.

For one, Crosby has only played 707 games and though Orr only reached 657 games, Sid hasn't redefined a position.

Crosby has time on his side and based on what we saw since the coaching change to Mike Sullivan, it is safe to believe the next few seasons could be something to watch.

For one, it has been clear, even at a young age, he was a leader of men.

These playoffs, this season... year after year, he illustrates what you want in a captain but the jealous point of view from Toronto, Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C. try to sway the fact that he's a great teammate because showing video of him bickering on the bench with Patric Hornqvist or yelling at a coach on the bench is in any way, an indication of who he is.

Off the ice, Crosby is a quiet participant in the community. Far too often, Crosby gives his charity under the cloak of secrecy because unlike some athletes, he does it to help others and not receive credit for doing what he feels is the right thing to do.

What's Next

Though, I can't cast a vote for anyone to be a clear front runner as the fifth best or in the conversation with the others mentioned before, what Crosby can do in the next ten years should be enough.

I fully expect Crosby to produce in this league, he's not the world's best grinder for nothing. He's still a very good skater and though his shot isn't like Ovechkin, he's going to put up the points.

Crosby has scored 338 goals and 600 assists. Next season, he should easily reach 1,000 career points.

If he can score at least 30 goals and 50 assists per season for the next eight seasons, he could be close to Jagr's current point totals in much less time. Though, we should know after this season, Crosby is more than just numbers.

The pressure is off and another Stanley Cup or two could be on the horizon before it is all over.

And if he doesn't, it won't matter, his legacy is still the same, one of the greatest of all-time.