PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 31: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is greeted by fans while walking out to the rink for practice ahead of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals on December 31 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby returns to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup on Monday night, and as hockey fans, we should all be extremely thankful for that.
He's grown as both a player and an ambassador for the game in his first six seasons in the NHL, and while apparent whining and diving was indisputably part of his act early on in his career, there's now one thing that's just as indisputable.
Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world.
It seems like a silly thing to even have to say, doesn't it? After all, he was billed as the next great NHL star, and as soon as he first stepped onto the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins, we all learned exactly what the hype was about. Often times, junior players that are hyped as much as Crosby are unable to live up to those expectations. But Crosby was different, and if anything, he's far exceeded expectations.
Crosby is just 24 years old, and he's won just about every major award in hockey. A (probably incomplete) list:
- Michel Briere Memorial Trophy as QMJHL MVP
- Guy Lafleur Memorial Trophy as QMJHL Playoff MVP
- QMJHL Rookie of the Year
- CHL Rookie of the Year
- CHL Player of the Year
- Gold at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships
- Gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics
- Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal scorer
- Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer
- Hart Memorial Trophy as NHL MVP
- Four NHL All-Star Games
- The Stanley Cup
The only real omissions from the list are the Memorial Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy and gold at the IIHF World Hockey Championships, but he still has plenty of time to pick up those last two. And we can probably forgive him if he never does it.
The fact of the matter is that while there are plenty of other candidates trying to steal Crosby's spot atop the NHL throne -- Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, to name a few -- none of them can boast the resume that Crosby can. None of them can boast the same two-way game he plays. None of them can boast ... well, that they're better than Sidney Crosby.
Maybe that all begins to change Monday night. Maybe, in his return from a severe head injury that has the ability to ruin the way Crosby perceives the world around him, and thus the way he plays the game, he won't be the same player he was before. That's all a very fair worry, and we'll slowly begin to learn the impact of his concussion at around 10 after 7 p.m. on Monday night when the New York Islanders invade CONSOL Energy Center.
But until this point in his career, Crosby has been nothing but a treat to watch. Perhaps it's fitting that he's returning to the ice just days before Thanksgiving is celebrated in Pittsburgh and across the United States. He's a special player, and we're all extremely lucky that we get to watch him play hockey.
I'm thankful we'll finally have the opportunity to do that again.
Morning Skate is a daily NHL column. It runs Monday through Friday. Check the archives.