Tim Wharnsby·Opinion

Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player since Wayne Gretzky

While most of Wayne Gretzky's records remain untouchable, Sidney Crosby is owning his era and deserves to be ranked among the game's all-time best, right alongside the Great One and Bobby Orr, writes Tim Wharnsby.

3-time Stanley Cup champ already in the company of all-time greats

Sidney Crosby has won three Stanley Cups and a pair of Conn Smythe trophies as the playoff MVP before his 30th birthday. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Canadian hockey scene first became widely aware of Sidney Crosby 15 years ago at the 2002 Air Canada Cup midget championship in Bathurst, N.B.

Crosby was the youngest player in the tournament at 14, playing against kids two and three years older. He still led the tournament in scoring and was named the MVP.

He wasn't known as the Next One or Sid the Kid yet, but he did escort the Dartmouth Subways to the final, only to lose 6-2 in the title game to the Tisdale (Sask.) Trojans.

Later that summer, Crosby hung around the Canadian world junior summer camp in Halifax, eager to soak up any kernel of knowledge he could from this country's top teenagers.

It was a year later that Wayne Gretzky introduced Crosby to the rest of the hockey world. A reporter asked No. 99 if someone down the road would one day beat his records. Gretzky replied, "Yes, Sidney Crosby. He's dynamite. He's the best player I've seen since Mario [Lemieux]. He's that good."

Crosby has been that good. In fact, I believe he's the best player the game has seen since Gretzky. Better than Lemieux.

There's no denying Lemieux's physical talent and how dominant he was in his prime. But Crosby has brought a consistency and determination to the rink that it took Lemieux a long time to develop.

Lemieux floated early in his career. Then he learned how to win, celebrating a Canada Cup, back-to-back Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe Trophies, a World Cup title and Olympic gold. But Crosby has won even more at this point in his career.

Two days ago, the Penguins captain, who will turn 30 this summer, added another notch in his championship belt by winning his third Stanley Cup. He has enjoyed an incredible run in the past 39 months, with an Olympic gold medal, a world championship, a World Cup title, the World Cup MVP award, and back-to-back Stanley Cups and Conn Smythes.

Sid vs. Wayne

When you add up all his accomplishments, it makes you wonder: how does Crosby's career stack up to the Great One's?

Sure, it's a little early to make the comparison. Crosby still could play for another 10 years if he remains healthy. But it doesn't hurt to review his accomplishments against Gretzky's at this point.

Crosby, who missed significant time a few years ago because of concussion problems that continued to shadow him this season, will never reach the scoring stats that Gretzky piled up. They played in different eras. In Gretzky's prime, the average game had 7.5 goals, compared to about 5.25 in recent seasons.

Here is a statistical comparison based on combined regular-season and playoff totals:

  • Crosby: 930 games, 439 goals, 1,191 points, 0.47 goals per game, 1.28 points per game
  • Gretzky: 1,695 games, 1,016 goals, 3,239 points, 0.60 goals per game, 1.91 points per game​

Gretzky won a record 10 scoring championships and nine Hart Trophies, along with four Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythes and three Canada Cups.

Midway through his career, Crosby has a world junior crown, three Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythes, two Olympic gold medals, a world championship and a pair of Hart Trophies.

Wayne Gretzky leads Sidney Crosby 4-3 in Stanley Cups, but the Great One didn't win any after his 28th birthday. (Bill Grimshaw/Canadian Press)

More to come?

Gretzky did not win a Stanley Cup or an international championship after his 28th birthday. Crosby, on the other hand, has won two Stanley Cups since he turned 28. Is there more in store? Why not? He's in the prime of his career.

The other thing is Gretzky played on a team full of superstars — Hall of Famers like Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and Mark Messier.

Crosby has spent most of his time playing between the likes of Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz — solid players, but not Hall of Famers — and more recently young players like Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel. Evgeni Malkin is a sure-bet Hall of Famer, and maybe defenceman Kris Letang will get there. But will there be anybody else?

Crosby also is a more complete player than Gretzky. No. 87 is so aware defensively, and has more grit and determination in his own end. If you need him to shut down an opposing player, Crosby is up to it. You could not say the same about Gretzky.

With what Crosby has been able to accomplish in his first 12 NHL seasons, there is little doubt that No. 87 belongs in the first group of all-time great players, alongside Gretzky and Bobby Orr.

Crosby has proven to be a generational talent with so many clutch performances, like the golden goal he delivered at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver or the way he played in the final three games of this year's Stanley Cup final against the Nashville Predators.

Crosby has been a championship catalyst and it will be intriguing to see where the next decade takes him.


Tim has covered the hockey landscape and other sports in Canada for three decades for CBC Sports, the Globe and Mail and Toronto Sun. He has been to three Winter Olympics, 11 Stanley Cups, a world championship as well as 17 world junior championships, 13 Memorial Cups and 13 University Cups. The native of Waterloo, Ont., always has his eye out for an underdog story.