Sidney Crosby’s prime may very well be longer than expected
Just a few days ago Sidney Crosby turned 30 years old. Not too long ago, Crosby won his third Stanley Cup, second back-to-back championships, and the pinnacle of a Penguins team that may become the closest thing to a dynasty we’ve seen in this century. But now that Sidney has turned the three-decades page and entered his fourth, some have started to ask themselves how much more time will Crosby be around the league.
Although not completely objective, the consensus seems to be that elite players tend to reach their peak performance level at around 27 years of age. Defensemen and most of all goalies may have later prime years (between ages 29 and 30), but forwards seem to find their best seasons in terms of goal scoring and assists between ages 26 and 29. However, Sidney Crosby is one of a kind, a truly unique talent that has always sustained top-playing level. Since he entered the league in 2005, Crosby has amassed a 128.8 Point Shares, per Hockey-Reference.com, which ranks as the 49th highest mark of all time over the likes of Sergei Fedorov, Maurice Richard, and Dave Andreychuk.
By our 26-to-29 peak clip, Crosby should be just exiting his prime. During the past four seasons, Sidney has posted PS marks of 13.5, 10.3, 11.5 and 12.3. His production, as expected, has come from the offensive side of play. His Offensive PS values for the 2013-14 (10.7) and 2016-17 (10.5) seasons were tops in the NHL. But the most interesting thing about Crosby is that he’s been on a constant peak since he entered the league as he has almost the same PS during the first half of his career (ages 18 to 23, 68.7 PS) as he has during his second (ages 24 to 29, 60.1 PS, with a shortened season probably affecting his totals), including his supposed peak.
In order to know how much is left on Crosby’s tank we can look at how other greats have managed his 30’s in terms of Point Shares. For that, I looked for forwards with at least 100 PS up to their age-30 season (remember Crosby just reached 30 years of age with 128.8 PS). I left out active players (Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin) to work only with finished careers. Obviously, there are not that many players in this group, given how hard it is to reach this level of play.
Of those already retired, only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were able to accumulate more Point Shares than Crosby before reaching their 30’s. Super Mario edges Sidney just by a hair too. This, again, proves how Crosby has not just had a four-season peak, but rather a career-long sustained prime that has made him one of the best players of all time. Now that we’ve confirmed that Crosby’s has effectively been one of the greatest players under 30 years of age, we can look at the players with most Point Shares from age 30 onwards in order to see how much PS they have been able to accumulate during the late period of their careers.
This could give us an idea of how much we can expect from Crosby during the following years. For that, I used some kind opposite query to that I just performed. This is, I looked for forwards with at least 55 PS between their age-30 season and the year they retired. The list here is much longer as the threshold is lower and some players bloomed late in their careers. Only Gordie Howe surpassed the 100 PS with a mark of 105.6 playing 14 seasons between 1958 and 1980 (!) to finally retire with 51 years of age.
The average number of seasons all of the found forwards played past 30 years of age is at around 10. We’d set the baseline for Crosby there, having him playing until his forties. Given that Sidney has averaged around 65 games played per season (he’s always had to deal with injury problems), that would mean he’d feature on something close to 650 more games during that time span. If we apply this thershold to our prior query, we’d be looking for forwards that played at least 650 games once they turned 30 years old, and who accrued at least 55 PS. There are 21 instances of retired players that fit that profile.
The average forward – looking at those 21 players data – posted a PS value of 75 over an average of 11 seasons of play. We can have a better look at the production of that average player on a finer level of detail by just calculating the average PS per Game Played he would have gotten, and we arrive at a 0.094 PS/GP.
If Crosby played for 10 seasons at a pace of 65 games per season, we’d be looking at a 10-year span worth of 61.1 PS. As we don’t know if Crosby will ever get hurt again or if he’ll suffer more injuries than he has to this point, we can create a 10% confidence interval around those expected 65 games per season in order to estimate how better or worse his production could be. I just calculated the 10% of 65 games (6.5 games) and subtracted and added it to those 65 games to get the worst- and best-case scenarios for Crosby. If Sidney was only allowed to play 58.5 games per season, he’d add 55.0 PS to his current tally. He he played best-case 71.5 games per seasons, he’d add 67.2 PS.
In summary, we could expect Crosby to finish his career with at least 183.8 PS and as most as 196.0 PS if everything goes perfectly for him. What does that mean on the long run for Sidney? Well, he’s legacy would be totally cemented and he’d enter the pantheon of the greatest players to ever see ice-time on the NHL. Already the 34th best-ranked player by means of Hockey-Reference.com’s Point Share system, if he played the worst-case scenario he’d finish his career with 183.8 PS and he’d rank 7th in the all-time list behind Gretzky, Bourque, Howe, Jagr, MacInnis, and Coffey. If he played to his best projection, though, Crosby would end his career at 196.0 PS and be the 5th-best player of all time edging Al MacInnis and becoming the 4th-best forward to ever play the game.
Sidney’s career, up to this point and given his accolades, is already worth putting among those of the greatest. But rest assured that if he can manage at least another 10 years of playing time – something expected by historical standards – we will be looking, really, at one of the most incredible careers ever seen on the ice.