LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Miguel Cabrera and Sidney Crosby. At the risk of upsetting a few Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers fans, it’s safe to say that these four athletes are the undisputed best players at their craft right now. Other than James, Crosby is definitely the one who has been touted as the next “great one” for a long time. The media swarmed Crosby starting when he was seven years old when he gave his first newspaper interview, leading to bold statements about what was predicted to be a Hall of Fame NHL career. Lo and behold, many of those predictions have proved to be absolutely correct.
With a week left in the 2013-2014 season, the Penguins captain is in line to win his second Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, as he is a full 17 points ahead of the second highest scorer, the Anaheim Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf. As much as analysts would like to complicate things and debate over other potential MVP winners, there really is no other choice. Alex Ovechkin is by far the best goalscorer in the world right now, as his league-leading 49 goals and 22 power play goals will indicate. No one can seriously consider giving the award to Ovie, however. He only has 25 assists and his minus-35 plus/minus rating puts him at 869th place out of 870 eligible players.
Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf is another possibility. He is second in the league with 85 points and is a top-10 forward in plus/minus despite having to play against the Western Conference’s toughest competition every night. Having led his team to the league’s third-best record, Getzlaf’s value to Anaheim is unquestionable, but when stacked up against Crosby, he is clearly a step below.
A final wild-card candidate for the Hart Trophy may be Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who leads the league with seven shutouts and is in the top five in the three other major categories – goals against average, save percentage and wins. His efforts have propelled Boston to the league’s best record and best goal differential.
In the end, however, Sid the Kid will absolutely win the award. Before he missed Sunday’s game in Colorado with a minor upper-body injury, Crosby had played in every one of Pittsburgh’s games – something he has never done in his rather injury-ravaged career. And he’s made it count; he leads the league with 102 points and 66 assists and is sixth in the league with 36 goals. Not only does he dominate offensively, but he also excels in all facets of the game, as his +16 plus/minus rating, league-leading 21:54 average time-on-ice and second-best 964 faceoffs won can attest to his superiority in the game right now.
What’s most impressive about Crosby’s season is that he’s put up such gaudy numbers despite having to bear the enormous burden of leading the Penguins through one of their most injury-plagued seasons in recent memory. Kris Letang, arguably the league’s best offensive defenseman and Pittsburgh’s workhorse on the blue line, has missed 45 of the team’s 79 games and continues to be sidelined after suffering a stroke in January. U.S. Olympian Paul Martin, who has amassed the second-most playing time of any Penguin in each of the past three seasons, has missed 43 games himself. Arguably the team’s best goal-scorer, James Neal, has also missed 23 games. Pascal Dupuis, who is perennially among the top five Pens in both goals and points, saw his season end due to an ACL tear all the way back in December after having played just 39 games. And finally – though the list could go on to include Brooks Orpik, Olli Maatta and more – two-time scoring champion and former NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin has missed 19 games and is still recovering from a foot injury he
suffered on March 24.
These are all very significant injuries to very significant players. And yet Crosby has stepped up to an astounding degree, willing his club to the second-best record in the entire Eastern Conference and racking up the best stats in the league to boot. If that’s not deserving of the Hart Trophy, I don’t know what is.
Contact Ben Glassman at [email protected]