Oct. 19—The nickname “Sid the Kid” is no longer accurate. Despite being 36 years old, Sidney Patrick Crosby just began his 19th season in the National Hockey League, demonstrating no signs of decline. However, considering his age, it is inevitable that he will retire in the near future. Don’t despair just yet, though, because it’s not over until Crosby decides it is.
Crosby is not the first superstar hockey player to continue playing past the age of 35. Many other Hockey Hall of Famers have done so. But did any of them achieve significant success in the later years of their careers? Today, let’s examine some of the greatest players in NHL history who played well into their late 30s, in order to gain insight into what we can anticipate from Sid in the coming years.
Without the Cup
The players I want to discuss can be grouped into several categories. The first category, fortunately one that Crosby has been excluded from since 2009, consists of players who never won a Stanley Cup. It is unfortunate that legendary players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, Mats Sundin, and Eric Lindros, despite numerous accolades, thousands of games played, and deep playoff runs, never hoisted the Cup. Consequently, these players often left their long-time teams to join contenders in pursuit of the Holy Grail of hockey. Some of them even came to the Penguins.
Thankfully, with three Stanley Cup rings already to his name, Crosby will not need to bounce around between teams, desperately seeking his first chance at the ultimate prize.
Crosby instead falls into the category of players who desire another taste of Lord Stanley’s Cup. However, not all players in the past were loyal to their teams in this quest. Some players won Stanley Cups with one organization and then moved to other teams in the twilight of their careers, hoping for a “better shot” at another championship. This was exemplified by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier going to New York, Ron Francis signing in Toronto, or Mike Modano playing with the Red Wings.
Technically, Crosby could request a trade and join a team like the Lightning or Avalanche, who may have a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup nowadays. However, it is widely expected that he will remain in Pittsburgh until he hangs up his skates.
Devoted to One Team
This leaves us with players who remained with one team throughout their entire careers. These are the players I believe are the best for comparing to Crosby. They include Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom with the Red Wings, Joe Sakic with the Nordiques/Avalanche organization, and Patrice Bergeron with the Bruins.
All of these players were drafted by a team, won Stanley Cups with that same organization, and ultimately retired as members of the same franchise. It is a remarkable and rare accomplishment that only a few athletes in sports history can claim. Even greats like Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Babe Ruth cannot make this claim.
Examining the careers of these one-team wonders yields encouraging results, especially for Penguins fans like myself. Steve Yzerman secured his final Stanley Cup (2002) at the age of 36 and also earned the Masterton Trophy for dedication to the game when he was over 35 years old. As a defenseman, Nicklas Lidstrom won four Norris Trophies (best defensemen) and a Stanley Cup at the age of 37. Patrice Bergeron captured two Selke Trophies for best defensive forward in the NHL and two Mark Messier Awards for leadership when he was over 35 years old.
Besides continuing to climb up the NHL’s all-time goals, assists, points, and games played leaderboards, there are a few individual awards that I believe Crosby can still win at age 35 and beyond. The Messier, Masterton, or Selke Awards are all within Sid’s capabilities.
Although these individual accolades contribute to Crosby’s legacy, another Stanley Cup victory would solidify his place as one of the top five players of all time.
The oldest player to ever win a Stanley Cup was Chris Chelios in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings. He was 46 years old. In the same year, Lidstrom, captain of the Red Wings, celebrated a Stanley Cup triumph at 38, making him the oldest captain to ever win it all.
Coincidentally, on the other side of the ice that year, a 20-year-old Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins fell short in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final against the Red Wings. The following year, the same two teams met in the Stanley Cup Final, and this time, Crosby and the Penguins emerged victorious.
This series represented the passing of the torch from one generational team to another. The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups in 11 seasons and made the playoffs for 25 consecutive years. The Penguins then went on to win three Stanley Cups in nine years and appeared in the playoffs for 16 straight seasons.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to see history repeat itself once again? This time, the Penguins, led by Crosby, find themselves running out of steam. Perhaps Erik Karlsson was the right addition to the Penguins, allowing them to reach the Finals against Connor McDavid and the Oilers, and for the cycle to continue.
My Greatest Concern
I won’t go into full critique mode regarding the current Penguins roster, but I must address one crucial point that I have neglected thus far. Unlike Chelios, Lidstrom, and Yzerman, who had exceptional teams surrounding them during their late 30s Stanley Cup victories, Crosby may not have the necessary support to lead the team to another championship. The 2002 Red Wings, in particular, might be the most talented NHL roster ever assembled, with nine players from that team now residing in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yzerman was the team’s sixth-leading scorer that season. While the 2008 Red Wings still heavily relied on Lidstrom, they had stars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to alleviate the burden.
My point is that, as remarkable as Crosby is, it remains uncertain if he can single-handedly propel his team to another Stanley Cup. Could he be a vital component in another championship win, much like Lidstrom or Yzerman? Absolutely.
Don’t misunderstand me—I don’t want Crosby to stop playing at his best. Instead, I hope to witness someone—whether it’s Jake Guentzel, Erik Karlsson, or a newcomer—establish themselves as the Penguins’ future, assisting Crosby in any way possible during his pursuit of one final Stanley Cup.
Owen Krepps can be reached at 814-724-6370 or at [email protected].
Sarah Anderson dives into the fast-paced world of NHL hockey. Her coverage includes game analysis, player spotlights, and the latest news from the ice. Sarah’s dedication to the sport ensures that hockey enthusiasts stay informed about the NHL’s thrilling action.