Who said it first, whether it’s been massaged from its original form and who might have shaped it along the way are all a mystery to me. All I know is, the first time I heard somebody say Sidney Crosby was the best fourth-liner in hockey, I thought Yogi Berra himself couldn’t have phrased it better.
The Mount Rushmore NHLer with the motor of a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker will play his 1,000th career game on Saturday when the Penguins host the New York Islanders. Given his unwavering focus, Crosby will surely do more stick-taping than rose-smelling leading up to his milestone contest. Fans should take this opportunity to zoom out, though, and celebrate his achievements. After all, there were times when it felt like we might be robbed of the opportunity to fully fete this player and person for everything he is.
Crosby, of course, is not alone in terms of living a type of “Chosen One” existence while also appearing cursed at times. Bobby Orr’s knees are mentioned as often as his goals. Mario Lemieux, Crosby’s old landlord and teammate in the latter’s earliest days as a Penguin, confronted cancer in his mid-20s.
Still, you look at the major gaps in Crosby’s games played column, contemplate how a 33-year-old who skated in his first NHL contest two months after his 18th birthday could have hit this 1,000-game benchmark years ago and think, thank goodness this artist was blessed with the soul of a grinder because so much of Crosby’s NHL time has been, well, a serious grind.
The most unsettling moment for a lot of us came early in December of 2011. Just a few weeks prior, Crosby had returned from a 320-day concussion-induced absence. He scored 5:24 into his return against the Islanders and finished the game 2-2-4. Seven outings later, he was going back on the shelf. Post-concussion syndrome still had him in its horrible grasp. All that time on the sidelines and Sid was gone again, just like that, with no sense for when — and at that point, it felt you had to use the word if — we’d see him again. Crosby didn’t return to game action for three-and-a-half months.