Mario Lemieux added to his count when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators in six games to repeat as Stanley Cup champions on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh’s part owner now has three Stanley Cups in his executive career to go along with two that he won in his playing days – titles also won in consecutive seasons beginning in 1991.
With his latest triumph, there will be more LEMIEUXs than GRETZKYs on the rings of the mug, which are now covered with that certain glue from another champagne celebration. But what bragging rights he earned, Lemieux lost in ground to a rising legend of the sport.
Sunday’s triumph capped a 365-day stretch for the ages for Sidney Crosby. Exactly one year after winning his career-defining second Stanley Cup and first Conn Smythe Trophy, he’s waking up to both pieces of prestigious hardware yet again.
Crosby now has one Stanley Cup for every four seasons he’s been in the league – in today’s ultra-competitive level-playing NHL, no less – and has captured championships at a rate that even the greatest players ever cannot match.
There is no definitive moment; this crowning didn’t happen the moment Carl Hagelin bagged that empty netter to clinch improbable consecutive titles, or when Crosby embarked on this transformative goal-scoring season, or since he broke into the top 20 in Stanley Cup Playoffs scoring before reaching 30.Not to mention a World Cup gold, MVP, and a pair of Hart nominations. But somewhere along the way, Crosby cemented his place in the upper-echelon of all-time talent to ever grace the NHL.
He belongs to this exclusive club, and Lemieux will be the first to vouch for his membership.
“He’s been able to lead this team from the day we drafted him,” Lemieux told NHL.com’s Lisa Dillman during the celebration. “He grew as a great leader, a great player, one of the best of all time. For him to win three Cups puts him amongst the greats of the game.”
Crosby will never have a firm ranking among the greatest players in NHL history. His stamp in history will only make an already subjective debate that much more uncertain.
Because while he could eclipse Lemieux on the all-time scoring list, he would need eight seasons of 87 points to make up the current 696-point deficit. Likely into the second half of his career already, collecting the 564 points required to break into the top 10 all time might be a challenge too great to overcome.
This isn’t because he doesn’t measure up; he’s probably already a top 10 player of all time. It’s just that what was possible when the Gretzkys and Lemieuxs were re-writing records books – both in terms of individual numbers and team success – simply isn’t any longer. We’re in a moment in time where 100-point seasons are the exception, and stringing even consecutive Stanley Cup titles together is an astounding accomplishment.
What will be able to be said with certainty is that Crosby has fashioned a career completely unique to history, and one that won’t be repeated. He’s been the single-most dominant force of an era – the toughest and most competitive ever – winning literally everything (and in most cases multiple times) at the individual and team level for both club and country.
What remains is perspective, no longer pressure.
“You have a small window to play and have a career,” Crosby told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen in the celebration.
“You just want to try to make the best of it.”