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Campbell's Cuts: The difference between great and all-time great players

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Since Rocket Richard did it for the first time ever in 1944-45, there have been 184 total 50-goal seasons posted by 87 different players. It has been done by the truly great (Gretzky, Wayne; Lemieux, Mario), by the merely very good (Nieuwendyk, Joe; Roberts, Gary) and by the downright obscure (Richard, Jacques; Chouinard, Guy).

Not once has it been done by Crosby, Sidney. In fact, Crosby hasn’t even come within 10 goals of scoring 50 in a season and given his goal production through the first third of this season, nobody should count on it happening in 2008-09.

Now before you attack me in cyberspace and give the ‘F’ key a workout, the likes of which it has never seen, please understand that I believe Crosby is a wonderful hockey player and an asset to the game. I wish he didn’t fall to the ice so much and I have concerns about his long-term health given the way he approaches the game and his injury history so far, but there is no disputing he is a true superstar. He is one of the few players whose dedication matches his talent level and his off-ice contribution to the game equals what he does on the ice.

And he’s creating offense, no doubt about that. He stands second in the league in points and third points per game.

But come on, don’t you wish he’d put the puck in the back of the net a little more often? In his three-plus years in the NHL, Crosby has proven to be all-world at just about everything, but there are two stick skills – scoring and faceoffs – where his performance has been far less than superstar-like. Through the first three seasons of his NHL career, Crosby scored a very respectable 99 goals. But did you know 14 other players scored more goals during the same time period, including Teemu Selanne, who scored one more than Crosby despite playing 35 fewer games? Alex Ovechkin, meanwhile, scored 163 in 32 more games than Crosby. Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin, a linchpin on the point of the Penguins power play, scored 80 goals in two seasons, just 19 fewer than Crosby scored in his first three.

The concern I have for Crosby is that he may never emerge as a truly elite goal-scorer in the NHL. In fact, instead of taking his goal-scoring up a notch as his career progresses, Crosby appears to be faltering more in that department as each season goes by. Through the early part of this season, the dip in scoring for Crosby has been as precipitous as it has been mysterious. His goal-drought to date has reached a career-high nine games.

Need proof? Consider that Crosby scored 39 goals in his rookie year and his goal totals – and goals per game – declined each of the next two seasons. And it isn’t getting any better this year. After 32 games, the Penguins captain is on pace for just 33 goals and had the worst shooting percentage among the league’s top-10 scorers.

And there’s a reason for that. Simply put, Crosby’s shot isn’t great. Most of his goals are scored by relentlessly driving to the net or using his backhand, but when he shoots from outside the hashmarks, it’s not the least bit dangerous.

Must have something to do with the stick. On faceoffs, Crosby is 65th in the league and has never finished in the top 40. He’s had a success rate of better than 50 percent just once in his career.

And even though Crosby has scored two of the most electrifying shootout goals in NHL history – one against Montreal in his first season and last year in the Winter Classic in Buffalo – he had just nine goals on 32 shootout shots. Only seven players have taken more shots than Crosby has, but 29 have more goals in the skills contest. Of the 39 players who have at least nine career shootout goals, ironically only Ovechkin has a worse scoring percentage than Crosby.

It’s clear so far that Crosby, while reasonably productive as a goal-scorer, is simply not in the class of Ovechkin, or Jarome Iginla. When it comes to goals, Crosby is clearly among a second tier of guys such as Daniel Briere, Martin St-Louis, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash and Jason Spezza.

Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but the lack of big-time scoring from Crosby remains the only hole in an otherwise sparkling resume.

Perhaps looking for a string of 50-goal seasons out of Crosby is expecting too much. After all, Crosby is a terrific playmaker, responsible two-way center and a natural leader. And he’s clearly intimately involved in the Penguins’ offensive thrust. Of the first 210 assists Crosby had in his career, 137 of them were first assists, suggesting that when he contributes, he makes a tangible contribution.

Great things have been predicted for Crosby for years, but the difference between being ultimately remembered as a great player and being one of the greatest of all-time will, in my opinion, depend on whether or not he can pick up his goal-scoring clip to an all-world level. Crosby has been most often compared to players such as Marcel Dionne and Bryan Trottier, but Dionne scored 50 goals six times during his career and Trottier recorded one 50-goal season and four more in which he scored at least 40.

Not posting a 50-goal season did nothing to tarnish Gordie Howe’s legacy and it certainly didn’t prevent Ron Francis from being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but does anyone expect Crosby to play more than 1,700 games the way they did? That’s why if Crosby wants to be truly regarded as among the top-five players ever to play this game, he’s going to have to get on his horse and add goal-scoring to his rather ample bag of tricks.


The NHL lost a legitimate rookie of the year candidate and the Columbus Blue Jackets lost one of their best players when Derick Brassard dislocated his shoulder in a fight with fellow rookie James Neal. Brassard now requires season-ending surgery.

Just part of the game. Carry on.

Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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