SAN JOSE – There’s something you have to know about Sidney Crosby. He’s actually pretty quiet and humble for an NHL superstar, but there’s a competitive fire that burns inside of him and drives him as much or more than any player in hockey history. True story. So when Crosby gets out of bed from being sick for a couple of days to play in the All-Star Game, you can darn well bet that he’s going to want to be the most valuable player. He might downplay it, but that kind of stuff matters to Crosby.
So, he went out and got three goals and four assists in two 3-on-3 games to lead the Metropolitan Division to the title. He got a car for his efforts, which is nice, but it was more important to him to win an award that had eluded him to this point in his career. It’s a bucket-list thing with him. So is the Selke Trophy that goes to the best defensive forward in the NHL. Both the eyeball test and the analytics suggest Crosby has developed into a player who is legitimately worthy of consideration. That would make him the only player in NHL history to win the Hart, Art Ross, Conn Smythe, and Selke Trophies during his career.
“As far as the Selke, I’d like to be in the conversation, for sure,” Crosby said. “I mean, I think your play has to earn that. Anyone can say that, but I think I definitely want to be known as a player who’s responsible defensively and I want to be good offensively, but do it the right way. And I think for the most part this year that’s been the case. I think you leave that up to others to watch and decide, but I certainly take a lot of pride in being good defensively.”
In mid-season voting for the Selke Trophy by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, which also votes for the final award, Crosby did not finish in the top three finalists. (Full disclosure: Your trusty correspondent had him No. 1 on the ballot.) The winner at the mid-point was Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, who has a much smaller body of work than Crosby. The Selke is very much a reputation award and voters might have trouble getting their heads around the fact that Crosby has channelled his inner Steve Yzerman, even though he’s pretty much been doing that since the Penguins won their first of back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016. It might be hard to fathom that when it comes to an overall game, Crosby is playing his best hockey in years. He’s been a force at both ends of the ice, has maintained a high level of production despite his commitment to defense and is a big reason why linemate Jake Guentzel, a notoriously sub-par regular season player who usually saves his best for the playoffs, already has a career-high 24 goals this season.
“I feel pretty good about my game,” Crosby said. “I feel like the consistency has been there. I think just overall as a line we’ve been strong at both ends of the ice, the speed and creating things on a nightly basis. I feel like we’ve been able to do that.”
So much was made this year of the youth that was involved in the game, with 11 of the 44 players being 22 or under. It’s a clear indication of where the game is going. Players are coming into the NHL younger than ever and are more dominant off the hop than they’ve ever been. One of them was his linemate for the game, Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, a player Crosby essentially crowned as the best 3-on-3 player in the NHL. Crosby himself was one of those players, but now finds himself on the other side of 30. He’s intent on making a statement that he can hang with that group of players. “It’s scary coming to these,” Crosby said. “After a few years you start to realize you’re much more the older guy and it’s a different role, but it’s still a lot of fun. I think you appreciate just how skilled and talented so many guys are and how well they’re doing at such a young age.”
Crosby’s news conference ended on a light note when a local reporter in San Jose asked him, “How do you feel to be one of the best players for hockey?”
“That’s a tough one,” Crosby said. “I’m happy to be in the conversation, let’s put it that way.”
That he is. And if he continues to play at both ends of the ice in the second half the way he has in the first, he should be in the conversation for the Selke Trophy.