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Sidney Crosby: The NHL’s greatest anti-hero

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In just over 12 months, 30-year-old Sidney Crosby has accumulated a lifetime worth of accolades. His spectacular run began in June 2016 when he captained the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup championship and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. His dominance then continued into September as Team Canada won the World Cup of Hockey on home soil with Crosby again earning MVP honours. That momentum carried into the 2016-17 NHL season, when Crosby won the Maurice Richard trophy as the league’s highest goal scorer, finished second in Hart Trophy voting, and claimed a second consecutive Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy.

Over the past year, Crosby has cemented his legacy as one of the best players in the modern era, but it hasn’t been enough to silence his critics. In the midst of the 12 most successful months of his career to date, pundits still discredited his performances, condemned his on-ice antics, and elevated Connor McDavid as the league’s next big thing.

Much of the criticism Crosby faces is centered around the supposed preferential treatment he receives from the NHL. San Jose Shark Logan Couture accused him of cheating on faceoffs during the 2016 Cup finals—an offence Couture argued any other player would be punished for. In March 2017, Crosby again became the centre of attention after making a dirty hit on Ryan O’Reilly with his stick. Two days later, he slashed Marc Methot in the hand and mangled one of his fingers.

Controversy peaked in the 2017 Cup finals against the Nashville Predators, when the Penguins’ captain took part in a public spat with PK Subban. It began with harmless smack talk after Game 3, and ended with Crosby repeatedly grinding Subban’s head into the ice during a scrum two games later. In the very same game, Crosby also threw a water bottle onto the ice during live play.

Crosby was in the spotlight before he even entered the league, projected early on to be the best player since Wayne Gretzky. While the constant pressure and attention have not affected his game, they have certainly exposed him to a high level of scrutiny. Because of his status as the Next One, fans monitor him closely and, as a result, take issue with actions that would go unnoticed among lower-profile players. However, Crosby’s only obligations are to his teammates and the Penguins organization. He has fulfilled lofty expectations. Calling him dirty is ridiculous and unfair—just compare his actions to the targeted on-ice abuse he himself receives from every other team in the league.

In an era of unparalleled parity in the league, Crosby led the Penguins to consecutive championships, a feat not accomplished since the Red Wings’ 1997 and 1998 seasons. Despite constant concussion struggles, he has continued to add to his legacy. To date, he has scored over 1,000 points in under 800 NHL matches and tallied 164 points in 148 playoff games. He has won three Stanley Cups, been awarded two Conn Smythes, earned two Olympic Gold Medals, won the World Cup and MVP award, and swept the NHL year-end awards.

Though the never-ending list of his official awards and stats is impressive, what makes Crosby truly special is his ability to break out in big moments. He has scored numerous clutch goals to win the Stanley Cup or the Gold Medal. Breaking down the aspects of his game, it’s easy to see why he’s so dominant. His backhand is the best in the business, and his wrist shot off the rush is as deadly as they come. He’s a fantastic passer and it’s no coincidence that his linemates always seem to have the best years of their careers while playing next to him. But what makes him most dangerous is his hockey IQ, skating, and body positioning. When he is set up on the boards, down low in the opponent's end, it is near impossible to take the puck off him.

Crosby currently stands among the ranks of hockey’s best, and will continue to rise if he keeps his current pace. His level of play has made him the most high-profile player in today’s game, but it also makes him an easy target for unfair criticism. He spent the past year playing near-perfect hockey. Calling him a cheater or a whiner is just a desperate attempt to criticize him. Crosby is on top of the league and here to stay.

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