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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Somebody Slapped Sidney Silly by @ExcitedBobErrey

Sidney Crosby is undeniably the best hockey player in the world today, even if trying to hold onto all of his hardware can leave him to misplace that pesky baton somewhere where Claude Giroux can momentarily get his hands on it. Since coming into the league with a massive amount of junior trophies already on the mantle, Crosby has managed to add an Art Ross Trophy, a Rocket Richard Trophy, a Lester B. Pearson Award and a Ted Lindsey Award for being named the best player by his peers before and after the name change, 2 Mark Messier Leadership Awards, a Hart Memorial Trophy, and the Stanley Cup. Even more impressive is that without injuries in 2011 and 2013 he almost certainly would have added another 2 Hart Trophies, 2 Art Ross Trophies, a Ted Lindsey Award, and a Rocket Richard Trophy to that list and have been a major threat to capture all of the above in 2012 as well.

Given all that Crosby has accomplished, it can't be much of a surprise that he finds himself sitting atop the scoring race early in the NHL season with 7 goals and 10 assists in just 9 games. For virtually every other player in the league, a fast start like this would be instantly dismissed as unsustainable, and that player would quickly fall back to the pack. While Crosby currently has a points per game average (1.89) well above his career average (1.42), his average over the last 3 seasons (1.61) suggests that maintaining this early season pace might not be impossible to keep up.

In fact, it's usually the beginning of the season that drags down Sidney Crosby's scoring on the year.  In 2010, when Crosby was running away with the scoring race before his concussion, he only scored 11 points in his first 9 games, a points per game pace that was much lower (1.22) than what he finished with in only half a season (1.61). When he captured the Rocket Richard Trophy the year before, Crosby started off with only 8 points in his first 9 games (0.89 pts/gm) before finishing the year with 109 in 81 games (1.35 pts/gm). Crosby's best start through 9 games prior to this year was back in 2006-07 when he won the Hart Trophy, scoring 15 points in those first 9 games (1.67 pts/gm) en route to scoring 120 points in 79 games that year (1.52 pts/gm). In fact, his first two seasons are the only time he's had a higher points per game average over the first 9 games of the season than he finished with for the year. He's typically a slow starter, and outside of 2011-12, when he missed the team's first 9 games of the year, Sidney Crosby had averaged 11.9 points in the first 9 games of the season (1.32 pts/gm).

While his history suggests he finds another level to his game as the season progresses, Sidney Crosby has already started the year at an extremely high level that threatens to once again start pulling ahead in the scoring race by a large margin early. His 17 points through 9 games projects to 155 points for the full season, but even with believing that to be a scoring pace too high to keep up, his career average (1.42 pts/gm) over the rest of the year would leave him with 121 points over 82 games, and his average over the last 3 years (1.61 pts/gm) over the remaining games would project out to 134 points. Given his fast start and his history as a prolific scorer, it seems that only an injury could prevent Crosby from putting up a monster season at this point.

Of course, there's always the possibility that once again Crosby is off to a "slow" start and will find another gear in the upcoming games. While it seems foolish to suggest that a player averaging 1.89 points per game still has room to improve on that number in today's game, there are a couple reasons why this isn't a completely absurd idea. First off, Crosby is 26 years old and just entering the prime years of his career. The past 3 seasons have seen him elevate his game to a level he hadn't reached before, and he's now had two full offseasons to train and improve his game since suffering the concussion. He's shown us before how he can take a weakness (goal scoring, faceoffs) and turn it into a strength, and the amount he can improve between seasons can't be discounted. He's also going to see an influx of talent back into the lineup. Kris Letang is one of the most offensively gifted defensemen in the entire league, and his presence on the ice should help create more scoring opportunities, and James Neal has scored the second most goals on the power play in the NHL the past 2 seasons. Neal was a 1st team NHL All-Star in 2011-12, and Letang was a 2nd team NHL All-Star in 2013. Adding players as talented as those two back in the lineup will not only create more scoring chances, but should help finish more of those chances as well, leading to more goals. As impressive of a start as Crosby's had so far, he's going to find himself in an even better offensive situation very soon.

Finally, there's the motivation factor. Despite dominating the Eastern Conference during the 2013 season, the Penguins faced the Bruins in the ECF and were quickly swept from the playoffs, including scoring just 2 goals in the 4 game series. They had gotten that close to the Stanley Cup, with a team that talented, and managed to fall short in humiliating fashion. There's no questioning the dedication and commitment Sidney Crosby has, but it's things like falling short against the Bruins or the Red Wings in 2008 that will really drive him to get back to the top. Nine games into this season and it appears that Sidney Crosby is as focused and driven as he's ever been. He's off to a blazing fast start and looks to threaten not only his career best numbers, but also numbers that haven't been reached in the NHL in quite a long time. Whether he manages to keep up his current pace, falls back to being merely elite, or manages to step his game up to a level not seen since Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby is poised to have a memorable season that adds to his hardware collection and, hopefully, also to the team's.

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