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The ‘Wow’ Factor - Part 3

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After doing Part One and Part Two of this series, I still find myself trying to find the right way to describe the Wow Factor, it’s not something easily defined. It just, kind of, is. Every NHL player is capable of it from time to time, but to truly be worthy of ‘Wow’ it has to be fairly consistent. It can’t be just a player who does something spectacular a few times per season, it’s a player who does it multiple times... Per game.

Over the past 10 years, no one has fit the criteria more than Sidney Crosby.

Sidney Crosby is a player that you watch and admire regardless of being a fan of his team, or if it’s a winning team. It’s important to remember that the Pittsburgh Penguins were in complete bankruptcy. That doesn’t sound like something that would be important when talking about a superbly talented player, but it really is. Even the first year after the lockout, the Penguins were really, really bad. It led them to selecting Jordan Stall 2nd overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The thing was though, they were selling tickets, jerseys, and posters.

When a player like Crosby is in a game, you know you’re getting your moneys’ worth. You’ll go to a game and know for certain that you were going to see something magnificent. Even away arenas would benefit from the Penguins coming to town. Everyone wanted to see this kid, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

His puck control is second to none. He can fight off multiple defenders through strength, edge-work, and good ol’ fashioned determination to buy time for his team mates. Maybe he wants, to find an open player, maybe he wants to get to the net for a shot, maybe he just wants to have you chase him around for a few minutes. There’s a good possibility that even he has no idea until the opportunity is there. With him though, everyone watching knows that there’s a 100% probability that the opportunity WILL be there. There is no if.

Crosby excels at making the difficult, and the subtle, look extremely easy. Make no mistake, everything he does is intentional, but he wouldn’t be getting that benefit of the doubt if he didn’t do it so consistently. Sometimes you watch a highlight and think “Why didn’t the defender take the puck away?” and under further review, you notice the Crosby moved the puck a fraction of an inch, kicked the puck to his stick, changed his angle by a degree or two, or did a stick lift to make all the difference.

When it comes to Crosby, it doesn’t matter what your favorite attribute in a forward is. Maybe you like Skating, possession, shooting, vision, passing, stick handling, or anything else, it’s all the same. Crosby is top-5 in every attribute where a forward is ranked. There’s a reason he’s won every Major award a player can win. He’s just a lot better than everyone else. To me, he is the epitome of ‘Wow’ in today’s NHL.

He also makes his teammates better — Not just a little bit either. Pascal Dupuis is a great example. He was a fine player his whole career, sure. Solid defensively, could put up close to 30 points per year, just good to have around in general. When the Penguins traded Erik Christensen, Colby Armstrong, Angelo Esposito, and a 1st round pick for Marian Hossa, Dupuis was just a throw in. Seemed like a high price to pay for a playoff run with Hossa, but it was what a team has to do to try and win sometimes. Load up, pay a price.

At the end of the day, Hossa walked, and none of the assets the Thrashers got ended up being anything at all. What funny though, is even if that 1st round pick had been something good, the Penguins win that trade. Pascal Dupuis didn’t play a lot with Crosby at first, but as soon as he played an entire season on his line, he put up 59 points in 81 games. That more value than a team should realistically expect to get out of a late 1st round pick. At the end of the day, if you have Sidney Crosby on your team, you can trade a 1st round pick for a third line player, and still win that trade easily. That third line player you got can score a lot of points if you need him to. That’s a luxury teams without that player just don’t have.

Sidney Crosby’s first universally viewed highlight was in Junior where he scored the Michigan-style lacrosse, goal.

It was pretty easily dismissed as a hot-dog move in a blowout game. The thing is, he just kept doing stuff like that. He’s constantly working on his skills at every level. He’s been described as a 1st line player with a 3rd line work ethic. Even after his fouth year in the league, he was getting criticized for not scoring enough goals. It sounds silly given that he’d had 39, and 36 goal seasons in the books, already; However, he took up the challenge, worked on his shot and net-front presence over the summer, and responded by winning a share of the Rocket Richard trophy with Steven Stamkos with 51 goals.

The only thing that had ever stopped him from being incredible, was that concussion and a soft tissue injury. Luckily he’s been healthy and equally incredible ever since. I’m really liking the baseball moves he’s added to his game in recent years.

I have no idea what other skills he still has in his bag, but even though he’s 30 now, he’s one of those very, very rare players that is going to keep adding skills and smarts until he retires. His body is going to go into decline eventually, but I’d wager his points won’t reflect that. When you’re dealing with the best of the best, they always find ways to work around minor obstacles like not being 23 anymore.

I hated him when he first came into the league. I’m not sure if he was actually whining, or if the camera was just on him all the time to make it look that way, but by the 2nd year, I couldn’t hate him. He’s just too much fun to watch.

It’s not often a player comes into this league and is the hands-down best for a decade, but it happened here. Crosby has ‘Wow’ throughout his game. It’s an art.

Tomorrow I will finish this series. When that happens, I hope you understand the ‘Wow’ Factor, even if I didn’t explain it all that well.