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Crosby scores No. 400, but it’s his climb up the all-time points list we should keep an eye on

Sidney Crosby scored his 400th NHL goal on Sunday and snapped a 10-game drought in the process. But it's his rise up the all-time scoring list, not his milestone goal, that we should be focused on.

Well, it took a while, but Sidney Crosby finally has goal No. 400. After notching is 399th goal nearly one month ago in a Jan. 14 contest against the New York Rangers, Crosby was mired in a 10-game goal drought that finally came to a close on Sunday afternoon against the Blues. In the second period, 21 seconds after Kyle Brodziak gave St. Louis the lead, Crosby struck, sneaking a shot by goaltender Jake Allen.

With the tally, Crosby became only the 95th player in the 100-year history of the NHL to register 400 goals. He also became one of only three Penguins skaters to hit the 400-goal mark with the franchise. The others, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, scored 690 and 439 goals in Pittsburgh, respectively. Chances are that by season’s end Crosby will close the gap between he and Jagr on the Penguins’ all-time goals list while also moving his way up the NHL's goals register. 

In fact, with two more goals Crosby can surpass three players on the all-time list: Shane Doan, Paul Kariya and John Ogrodnick. His next goal after that will also see him shoot by Marian Gaborik. That is, if Gaborik himself fails to score before Crosby picks up his next three goals. And if he maintains the pace that he has this season and fires home another eight goals before the campaign concludes, Crosby should also pass the likes of Rod Gilbert, John LeClair, Ray Ferraro, Patrik Elias and Ray Bourque on the all-time list. Realistically, Crosby could end the season with the 84th-most goals in NHL history.

But the number to watch shouldn’t be Crosby’s goal total, because even for as prolific a goal-scorer as he has become over the past several seasons, it's his overall point total that continues to impress.

Consider that earlier this season, Crosby was having what some would've called a statistical down year. Remember that heading into the all-star break, Crosby didn’t even consider himself worthy of an all-star nod. There wouldn't have been much disagreement with that, either. Phil Kessel was far outpacing Crosby, who had managed six goals and 16 points through the first 22 games of the season. Crosby has been remarkable since, however, registering 13 goals and 46 points over his past 35 games to put him on pace for another near 90-point season. And by the time the campaign ends, Crosby, who is already 63rd on the all-time points list, could rise to as high as 59th, surpassing Glenn Anderson, Frank Mahovlich and potentially squeaking by Patrick Marleau and Alex Ovechkin. If Crosby does indeed eclipse all four, he will have moved 20 places over the course of one campaign.

From here on out, however, Crosby's charge up the all-time list will get much more difficult. There will be no more moving more than a dozen spots in a single season, and working his way into the upper echelon of the NHL's great scorers will take him several seasons, if not as much as a decade. What could that climb look like, though? 

It’s by no means a perfect science, but by looking at a list of 15 players who finished their careers in the post-lockout NHL, each of whom rank among the top 50 all-time scorers in league history, we can try to understand the type of statistical decline a player goes through in the post-30-year-old stage of their career. The list of players utilized to get some sort of gauge include Jaromir Jagr, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Joe Thornton, Brett Hull, Sergei Fedorov and Daniel Alfredsson, among others. And what we can glean from the points per game totals of these Hall of Famers is that the decline per season is somewhere in the .08 to .05 points-per-game range with each passing campaign after players turn 30. 

However, for a player such as Crosby, genuinely one of the great talents the league has seen, it’s a safe bet to suggest he’d be on the low end of the scale, likely closest to a Thornton or Fedorov-esque decline in the .03 points-per-game range. Thus, currently scoring at 1.09 points per game, Crosby could realistically be expected to score 1.06 points per game next season, 1.03 the season after, an even 1.00 point per game by his age 33 campaign and so on and so forth. That can help us chart Crosby's potential climb up the all-time scoring list, particularly given he has seven years remaining on his current contract.

Maintaining his pace this season would see Crosby end the campaign with 1,116 career points. Under the assumption that he plays at least 78 games per season for the remainder of his contract, which is his average across the past five seasons, Crosby would then have an 83-point season in 2018-19, bringing his career total to 1,199 points and put him into 48th all-time. An 80-point season the year after would move him all the way to 36th with 1,279 points. And in subsequent years he could move to 26th with 1,357 points and 16th with 1,433 points before his ascent begins to flatten. By the time he reaches the end of his contract, when he will be playing his age 37 season, Crosby stands be into the top 10 as one of 10 players in NHL history to score 1,600 points, but there’s no guarantee he surpasses Sakic’s 1,641 points for ninth all-time.

From there, though, it's all up to Crosby. Should he continue playing, he could pass Sakic and begin his pursuit of Mario Lemieux, who sits top the Penguins’ all-time scoring list and eighth in league history with 1,723 points. But given the decline rate of other top scorers, chances are Crosby wouldn’t surpass ‘Super Mario’ — which would then allow him to possibly slip by Steve Yzerman and Marcel Dionne, as well — unless he continued playing until he was months from his 40th birthday. We can't assume Crosby will continue at that point, either. Sure, Jagr continued to dazzle us into his mid-40s, but Wayne Gretzky hung up his skates at 37, coincidentally the same age Crosby will be when his current contract comes to an end.

For the next several seasons, though, Crosby will continue his climb. And with each passing point, we'll continue to witness what will almost assuredly be one of the 10-greatest statistical careers in NHL history.

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