We’ve been thinking about Sidney Crosby’s pursuit to chase down Mario Lemieux in career points enough to write about it since early 2014, when Crosby was almost 1,000 (!!!) points behind Lemieux. Fast forward almost a decade since then and Crosby is making a push for to pass Lemieux in many major milestones.
Some people don’t like to even whisper or think about Crosby’s future for superstitious reasons of concerns or jinxing, but dare we point out that Sid — now in the 1,500 point club — ranks 15th all-time in NHL scoring. And with a decent-but-attainable 88 point season in 2023-24, Crosby could move up as high as 10th place by the end of next season (he tallied 93 in 2022-23).
As we said last year, Lemieux’s Pittsburgh goal record of 690 looks like it will be the most secure as Crosby closes in on Mario’s major franchise records. Sid would have to average 35 goals for four seasons to get in that neighborhood, which seems like a big projection at this point. But that isn’t the case for the other categories.
Crosby has inched within 81 assists of Lemieux’s career total (1,033 to 952), which would be the first major milestone to transfer over from No. 66 to 87 if Crosby keeps chugging along. It won’t be this upcoming season in 2023-24, but sometime during the 2024-25 year with some good health and continued strong play Crosby should be getting to 1,034 assists and sit alone in Pittsburgh franchise history in that regard. But in the immediate future, Crosby is only 48 assists away from reaching the prestigious 1,000 assist plateau.
In the big category of points, Crosby sits 221 points behind Lemieux for perhaps the most significant marker. Of course, about now it’s time to to consider that Sid has already appeared in 275 more games than Mario did in his shortened career, which durability/longevity can be a gift but is also worth mentioning just how much Lemieux accomplished over so little games played.
As an aside, every time you see this list of top scorers the top two things that stand out as making no sense are Lemieux’s low GP, and Gretzky’s assist total being more than everyone else’s points. Anyways, in the last two full seasons, Crosby has averaged 88.5 points, a very impressive number for a player in his age 34 and 35 years as he puts in significant work to close the gap with Lemieux and chase him down there.
Here is Crosby vs. Lemieux in a year-by-year breakout of each season of their respective careers.
- I started the graph at age-17, since that’s 0 for both and then Crosby started in one year earlier at 18 to begin his NHL career. Lemieux turned 19 before starting his rookie year due to an early-for-the-hockey-calendar birthday. That’s probably more bad luck for Lemieux, if he was born a little earlier, it’s not a stretch to imagine him putting up even more points if he could have been drafted in 1983 and started his career in time for the 1983-84 NHL season.
- Sid is no slouch, but it’s breathtaking to see Mario take off almost literally vertically like a rocket at the start from the ages of 19-24. Lemieux had 838 points in just his first six seasons in the NHL (which makes ~140-point-per-year average. Crosby’s all-time single-season high is 120 points, and that’s the only time he cracked the 110 mark). Different day and a different age, but my goodness it’s never not impressive to marvel at what young Mario did (especially since he was surrounded by very little supporting talent until Paul Coffey was acquired in 1987). Without the injuries, cancer and retirement, Lemieux was conservatively shooting towards the 1,700-1,800 point range by age-30 in 1995ish based on the early trajectory he embarked on.
- Lemieux looks like the hare and Crosby is the tortoise as far as the famous fable goes. Even though at these scoring rates, there’s nothing that slow about what Crosby produces, but his line is incredibly consistent and straight. Lemieux had stops and starts, huge years mixed with prolonged absences. Crosby’s key might be persistence at finding a way to chug along at a high level for a very long time.
- Through age-35, Crosby has 1,502 points. Lemieux had 1,570 after the same point. That puts Sid 68 points back currently for both of the stars at the same age.
- However, after age-34, it was Lemieux 1,494 to Crosby’s 1,404 (85 point difference), so Crosby cut the gap quite a bit this last season. In that year for Mario, he only played half the season coming back from retirement in 2000.
- Looking ahead, for his age-36 season, Mario only scored 31 points (in 24 games) in 2001-02 with more injuries and age taking him out of the picture for most of the season as he attempted to get it together for the 2002 Olympics. (That worked out OK for the big guy and Canada). Mario would have a great 91-point season as a 37-year old in 2002-03, but this upcoming year will be a big opportunity for Crosby to make up a lot more of the difference between the two.
- The stops and starts of Lemieux show a sad tale, missing all of 1994-95 and retiring for 3.5 seasons from 1997-2000 took out of the wind out of his career for total point production. To say nothing of the other maladies like back problems, bad hips and the cancer/treatment that he also battled through over the years.
- In that same regard but with different circumstances, Crosby’s concussion/neck problems robbed a lot of his prime, and then the COVID days also chipped out some important time from his playing days.
There are two more seasons remaining on Crosby’s contract (through the 2024-25 season). While Sid has been outwardly non-committal about his future — there were also whispers around last year’s Evgeni Malkin/Kris Letang contract talks that Crosby would also be looking to sign an extension in Pittsburgh and continue his playing career — health-dependent and a bit of a “let’s see how it goes” situation. As much as we all know that Crosby loves hockey, it’s easy to see him continuing further if all goes well.
And, again in a very delicate manner, let’s point out that it’s been a very encouraging “so far, so good” in the health regard lately. Crosby has never been known for durability, but he’s been making the games count in the recent past. Over the last three seasons post-COVID and his core muscle surgery, Sid’s missed: one game, 13 games and then 0 games in the immediate few years. Logging a lot of games is necessary to keep moving up the list, and such has been the case for Sid to remain mostly healthy recently. Knock on wood and everything else.
Crosby almost surely won’t pass Lemieux in the franchise point totals (221 points) if he does not sign an extension, but signing even a one or two year deal will almost assuredly give him enough future games to make that all but a formality. Not that his future will be dictated by trying to be the Pens’ all-time points leader, but it would be another feather in Crosby’s cap — and a day that many thought we would probably never see to witness a Penguin accumulate more career points than Lemieux.
Beyond reaching and getting past Mario, Sid probably still has a decent enough chance to end up fifth place all-time in NHL points. He would have to beat Ron Francis at 1,798 to get there. That’s 296 points from where he is currently. Assuming Crosby does play another two years beyond his current contract, that would mean he would have to average 74 points to get there. It’s possible — but Sid would likely have to bank another 85-90 points in the upcoming season to really make some major headway on ensuring he’s on track for that to guard against falling off the in the future.
At 15th place in all-time NHL scoring while captaining his team to three Stanley Cups and all the other awards and gold medals you can shake a stick at, Sidney Crosby already hockey royalty. His place in history is already well secured. The next 2-5 years could be considered legacy building time for him to really make his case as one of the very top players in the history of the game.
Depending on how healthy Crosby stays and how long he wants to keep playing, the landing point could put him among the highest in the NHL and in the top spot in Pittsburgh hockey history in several key categories.