Sidney Crosby and the quest to catch Mario

As the first weekend of August approaches, it’s of course Sidney Crosby time. It’s the time of year when Sid and Nathan MacKinnon are busy with their promotional shoots (no mention yet if Crosby enthusiastically celebrated his pal’s feat) and it’s also his birthday.

Dating back to 2014 and 2017 and maybe even beyond, Crosby’s hunt for Mario Lemieux’s 1,723 total points has always captivated me. Both stars’ careers have had so many unfortunate stops and starts and derailments that you never know what might have been for either of them.

Crosby, with 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 stat, it’s still shocking every time to see that Mario Lemieux’s career is just over 11 full seasons in its entirety. Such was his injury, illness and other limiting conditions.

In that sense, these two run different races. Lemieux’s skill, power and production in the 80s and early 90s against goaltenders who looked like your little 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.

Either way, more than ever (knock on wood), it looks like Crosby will come close and eventually surpass Lemieux’s career totals as well. I made a chart, with the player’s age and total points at the bottom. Quite easily, both have off-season birthdays, which makes it easier to track them by season.

Crosby’s career started a year earlier by age, but by the end of each of their seasons at age 22, Mario had advanced slightly in total points (516-506). If you really focus on that blue line, Lemieux’s angle from 21-23 is so scary, it’s almost vertical with the number of points he was racking up over that time. So, in the blink of an eye in four seasons, Lemieux had nearly doubled to 1,014 points, and Crosby’s career was in trouble.

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

However, that was the turning point, as Lemieux retired from 1997-2000, sitting on his 31-34 seasons. Those years of inactivity (along with his 29-year-old year in 1994-95, where Lemieux missed the entire campaign) are likely the only reason Crosby will ever take the top spot in the franchise ledger.

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

At this point, over the two stars’ 34-year seasons, Crosby has a total of 1,409 points. Lebest at this point in his career was at 1,494, giving him an 85-point cushion over the current captain.

As of now, Lemieux has scored just 229 points over the rest of his NHL career, which gave him a total of 313 points for Sid to go all the way to tying Mario.

Lemieux still had a great season at age 35 in six months (scoring 76 points in 43 games) and was one of the best players in the league at age 37 where he scored 91 points in 67 games (good enough for second in points/game in the entire league that season).

Reading the above should give hope for the final days of Evgeni Malkin (who celebrated his 36th birthday last week) and Crosby. Lemieux was still a dominant player until the age of 37, when the accumulation of hip and back injuries had largely deprived him of the ability to move on the ice to a shell of himself.

For Crosby in particular, this should be good news and also a potential way forward. If Crosby skates in Lemieux’s footsteps, he should be one of the best offensive players in the league this season and two more. Coincidence or not, this also corresponds to the time remaining on his contract.

Crosby has given tentative signals, and especially with Malkin and Kris Letang re-signed, that he too will likely play hockey longer than his current contract. This next contract would be for Crosby’s 38-plus seasons, and would also be when he would be able to overtake Lemieux as the Penguins’ all-time leading scorer.

More than ever, it looks like Crosby will get there and slowly but surely make up for surpassing the incredible historic point totals that Lemieux quickly compiled.

Today’s totals:

The best: 1,723
Crosby: 1,409

Lemieux: 690
Crosby: 517

Lemieux: 1,033
Crosby: 892

Does Crosby still have 173 goals left to catch Lemieux? It’s the only Penguin record at this point that the No. 66 has firmly under control. Crosby would need to play six more seasons and average 29 goals each year to pass Lemieux. Big demand at this point, although Crosby has averaged about that much lately (31 last season in just 69 games).

The assists mark will be the first to fall, with Mario currently sitting 141 above Crosby. In a good or normal non-pandemic year, Crosby racked up 50-60 assists per season, it’s not hard to see that major Lemieux mark fall to Crosby in three seasons.

Scoring is definitely in Crosby’s sights at this point, if he’s able and continues to put up the games necessary to get there. At 314 points to pass Mario, Crosby would “just” have to average 63 points over the next five seasons to surpass Lemieux in points. If Crosby plays another six seasons as he has quite informally and flippantly suggested, it becomes all the more of a slam dunk as he will be the most prolific Penguin point scorer of all time.

Many thought Lemieux’s franchise record for total points would never fall, and he sits eighth overall in NHL scoring, after all. It 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 remaining six seasons and if he can average 65 points per year in his career, that puts him on a career path of 1,800 points. That would narrowly pass Ron Francis (1,798) and put Sid in 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 will likely continue to make his legacy one of the few greatest players of any generation that the sport has seen.

Posted In NHL

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