After watching what Sidney Crosby was able to do this year I couldn't help but wonder if we are witnessng the next true dominant superstar in the NHL in the mold of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Most hockey fans have a hard time accepting the fact that Sidney may just be as good as Wayne and Mario. Fans usually have a hard time admitting that their idols greatness may one day be surpassed. You can usually see this behaviour when you discuss hockey with anybody in their late 40's and early 50's. You will never get them to admit that any player was better than their beloved Bobby Orr.
I grew up in the Mario Lemieux era and always had many arguements with the Wayne contingent on whether Mario could match up to Wayne Gretzky. I decided to write a post discussing the greatness that Wayne, Mario and Sid exemplified as 19 year olds and to try and compare them at this point in their careers. I decided to use their second year as pro hockey players only because Wayne's first year was in the WHA and I wanted to compare them at the NHL level. Lets look at each one individually.
Wayne's first year in the NHL came in the 1979-80 season when the Edmonton Oilers joined the NHL. Wayne had a truly great season that first year under tremendous scrutiny. Many felt Wayne wasn't big enough or tough enough to dominate the NHL as he had done in the WHA and the OHL. It didn't take long for the naysayers to zip their lips. Wayne scored 51 goals and added 86 assists for a total of 137 points. This was good enough to tie for the league lead but the NHL awarded the Art Ross to Marcel Dionne because he scored more goals. Wayne average 1.73 points per game, his 51 goals represented 16.94% of the Oilers goals that year and his 137 points meant Wayne was involved in 45.51% of the Oilers goals that year. This are remarkable numbers for a 19 year old player.
Mario second year as a pro was also a remarkable year. Mario scored 48 goals and added 93 assists for 141 points. Unlike Wayne, Mario did not have the same doubts about his game. Most experts conceded that Mario was the second coming and were expecting big numbers. This was a different kind of pressure for a young player. Unlike the experts who doubted whether Wayne could produce at the highest level, they expected Mario to challenge Wayne for best player on the planet. Mario's 48 goals represented 15.34% of the Penguins goals that year and his 141 points represented 45.05% of the goals that the Penguins scored. Mario also averaged 1.81 points per game. Due to the fact that Mario's first year was in the NHL unlike Wayne, I would consider these two seasons to be basically identical from a production standpoint. Mario more than earned his billing as the Magnificent One.
When analyzing how Sidney measured up to the other two I decided to check the stats on the average goals per game scored in the NHL during the respective seasons. Most hockey fans would concede that the game has become more defensive. Even with the new rules in place, the players are so much bigger and faster that the size of the ice does need to change to open up the game. The new rules are more gimmicky to appeal to new fan base and most true fans understand that the penalties that are being called today are riduculous. During this past season the average goals per game were 5.89. In comparison, during Wayne's 1979-80 season the average goals per game was 7.00 and during Mario's 1985-86 season the average goals per game was 7.94. This a dramatic difference in the style of game. Sidney averaged 1.52 points per game this season scoring 36 goals, assisting on 84 others for a total of 120 points. His 36 goals represented 13.00% of the Penguins goals and his 120 points repesents that Sid was involved 43.32% of the goals the Penguins scored. Like Mario, Sidney had a tremendous amount of pressure to put the league on his back and dominate the game. Like Mario, he more than demonstrated that he is up to the challenge. I would say that Sid had a little more pressure than Mario due to the fact that Mario played while Wayne was still around. Fans already had their saviour. Sid has come along at a time when the league has waited a long time for this type of player. Eric Lindros already failed to take the throne due to injuries, so the league really needs Sid to succeed. I am sure that living with Mario has made things easier. No other person can understand the pressure that Sidney is under better than Mario.
After looking at all the numbers I feel that Sid has more than measured up to both Wayne and Mario at this point in his career. I will say that I am rooting for him to become the player that we all hope he can be. With the likes of John Tarvares coming along in a few years we could be on the verge of another Wayne/Mario rivalry that made the 80's and 90's so great.