Joe Starkey: Mario and Sid -- wow, have Penguins fans been lucky

Joe Starkey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Hockey

PITTSBURGH — I’m not even including Jaromir Jagr or Evgeni Malkin in this piece, except for right here — and many franchises would be thrilled to call those two their best players of all time.

With Cups and scoring titles and Hart Trophies strewn between them, both are first-ballot Hall of Fame shoo-ins, unless the voters snub Malkin the way they did on that 100 greatest list a few years ago.

Anyway, I was on my way to a Sidney Crosby column after he scored that vintage backhand goal Wednesday night in Colorado — the same day NHL players again voted him the best all-around player in the league — when I accidentally stopped by Mario Lemieux. And then couldn’t leave.

I was looking up the best age-35 seasons among hockey greats. Crosby surely is having one of those, with 30 goals and 84 points after Wednesday and, as the players point out annually, a superbly rounded game. He is a hockey metronome. A machine. An astounding display of consistently elite production — and spectacular outbursts.

Don’t ever forget that part of Crosby’s game. People describe him as the only superstar who doubles as a grinder. Maybe. But he’s also one of the greatest showmen of all-time. Don’t ever sell him short on entertainment value and pure offensive genius. I’m sure I don’t have to remind people of that ...

Do I? Change your day by checking out this montage titled, “15 Times Sidney Crosby Did the Impossible.” It wasn’t updated to include him turning Colorado defensemen Samuel Girard into an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and drilling a backhander from the high slot the way Alex Ovechkin buries one-timers (forehanded one-timers) from the left circle.


Jagr, Wayne Gretzky and many others were done with 30-goal seasons by age 35. Malkin might be, too, although he is thriving into his late 30s.

But I don’t think I’ll ever get past what Mario did.

He’d been sitting for 44 months, to be precise, and returned to post 35 goals and 76 points in 43 games, easily leading the NHL in points per game. I’m not sure it isn’t the most underrated and perhaps greatest feat in hockey history, considering all the factors involved, including that it happened during the aptly named “dead-puck era.”

A site called lists the five best points-per-game seasons since 1996, and Lemieux’s comeback year ranks fifth. Remember now, he was out for 44 months, had turned 35 three months earlier, had retired after years of debilitating back pain and a bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was playing in an era when the net might as well have been the size of a mouse trap.


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