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Could Sidney Crosby retire as one of the 10 greatest scorers?

Sidney Crosby has 825 points in 600 career games, the ninth best total of all-time. Will it be enough for Crosby to end his career among the top 10 scorers in NHL history, or will he fall short by the time his career is through?
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Wednesday night Sidney Crosby played in his 600th career game and, with 825 points, he sits as the ninth highest scorer in NHL history after 600 contests.

The names ahead of Crosby on that list are some of the all-time greats – players such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Peter Stastny, Bobby Orr, Jari Kurri, Bryan Trottier, and Denis Savard. Crosby will, barring a catastrophic career-ending injury, be a Hall of Famer when his career ends and is, without a doubt, the greatest offensive player of his generation.

But when Crosby decides to hang them up, where will he finish all-time? Will he crack the top 10 scorers or will he end up far back, like Bossy, Stastny and Savard?

Over his career, Crosby has scored 1.375 points per game, an average that falls fifth all-time, behind only Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr, and Bossy. That’s an incredibly high average but Crosby, like the four greats in front of him, will likely see that number drop as he ages. Jaromir Jagr’s average, for instance, now sits at 1.171, far from the 1.5 he averaged during some of his greatest seasons. Another comparable could be Joe Thornton, whose career average is 0.986 as he enters his mid-30s.

So what would get Crosby into the top 10?

Phil Esposito is currently 10th all-time with 1,590 points. Esposito scored his incredible total over a span of 1,282 contests, so we know that simply based on points per game, if Crosby plays as many games as Esposito and scores at his current pace, he’d be well into the 1,700s by the time his final game rolled around. That would put Crosby comfortably in the ninth spot, ahead of Joe Sakic (1,641) but behind Lemieux (1,723 points).

Crosby is in his 10th season in the league, though, and he’s not aging backwards. Another 10 seasons would make him 37 and with his injury history, that could put him on course for retirement.

Even if he were to play another 10 seasons at his current pace, that doesn’t factor in current players who could usurp the 10th spot all-time. Thornton already has 47 points this season, and is on pace for 70. He currently has 1,241 career points and another 23 would put him 326 back of Esposito. With two years left on his deal and his consistent ability to perform, it’s not hard to imagine Thornton finding work in 2017-18 as an unrestricted free agent. If he scored 55 points per season over the next five seasons – he would be 40 after year five – he himself would pass Esposito.

However, though that’s well within the realm of possibility, if Thornton passes Esposito, it’s likely not by more than a handful of points. And aside from Thornton, it’s hard to imagine any other active player that poses much threat to the top 10.

Some may be wondering about Alex Ovechkin. The ‘Great 8’ has 866 points in 734 games, 1.18 per game, but he’s a full two years older than Crosby with only 41 more points. Crosby’s age advantage gives him a leg up on Ovechkin when it comes to reaching the top 10.

That’s not to say Ovechkin stands no shot, just that after this season, in which he is on pace for 77 points, he would need to average 116 points per season for the remainder of his contract with the Capitals. He has scored more than 100 points four times in his career, but has failed to register more than 80 in any of the past three full campaigns. If Ovechkin were to play in the NHL until he’s 40 – he’ll be 35 when his deal with Washington expires – he would need to average 70 points per season. Doable, but Ovechkin has long been rumored to want to play in Russia before his career is through.

Which brings us back to Crosby. With 825 points in 600 games, he’s currently the 137th highest scorer of all-time, two points ahead of Red Kelly and two points behind John Ogrodnick and Doug Wilson. If he plays in the 28 remaining games this season, Crosby is on pace to finish with 88 points, which would be 857 for his career. Let’s assume he gets to 88 points – no higher, no lower. Crosby would then be 733 points back of Esposito.

Over his career, Crosby has played in roughly 80 percent of the games. That means, in following seasons, we could realistically expect Crosby to play anywhere from 64 to 66 games per year. By that math, in a decade, when Crosby is 37, he will have played in another 640 games. At his current point pace, he would need only 533 outings to pass Esposito.

And even if you factor in a drop off around his 32nd birthday, and even if that slide is as large as 0.3 points per game, it still doesn’t seem farfetched that Crosby finishes top 10. If Crosby played five seasons of 64 games and scored 1.375 points in each outing, he’d have 1,297 points by 32. Over the next five seasons, Crosby would need 293 points to pass Esposito, a total of 0.91 points per game.

70 points per game for a 37-year-old Sidney Crosby may seem like a lot, but we’re just one season removed from Jagr racking up 67 points at age 41. It’s hard to compare the two players, but something tells me Crosby will be just fine.

Love him or loathe him, it’s incredible to believe we are in the midst of watching one of the greatest scorers not just of the modern era, but to ever lace up a pair of skates. And to answer the question – could Sidney Crosby finish his career as one of the 10 greatest scorers? Yes, and you’d be foolish to bet against it.


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