There have been no new reports regarding the start of the National Hockey League’s next season. Commissioner Gary Bettman has not released any concrete information in weeks. The NHL Players’ Association and the league are still hashing out a plan for the 2020-21 season.
With hockey fans starved for content, the official NHL Twitter account decided to ask its followers to rank the top five centers currently in the league.
It tweeted a graphic that listed players’ names from top to bottom: Sidney Crosby, Ryan O’Reilly, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Brayden Point, Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl, Jack Eichel, Mark Scheifele, Mathew Barzal and “other.”
First of all, I assume putting “other” was a mistake because I searched the list over and over and failed to see Patrice Bergeron. I guess defense and longevity were not valued on this list. Oh well.
What made this graphic stand out was how many good centers there currently are in the league. Fantastic talents such as John Tavares, Nicklas Backstrom, Tyler Seguin and others did not crack this list. To even be considered a top-five player at this position, you need to be an other-worldly offensive player, committed to defense and produce in the postseason.
Now, doesn’t that sound exactly like Crosby?
He has been the face of the NHL since entering the league in the fall of 2005, and that was an incredibly tough ask. The league had recently gone through a year-long lockout where the Stanley Cup was not awarded. Crosby was only a teenager when he made his debut, but the league needed him to be great right away.
Crosby rose to the challenge by racking up 102 points in 81 games during his rookie season, and he was just getting started. With hockey firmly locked in as America’s fourth-most popular sport — behind football, basketball and baseball — Crosby became a marketable star for the NHL.
Even if you’re not a big sports fan, you know who has worn No. 87 in Pittsburgh for the last 15 years. As captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was consistently excellent in all facets of the game.
His shot was phenomenal, but he was also a natural playmaker. He quickly gained a reputation for making his teammates better. He even impressed other professional players with his ability to score ridiculous backhanded goals.
Crosby has always been a savvy defender who brings enough bite to his game to irritate opponents. At other arenas, most notably in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, he was greeted by a chorus of jeers. Heckle as they may, the crowd usually couldn’t stop Pittsburgh from winning, with Crosby adding a couple of points.
What separates Crosby from any other center is his ability to dominate in the regular season and postseason, even after so many years in the NHL.
Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar have led their teams to multiple Stanley Cups, but their offensive production has dipped in recent years. Young superstars such as McDavid, MacKinnon and Matthews have not yet led their teams to a Stanley Cup championship.
Granted, it did take Crosby until year four to raise Lord Stanley. Also, some of these other centers are not on championship rosters. However, with three titles under his belt, Crosby, an eight-time All-Star and two-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner, has a firm grasp on the best of both worlds — individual and team success.
Crosby has set the standard for what a great center has to be in the modern NHL. You have to skate like the wind, create for your teammates, be willing to defend, score a high number of goals and lead your team to postseason success.
He is at the top of the NHL mountain. It is going to take a lot more than flashy goal highlights and a couple of playoff wins to knock him off. Crosby has earned the title of best center until his play starts to dramatically dip, or until one of these younger talents leads their team to a Stanley Cup.
So, if one of these other players wants to become the best center in the league, they better win a championship soon. With the competitive fire that drives him to be great, Crosby isn’t going anywhere any time soon.