If Mario Lemieux in his prime was a 100, Sidney Crosby in 2013 is a _________.
You can fill in the blank with whatever number that you think fits. After watching Crosby for the past several games, I noticed that I was beginning to think the same things that I used to think while watching a healthy Mario Lemieux. Night after night, the separation between Crosby and everyone else on skates is starting to approach a level of absurdity.
Other players skate. Crosby does something else while wearing ice skates. Forget the scoring, which separates him enough, seeing as how he went into the weekend leading the league in scoring. The things he can do while moving full speed on skates makes him different from every person on the planet.
A long time ago, I decided that Lemieux was the best player I have ever seen in a team sport at any time, anywhere. The 199-point season he had in 1989 is the best year an NHL player has ever had, including Wayne Gretzky’s record 215.
Crosby has never blown away the rest of the league the way Lemieux used to, but he also does things - mostly in the defensive end, in the corners, along the boards and in the faceoff circle - that Lemieux never did. He’s playing against better and bigger goalies who are wearing about 50 percent more equipment.
Of course, Lemieux played in the NHL’s Dumb Era, when the league was so stupid that it thought it was a good idea to not enforce the rules that allowed skilled players to excel and, more importantly, entertain. Crosby doesn’t have to deal with the clutching and grabbing that Lemieux had to put up with, and he doesn’t have to worry about the two-line pass.
It’s always difficult to compare players from different eras, and I’m not prepared to say that Crosby has equaled Lemieux yet. But, he’s close. I would fill in the blank with the number 95.
That’s how good I think Crosby is.
I wanted to see if there were others out there who agreed with me, so I surveyed 10 members of the local sports media, who covered Lemieux in his prime and are still covering Crosby now.
I promised not to reveal their names, but they are all people you would probably recognize.
The consensus seems to be that Crosby is somewhere between 90 and 95 to Lemieux’s 100. The lowest number was 70. And there was one 100.
One respondent, who’s not local, was John Buccigross of ESPN, who grew up in Steubenville, Ohio. He tweeted “Lemieux didn’t have to play 200 x 85,” and filled in the blank with 99.
The biggest difference between Lemieux and Crosby might be that Lemieux’s brilliance could be appreciated just by watching highlights of his ridiculous goals and passes. To really appreciate Crosby, you have to see him play an entire game or series of games.
By the way, Crosby is a year older than Lemieux was when he put up the 199 points. Of course, he’s missed a year and half because of concussion issues and the lockout.
• There’s more evidence that it might be time to forget about football and outlaw it. And it has nothing to do with the salary cap or the Steelers’ disintegrating in front of our eyes.
The NFL Competition Committee wants a new rule that makes it a personal foul for either a runner or a tackler to engage in head-first contact with the crown of a helmet when running into each other outside the tackle box.
There are serious people, including at least one NFL head coach, who want to eliminate the kickoff, which the league is already doing by moving the kickoff closer to the goal posts. During the last postseason, I saw a roughing the passer penalty called on a lineman whose fingers tapped a quartback’s helmet after he let go off the ball.
Have these guys ever played football?
Have they been watching the NFL lately? This is another judgment call that officials are going to be asked to make in real time so that they can have the play looked at on videotape for 15 minutes to see if they got it right.
Don’t we have enough of those? Or will they say it’s not reviewable?
Penalty flags thrown by officials, who couldn’t possibly be able to consistently interpret or enforce the ever-increasing menu of possible infractions on every play, are ruining the sport.
We’re only a few more stupid rules away from just eliminating contact altogether. That would really cut down on the threatened lawsuits.
There might still be some hope, though. The NFL and General Electric just announced that they will be working together to develop a better helmet, one that would be lighter and include sensors that could detect concussions.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went as far as to say that they need to find a helmet that would not serve as a weapon.
That’s a good, overdue step in the right direction.
Now, if they can come up with a plan to shrink all the artificially grown players, they might have a chance to save the sport.
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter. His website is justwatchthegame.com.