Being a Red Wings fan, I used to loathe Sidney Crosby. We all knew his supreme talent level. We all heard about "Sid the Kid" years before he was drafted. He was to be the "Next one."
In 2008 I watched the Red Wings shut down Sid in the Stanley Cup Final thanks in large part to Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom. I shook my head each time as Sid whined at a referee or dove like an Olympic swimmer each time he was on the ice, trying to draw penalties.
I thought that he had some growing up to do. The next season, the Pens exacted their revenge on the Red Wings and won the Cup.
However, Sid's game never really changed much. He was shut down by Zetterberg once again. It was Malkin and Staal who stepped up and led the way for the Pens.
Years went by and Sid and his Pens have suffered numerous playoff defeats after excellent regular seasons. It's hard finding players who can play with number 87. Kunitz seemed to be the best fit for him.
In big playoff games Sid seemed to be guilty of being "thrown off his game." Opponents seemed to be able to "get under his skin."
Then somewhere along the way things began to change. Sid seemed to become a different player playing for Team Canada and winning 2 Olympic Gold medals.
Crosby didn't score at his usual Superstar pace. But he did everything else right which led the way for his team.
Crosby developed his overall game and most importantly, became a complete hockey player. He learned to become a professional.
He won faceoffs. He shut down other #1 centres. He drove possession and created offensive zone time. He backchecked more and became more reliable defensively.
Crosby makes his teammates better which is the best thing a superstar player can do. He scored big goals when his team needed him to. But most importantly, he cut out the crybaby antics.
Over the years I have seen Sid's game evolve into being a 200 foot Superstar. He no longer dives. He no longer whines to the refs. He is more of a leader now. I see more accountability.
Crosby is the hardest working superstar. He trains harder than anyone and his talent and hockey IQ is off the charts.
Sid is now 30 years old and in his prime. He has matured into a great leader for his Penguins. He is no longer the same player who used to have temper tantrums when being checked into the ice by Henrik Zetterberg. Sidney Crosby has grown up.
Now he is level headed and just comes back the next shift and dominates. Each time he is on the ice you notice him. If he doesn't have the puck, he gets the puck. He will go around you or through you. He is a combination of Gretzky, Messier and Lemieux. A superstar of superstars.
I'm not even a Pens fan and I marvel at this guy's skill level, compete level and leadership. If the Pens win the Cup, I have no doubt it will be #87 who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Stats are nice but I go by total impact a player has on the game. Crosby impacts the game more than any other player. Even when a team game plans for him, they still can't stop him.
Crosby is leading his Pens in every which way possible. He is a magician on the ice. He is a bull in a China shop. He is a generational talent and I truly appreciate his all around game. I know I'm going over the top here. I don't mean to sound like Pierre McGuire! But I think the accolades are justified here.
Ever since January, Sidney Crosby has been, well Sidney Crosby. He is a joy to watch each time he plays. He makes his teammates better. He is now a consummate team player. This was not always the case.
We see him arguing with Hornqvist on the bench. But this time it's a good thing. Sid is dialed in and is basically a head coach on the ice. Like Gretzky and Lemieux, he sees the game 10 moves ahead of his opponents. It's like the game is in slow motion for him and he's playing at warp speed.
10 years ago, I never would have said these things about Sidney Crosby. I wanted to see him earn the accolades instead of just being annointed with them. To me, Crosby was all talent and nothing else.
In the movie Rocky 4, after knocking out Ivan Drago, Rocky Balboa gives a speech to the Russian crowd . He says "if I can change, and you can change, everyone can change." Well Mr. Crosby, I have changed.
Perhaps my Red Wings bias has made me ignore Sid over the years as his game evolved. But I can clearly say now that Sidney Crosby is one of the best players of all time.
There is no doubt about it. He has earned my respect not for just being an exceptional hockey talent, but by also being an exceptional leader. The evolution of Sidney Crosby continues and it's something to truly appreciate.