From a purely statistically viewpoint Wayne Gretzky is the greatest athlete of all time. His 894 goals rank number one in NHL history, and his 1,963 career assists are more than the next best total by more than 700 helpers. In fact, Gretzky has more career assists than anybody else in the history of hockey has total points. That's why it was so surprising when Gretzky was asked in the early 2000's if his records would ever be broken, he not only suggested that they could be, but mentioned that Sidney Crosby might be the person to break the records. At the time Crosby had not yet played in an NHL game.
Crosby is now in his eighth season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. As a rookie he scored 39 goals and surpassed 100 points for the first of four times in his career. He has won the Hart Trophy, the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy, and the Stanley Cup. In other words, he has accomplished everything. He also has spent a lot of time missing games. Injuries only claimed a quarter of his season this year. Last year he missed 60 of 82 games. In 2010-2011 he played in half of the team's games.
When healthy he is the most dominant player in the league. However, it is health that explains why Crosby's Penguins have won just one Stanley Cup. His rookie season is the last time Pittsburgh failed to make the playoffs. The last two years, for the most part lost seasons for Crosby, Pittsburgh bowed out of the playoffs without winning a series. The three years before injuries began to leave their mark Crosby led the Penguins to two Cup Finals and one Stanley Cup Title.
Crosby missed all of April this season with a broken jaw. Before he got hurt the Penguins ran the table in March. Pittsburgh won 14 straight games in the month. When Crosby got hurt he knew the team would be in playoffs if he could return when they began. Pittsburgh managed to hold onto the top seed in the Eastern Conference without Crosby. He missed the first playoff game against the Islanders. In his return to the ice on Friday he scored twice. On Sunday he had three assists including the primary one on Chris Kunitz's game winning goal in overtime.
Crosby has scored 238 career goals and has added 427 assists in 470 games. His 1.41 points per game mark ranks third all time behind Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mike Bossy. His 665 points rank 239th all time. If he hadn't missed more than 150 career games his point total mark would be nearing 900. There are only 79 players in NHL history to surpass 1000 career points. Crosby is 25 years old.
Gretzky was 38 years old when he retired. Mark Messier, second in career points, retired at age 43. Gordie Howe, who ranks third on the all time points list, played 25 seasons in the NHL before spending six more years in the World Hockey Association, and then rejoined the NHL scoring 15 goals and totaling 41 points for the Hartford Whalers in 1979-1980 at the age of 51.
Crosby is probably not going to play nearly as long as some of the greats, but if he stays healthy the rest of this season, the Penguins are favorites to win the cup. Any season he can be on the ice for the next decade Pittsburgh will be difficult to beat. There is no doubt Crosby is brilliant when healthy. If he gets it done the rest of this playoff season, and stays on the ice for the most part over the next handful of years, we could forget the past couple of injury plagued campaigns and begin those Gretzky comparisons once more.