How good is Sidney Crosby in a historical sense?

Here are the career scoring totals of a sample of prominent NHLers following their seasons as 19-year-olds (for argument’s sake, Wayne Gretzky turned 19 in January of his first season in the NHL so that is considered his 19-year-old season).

  • Sidney Crosby 75 goals – 147 assists – 222 points
  • Dale Hawerchuk 85 goals – 109 assists – 194 points
  • Jimmy Carson 92 goals – 94 assists – 186 points
  • Steve Yzerman 69 goals – 107 assists – 176 points
  • Wayne Gretzky 51 goals – 86 assists – 137 points
  • Mario Lemieux 43 goals – 57 assists – 100 points
  • Teemu Selanne 0 goals – 0 assists – 0 points
  • Alexander Ovechkin 0 goals – 0 assists – 0 points

As the numbers show, Crosby is ahead by a mile, despite him playing in the lowest-scoring era (by a long ways) of any of the Hall of Famers listed. What does this portend for the future?

Jimmy Carson peaked as a 19-year-old, but he is an aberration on this list. Dale Hawerchuk was consistent for a long time but topped out as a 21-year-old with 130 points, never reaching the stratospheric scoring levels of Gretzky, Lemieux or to a lesser extent, Yzerman. Selanne peaked as a 22-year-old rookie, but I would worry more about Ovechkin peaking as a 20-year-old rookie than about Crosby.

All indications are that Crosby will continue his improvement through his early to mid 20s (Gretzky peaked as a 25-year-old, Lemieux as a 23-year-old, and Yzerman as a 24-year-old). In this current dead-puck era, which is only marginally better with the new rules post-lockout, it seems inconceivable that Crosby could score more than 2 points a game, or 164 points per season. The question in terms of career stats is therefore longevity and the degree to which his productivity falls off in his late 20s and through his 30s.

What many don’t realize is that Gretzky’s productivity dimished quite significantly from his peak after he turned 26. Of course, when you start off on Everest, even a significant decline leaves you looking down on most mortals. If Gretzky had maintained his productivity at the same rate as someone like Mark Messier through age 33 or so, Gretzky may have hit 3,500 career points, not 2,857. He also retired at the relatively young age of 38 compared to Messier playing his final season at 43 and even Lemieux retiring for the final time at the age of 40.

Adjusting these stats to take account of the dead-puck era also reveals some interesting conclusions, to be addressed at a later date…