Monday, December 28, 2009

Sidney's Seniors

sidney crosby winter classicSidney Crosby owns an impressive resume. He’s a three-time all-star, winner of the Art Ross, Lester B. Pearson, and Hart trophies, Stanley Cup champion, youngest captain in league history, not to mention recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia! Plus he’s carried the Olympic torch and will soon own a 2010 Olympic gold medal (fuck you Russia). But there is one aspect of Sidney’s resume that should be emphasized: prolonging the careers of the game’s elder statesmen. Let’s examine.

A 36-year-old John LeClair miraculously scores 51 points, 22 of which are goals, after sitting out an entire year during the lock-out. Players who opted not to play any hockey during the lockout started the season in a daze. They gradually only sucked wind and eventually realized the game passed them (Dave Andreychuk) or they found their legs again (Mats Sundin). The changes that occurred to the NHL after the lockout did not benefit LeClair. LeClair was a pre-lockout machine, when his size and strength compensated for his lack of speed, but he was out of place when obstruction was outlawed. Riding shotgun with Sidney Crosby prolonged LeClair’s career by one year, however, even Sidney could not save LeClair’s eroding body from breaking the following year. He only lasted 21 games in 2006-2007 before being waived by the Pens. John LeClair should have sent Sidney Crosby a gift basket for allowing him to play 94 more games in the NHL.

The next player lucky enough to be transported to a younger age is Mark Recchi, who is somehow still playing in the NHL at the age of 41. Like LeClair, Recchi also sat out the entire lockout after posting a productive 75 points and +18 rating with Philadelphia in 2003-2004. By the start of the season Recchi was 37. By playing for the Pens, Recchi scored 57 points in 63 games. These gaudy offensive numbers are belied by his atrocious -28 rating for the Pens. Plus, after being shipped to the Hurricanes at the deadline his point total dropped precipitously to 7 points in 20 games. He also had a -8 rating during his mere 20 game stint with the Canes. Knowing a good opportunity when it’s presented, Recchi re-upped with the Pens realizing he could play with both Crosby and Malkin and guarantee at least 10-15 tap in goals. That year Recchi scored an astonishing 68 points (24 goals). However, the Pens thought his old body was slipping and waived him 19 games into the 2007-2008 season after a scant 2 goals. Recchi has somehow kicked around on three other teams since then and is still playing. He's not terrible, but his time with Sidney must have deluded him into thinking he can be the next Chris Chelios.

The latest old man who owes Sidney a portion of his pay cheque is 39-year-old Bill Guerin. Before being acquired by the Pens at last season’s trade deadline Guerin had 16 goals and 20 assists in 61 games with the lowly Islanders. After the trade, Guerin scored 5 goals and 7 assists in 12 games, largely because the efforts of Sidney Crosby. This year Guerin has 11 goals and 15 assists in 38 games, which puts him on pace to tie his highest offensive campaign since 2006-2007. Coincidently, that year Guerin’s played with assist-master Thornton during the stretch run after a trade with the San Jose Sharks.

I don't mean to discredit the value that Guerin brings to the Penguins, since his acquisition, combined with the trade for Chris Kunitz and the firing of Michel Therrien, catapulted the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup championship since the early 1990s. I just want to highlight the restorative abilities of Crosby. Obama should use him as a part of his new health care bill.

I’m not suggesting that both Mark Recchi and Bill Guerin have no business in the league anymore, rather, I’m arguing that playing with Crosby allows them to easily produce numbers they would be hard pressed to duplicate otherwise. You're telling me a 39-year-old Bill Guerin has any business scoring more than 40 points in a season.

The common theme among these three players, aside from their age, is their lack of speed. Recchi at one point was fast, but Guerin and LeClair were slow when they were young. Playing with Crosby means this isn't a problem. Don't want to skate very much? Don't worry, Sid will thread the puck through two defenders and you can tap it in. To play with Sidney all you really have to do is keep your stick on the ice and clear his way.

Since the Penguins have both Crosby and Malkin, they will always be a favourable destination for the game’s older players. A year or two with these players is a chance to pad your stats and ensure an extra month or more of hockey in the spring. It’s also a great chance to play with two of the best players in the NHL and show their kids they are actually able to score at the NHL level; their tales of 40 goal seasons aren’t just wild lies.

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