Friday, June 06, 2008

Projecting Sidney Crosby

I have a got a few comments arguing my position I stated yesterday that I don't think there will be a Sidney Crosby era in the NHL. I don't think there will be a period of time where Sidney Crosby clearly dominates the league. There won't be an era similar to the Wayne Gretzky era, where Gretzky won nine Hart Trophies in ten years. He won't dominate on the level of Bobby Orr, where Orr won eight Norris Trophies in a row along with three Harts. He won't dominate on the level of Gordie Howe, where Howe won the scoring title four times in a row and then twice more in the future. That is not to say that Sidney Crosby is bad player - he is clearly a very good player, but there won't be any period of years where we look back and say Crosby was clearly the most dominant player in the league back then.

How can I say that? Let's start by looking at Crosby's career so far. Here are his career stats so far:

Sidney Crosby Career Statistics
SeasonGPGoalsAssistsPointsPlayoff GPGoalsAssistsPoints

That comes out to 1.38 points per game in the regular season, which is a number that compares pretty well to Bobby Orr's career points per game of 1.39. Crosby has won a scoring title and Hart Trophy last season. This year, however his numbers have regressed a bit. In part this is due to injury, but even before Crosby's injury it was Vincent LeCavalier and Alexander Ovechkin and not Crosby leading the NHL in scoring. Crosby was not the leading candidate to win the Hart Trophy at that point. I was picking Nicklas Lidstrom who I had recently picked over LeCavalier. Crosby was in the running, but he was not the leader. Had Crosby played a full season at the rate he scored this year, he would have had 111 points. That is definitely a good total. It would have placed him just behind Alexander Ovechkin for second in the scoring race. The problem is Crosby is not exerting his dominance over the field.

There are two other players roughly Crosby's age who are arguably as good as he is. They are Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Sure Crosby is a little over a year younger than they are, but that isn't a big difference. When Crosby hits his prime in the NHL, they should too. I don't see why Crosby should be any more dominant than either of the other two.

Should Crosby be able to score as many points as Ovechkin or Malkin, I would not argue that he is necessarily as good a player as they are offensively. This is because Crosby is not a dominant goal scorer. His career best total is 39 goals so far. That is a good total, but it is not the kind of number that gets brought up in any discussion of the best players of all time. This past season, 63 players in the NHL scored more goals than Crosby, granted Crosby was limited to 53 games played, but that is clearly not a dominant goal scorer. All things being equal, I would far much rather have a goal scorer over an assist man when their point totals are identical.

Both Ovechkin and Malkin are far better goal scorers than Crosby. This means that in order for Crosby to dominate the NHL he must outscore them in points (and anyone else) by such a significant margin that the fact he is behind them in goals is insignificant. This will be very hard for Crosby to do consistently. I don't think he can do it.

There are three young forwards who look poised to dominate the NHL for the next few years in Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin. There are other forwards in Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, Vincent LeCavalier, Henrik Zetterberg, Ilya Kovalchuk and others who are good enough that they could wind up winning a scoring race or being MVP at some point along the way if the circumstances are right. There are other young players about to begin their NHL careers including John Tavares and Steve Stamkos, who might also join those ranks. Frankly, there are too many talented forwards who are close enough to Crosby in talent that it appears unlikely that Crosby will be the dominant player of the next several years. I think he will be one of the dominant players but he will not define the era. He won't be able to come out clearly ahead of the competition consistently enough. He is not good enough to likely be a serious candidate for the best player of all time.

That in no way means I don't think Sidney Crosby is (or will be) a good player. Obviously he is a very good player. He was ranked the best player in hockey by The Hockey News last summer and may remain in that position this year (though Ovechkin might also take that position). I would be surprised if Crosby is not a Hall of Fame player. I would be surprised if he isn't one of the 36 best all time. But I don't think he will be the player to define the next few years in the NHL. I don't think any one player in the league today is good enough to do that.

