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Sidney Crosby and the quest to catch Mario

Can Sidney Crosby catch Mario Lemieux in points?

2017 NHL Awards And Expansion Draft Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Going into the first weekend of August, it is of course Sidney Crosby time. It’s the time of year where Sid and Nathan MacKinnon are getting busy on their promotional shoots (no mention yet if Crosby has enthusiastically been celebrating his bud’s achievement) and it’s also his birthday.

Dating back to 2014 and 2017 and possibly even beyond, Crosby’s chase of Mario Lemieux’s 1,723 point total has always captivated me. The careers of both stars have had so many stops and starts and unfortunate derailments that you never know what could have been for either.

Crosby at 1,118 current NHL games has long surpassed Lemieux’s 915 game career. No matter how many times you see it or realize you understand the statistic, it is still jarring every time to see that Mario Lemieux’s career adds up to only a bit over 11 full seasons in its totality. Such was his injury, illness and other limiting conditions.

In that sense, these two are running different races. Lemieux’s skill, power and production in the wide open ‘80s and early ‘90s against goalies who looked like you kid brother will forever be unmatched. I mean Mario scored 690 goals in those 915 games, numbers that just don’t make sense to the modern mind.

Anyways, more than ever (knock on wood) it looks like that Crosby will close in and eventually surpass Lemieux’s career totals as well. I made a chart, with the player’s age and point total at the bottom. Easily enough, both have off-season birthdays, which makes it fairly easy to track them per season.

Crosby’s career started a year early by age, but by the conclusion of each of their age-22 season Mario had inched ahead in total points (516-506). If you really hone in on that blue line, the angle of Lemieux from age 21-23 is so scary, it’s almost vertical with the rate of just how many points he was collecting in this time period. Thus, in a blink of an eye in four seasons, Lemieux had almost doubled-up to 1,014 points and Crosby’s career hit his troubles.

By the end of each age-27 season, Lemieux had 321 more points than Crosby at the same point of his career (1,174-853). Even by the end of age-31, the gap was 278 in Mario’s favor (1,494-1,216).

However, this was the turning point, since Lemieux was retired from 1997-2000, sitting out his age 31-34 seasons. These years of inactivity (along with his age-29 year in 1994-95, where Lemieux missed the whole campaign) are probably the only reason that Crosby will one day take over first place in the franchise ledger.

To put things in perspective, Mario Lemieux was 35 when he returned in December 2000 back to the ice. Sidney Crosby turns 35 on Sunday. That’s a mind warp, isn’t it?

At this point, through age-34 seasons of both stars, Crosby has 1,409 total points. Lemieux at this point of his career was at 1,494, giving him an 85 point cushion on the current captain.

From here on out, Lemieux only scored 229 points over the rest of his NHL career, giving him just a total of 313 points for Sid to go until tying Mario.

Lemieux still put up one heck of a great age-35 season in half a year (scoring 76 points in 43 games) and was one of the league’s best players at age-37 where he scored 91 points in 67 games (good enough for second in points/game in the whole league that season).

Reading the above has to make one hopeful for the closing days of Evgeni Malkin (who celebrated his 36th birthday last week) and Crosby. Lemieux was still a dominant player through age-37, and then the accumulation of hip and back injuries had majorly robbed him of the ability to get around the ice to a shell of his former self.

For Crosby specifically, this should be good news and also a potential path to follow. If Crosby does skate in Lemieux’s tracks, he should be one of the league’s very best offensive players for this season and two more. Coincidentally or not, that also aligns with the time remaining on his contract.

Crosby has given tentative signals, and especially with Malkin and Kris Letang re-signed, that he too will probably play hockey longer than his current contract. That next contract would be for Crosby’s age 38+ seasons, and also would be when he would be on pace to pass Lemieux as the all-time leading point scorer with the Penguins.

More than ever, it’s looking like Crosby will get there and slowly but steadily catch up to passing the amazing historical point totals that Lemieux quickly compiled.

Today’s totals:

Lemieux: 1,723
Crosby: 1,409

Lemieux: 690
Crosby: 517

Lemieux: 1,033
Crosby: 892

Does Crosby have another 173 goals in him to catch Lemieux? That is the one Penguin record at this point that No. 66 has firmly under control. Crosby would have to play six more seasons and average 29 goals in every year to pass Lemieux. Big ask at this point, though Crosby has been averaging about that many as of late (31 last season in just 69 games).

The assists mark will be the first one to fall, with Mario sitting currently at 141 above Crosby. In a good or normal, non-pandemic year, Crosby has been piling up 50-60 helpers per season, it’s not difficult to see this major Lemieux mark fall to Crosby within three seasons.

The points mark is well within Crosby’s sights at this point, should he be able and continue to log the games needed to get there. At 314 points to overtake Mario, Crosby would “only” have to average scoring 63 points over the next five seasons to surpass Lemieux in points. If Crosby does play for six more seasons as he suggested fairly informally and off-handedly, it’s becomes that much more of a slam dunk that he will be the most prolific Penguin point scorer of all time.

Many thought Lemieux’s franchise record for point totals would never fall, and he is eighth place overall in NHL scoring, after all. That just shows how crazy and special Crosby’s career has been, especially after overcoming all the adversity that robbed him of many games and points in his prime.

That said, if Crosby plays the six more seasons, and if he can average 65 points per year to go in his career, that puts him on a course for 1,800 career points. That would narrowly pass Ron Francis (1,798) and get Sid up to fifth place in all-time NHL scoring behind Gretzky, Jagr, Messier and Howe.

Crosby’s playing career is closer to the end than the beginning when he sees 35 candles on his cake this weekend, but over the next few years he likely will continue to setup his legacy as one of the small handful of the greatest players of any generation that the sport has seen.