Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sidney Crosby is one of the most accomplished players in NHL history with a resume that is pretty much unmatched by, well … anyone.
He has already won three Stanley Cups, three Ted Lindsay Awards, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two MVP awards, two goal-scoring crowns, and two scoring titles.
The only players in league history to win at least two Stanley Cups, MVPs, scoring titles, and goal-scoring crowns includes only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Phil Esposito, Gordie Howe, and Crosby. That’s it.
Had it not been for injuries during the prime of his career that individual collection of trophies would probably be significant larger, especially when it comes to the scoring titles.
For the five-year stretch between 2010-11 and 2014-15 Crosby finished as the league leader in points per game every single season (and by a ridiculously large margin each year) but only managed to win one scoring title during that stretch, almost entirely because he appeared in just 256 out of a possible 376 regular season games (only 68 percent of the team’s games).
It is not out of the question to think injuries robbed him of at least two more Art Ross Trophies. Maybe more.
Given that Crosby just celebrated his 31st birthday earlier this month it is worth asking a very simple question: Will he ever win another scoring title in the NHL?
History is not on his side in that discussion.
First, let’s just look at Crosby’s recent performance. Over the past four years he has been pretty consistent in his production, averaging around 89 points per 82 games played, a stretch that has seen him finish third, third, second, and, most recently, 10th in the overall scoring race, while also being first, third, second, and 12th in points per game.
In other words, he has been close to the top spot. Very close. He has also been one of the best and most productive players in the league even if his level of production has dropped off a bit from where it was when he was in his early-to-mid 20s (which should not be a surprise — players score at their peak levels before age 26).
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The two factors working against him when it comes to winning another Art Ross Trophy are, 1) the fact that Connor McDavid has emerged as the dominant offensive player in the NHL and probably hasn’t even entered his peak years yet, and 2) the Art Ross Trophy is historically won by younger players, like McDavid currently is.
As mentioned above, Crosby is now entering his age 31 season, and while that’s not quite over-the-hill for an elite, all-time great player, it’s still an age where leading the league in scoring is almost unheard of. In the history of the league there have only been 11 players that have finished as the league’s leading scorer at age 31 or older.
Here is the list (Update: We initially forgot about Mario Lemieux’s scoring title in 1996-97. It has been added).
Only four of them happened in the post Original Six era, while only three of those happened in an 82-game season. Martin St. Louis won his in a lockout shortened 48-game campaign, and had it not been for Crosby missing 11 games that year he probably would have won it himself.
Six of them happened before 1950, with four of those happening before 1934.
Among the NHL’s most prolific scoring champions…
- Wayne Gretzky only won one of his 11 scoring titles after his 31st birthday, and only had two other top-five finishes.
- Only one of Gordie Howe’s six scoring titles came after turning 31.
- All five of Jaromir Jagr’s came before turning 30, with his last one coming at age 28. He finished in the top-10 just twice after age 30, with only one top-five finish.
- Guy Lafleur never won a scoring title after age 26.
- Phil Esposito won four of his five before turning 31 (his fifth came in his age 31 season). After turning 31 he had one top-10 finish in seven years.
- The last of Stan Mikita’s four scoring titles came at age 27, while his Blackhawks teammate Bobby Hull won all three of his before turning 28.
Assuming he stays healthy he is still going to be one of the most productive players in the league for the foreseeable future. But history seems to suggest that he may have already won his last scoring title. Even winning two of them puts him in exclusive company, but it still seems amazing he may not win another given how dominant he has been in the NHL.
Even with everything he has accomplished, Crosby’s career still presents one of the NHL’s greatest “what if” questions when it comes to what he could have done with better health during his prime years.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.