Fair enough. Good reply - the next few seasons will be very interesting in the NHL.
I agree, and have been thinking of writing a similar post but you beat me too it. At this point in Wayne Gretzky's career Gretzky was by far the best player in the league. The same can't be said for Crosby. In Gretzky's second NHL season he scored 164 points, 29 more than second place Marcel Dionne. Of the two, Crosby's career is more likely to mirror Dionne's than Gretzky's though Dionne is probably a better goal scorer than Crosby is and Crosby a better playmaker. There is no doubt Crosby is a great player but as you point out, he is not head and shoulders above the other elite players in the league, or even his age group.
1) Again NOT a crosby lover, but if a some like to do, we look at the players they are comparig him to:
Stan Mikita: Score 40+ once. NOT a single 100+ point season, ever. When he was 20 his NHL totals were 8 goals/26 points.
Crosby at the same age: 99 goals/294 points
2) Dionne: Hadn't completed an NHL season by age 20.
At this point other than Gretzky, we can't find another player who has accomplished as much by this age. Thats not too shabby to be the 2nd best 18-20 yr old, ever, huh?

You have problems with your comparisons because you are trying to compare across very different eras. Much changes over time. In this case the age players enter the NHL is a big change that your entire argument is based upon.

In Dionne's time, draft age was 20 (and it was set that way because in Mikita's age almost no players left junior early to play in the NHL - so it seemed like a natural selection). So naturally many of these players hadn't completed a season by age 20. Does changing draft ages prove one player is better or worse than the other? No.

The main reason you can rank Crosby a high is due to draft age. He is one of the youngest possible draftable players in his year (or in any year). Therefore, his first three years are often compared to other player's first two (if they were drafted at 18) - since the other player was older when he started his third season. Its really just an accident of draft ages.

We have seen enough of Crosby to know what kind of player he is. We know he is not a big goal scorer at the elite level. He quite possibly will never have a 50 goal season in his career. Nevertheless, he is a very good point scorer. I could imagine him have a 130-140 point career best season. Obviously when you directly compare those numbers to for example Stan Mikita, Crosby has far more raw points. Adjusted for the era, it is not so obvious.

We see three very good young players - Crosby , Malkin, Ovechkin. Crosby is less than 2 years younger than either of them. They will all go through their primes more or less simultaneously and I don't see it likely that Crosby will dominate the other two consistently. Even if he did score roughly the same number of points as either of them, I wouldn't think he was as good an offensive player because they scored more goals.

You want a list of players who three years after their draft in the draft era looked roughly as good as Crosby? Mike Bossy, Dale Hawerchuk, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, Jimmy Carson. You can throw in Wayne Gretzky though he was never drafted. Some were a little bit worse than Crosby and some a little bit better. They are roughly his comparables. Of course we can go past the raw numbers and look at similar styles of players. When we do that, we see Crosby was actually a worse goal scorer than every one of those comparables and better at collecting assists then all but Grtezky and Lemieux. That lack of goals is troubling. I think it will keep him back from being seriously considered among the very best players of all time. He will be in the next tier.

Faux. Make your prediction. When Sidney Crosby retires, which now retired NHL player will he be ranked as having had a roughly equal level career to? I do not mean which player does his style remind you of - or anything like that. When Crosby is retired, and you are making a list of the best players in history, which player(s) do you expect you will be ranking just above or below Crosby and debating their order in your mind?
Steve Yzerman might be an interesting comparable too. Yzerman started his career with 87, 89, 42, and 90 points and 39, 30, 14 and 31 goals (he only played 51 games in his 3rd season resulting in just 14g, 42pts). But in his 5th season he found his scoring touch netting 50 goals and he followed that up with 65, 63, 51, 45 and 58 goal seasons after which he became more of a playmaker again.

Crosby is clearly better than Yzerman after 3 seasons but few players see the bounce 5 years into their career that Yzerman had so I don't think we can expect that from Crosby. In fact, many players point totals drop off as they approach and pass their mid 20's. Yzerman was just a bit later developing but also probably wasn't given the team to lead and play as many PP minutes immediately out of junior like Crosby was. In my mind an Yzerman type career is a best case scenario for Crosby though likely still end up with fewer goals and more assists.

A lot of other people have compared Crosby to Peter Forsberg and that might be the best comparable as Forsberg always was more of an assit guy. Forsberg never scored more than 30 goals (partly due to injuries) and Crosby has already done that in his first two seasons but as far as style of play and overall contribution to their teams I think they are similar players.
We are all making the assumption that Crosby will have a long injury free career. Will he?

I dont know.

If we assume a 20 or more year career (which seems to be the common assumption) things look very different from if we assume his career is injury plagued like Lindros, Forsberg or Cam Neely.
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