Crosby tied for tenth in the NHL with 38 helpers in 2020-21. We take a look at some of his assists to see where he might rank among the League’s best.
We have the Selke Trophy, handed to the NHL’s best defensive forward at the end of each season. We have the goalscoring Rocket Richard Trophy and the points-leading Art Ross Trophy. We have the Hart and Ted Lindsay awards for team MVPs. But the NHL has never offered an award for its best playmakers.
If there was a trophy for assists, Crosby would likely already have claimed it. In 2013-14, the captain paced the League with 68 helpers in 80 games.
If that award existed, would Crosby still be in contention for the trophy today?
In 2020-21, Crosby registered 38 assists in 55 games (20 primary assists, 18 secondary helpers). Of the 38 assists, 21 came at even strength; on the power play, 10 of Crosby’s 17 set-ups registered as secondary points. His overall total tied teammate Kris Letang (along with Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes) for the 10th-most in the NHL.
Crosby averaged at least two assists per 60 minutes for the fourth consecutive season and the 12th time in his career. (He marked his peak assist production rate in 2011-12 with 4.3/60, followed up in 2012-13 with 3.2/60. For reference, Connor McDavid’s absurd 72 assists in 2020-21 registered a rate of 3.5/60).
There’s no arguing that Crosby’s career assists total is historic; his .808 helpers per game currently rank sixth among all players in NHL history. But is he still producing helpers of a rate, and quality, consistent enough to be counted among the League’s best?
Crosby’s prolific assists totals stand in large part because of his ability to body aside defenders as he notices available stick-blades lying in wait on the ice. Luckily, the captain has the skills to get the puck into those open spaces.
Check out this lead pass to Bryan Rust on April 20, in the Penguins’ 7-6 victory over the visiting Devils. Crosby angles the pass off the boards, which bounces at the perfect angle to catch Rust in stride. That precision of strength on Crosby’s stretch pass is a regular cause of breakaways for the Penguins.
Crosby also has the ability to force frequent giveaways, like in this 4-2 road win over the Rangers on March 9. The captain pesters a Ranger on the zone clear and transforms the turnover into a scoring chance. His forecheck is one of the reasons that the Penguins’ top line dominated puck possession this season.
Another quality that makes Crosby the team’s most consistent playmaker is his ability to convert on sudden opportunities. During a 3-1 win in New Jersey on March 20, the captain showed off this quick reaction time by whipping around immediately after a keep at the blue line and arrowing the puck towards the netfront, where Guentzel helpfully got his stick blade on the shot.
These highlights pick out a set of skills that have helped Crosby consistently rank among the highest assist totals in the League through the 16 seasons of his NHL career. Although he is no longer the NHL’s most dominant playmaker, consensus sees him as the best in Pittsburgh.
We’ve taken a look at where Crosby ranked this season among the League’s best, as well as examined some of his best assists from this campaign.
So now the question is: if that playmaking award existed, would Crosby still be contention? What do you think?