Crosby is only the fourth player from the NHL’s 2005 Entry Draft to hit the magic mark, after Anze Kopitar (1,087), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1,049), and Andrew Cogliano (1,024). But Crosby is different. He has been the face of the league for most of his 16 NHL seasons. As a rookie, he lived with team captain and owner Mario Lemieux, and played alongside number 66 for a few months before Lemieux was forced to retire with an irregular heartbeat. Crosby finished the year with 39 goals and 102 points, the youngest player in league history to hit 100 in a season, but he lost the Calder Trophy voting to Russian nemesis Alexander Ovechkin of Washington.
The Penguins missed the playoffs, and Crosby accepted an invitation from Hockey Canada to play at the 2006 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, in Riga, Latvia. Although Canada finished fourth, the 18-year-old Crosby led the tournament in scoring with 16 points, becoming the youngest player in IIHF history to do so.
A year later, Crosby won the Art Ross Trophy with 120 points, at 19 the youngest player ever to lead the league in scoring. He also won the Hart Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award, the youngest ever to claim the latter as well.
In the summer of 2007, after only two seasons, he was named team captain, again the youngest in NHL history to wear the “C”, and although he missed 29 games with a high ankle sprain he took the team to the Stanley Cup finals. The Penguins lost to Nicklas Lidstrom and the more experienced Detroit Red Wings in six games, but it was clear Crosby was the team’s leader and the Penguins were a team destined for greatness.
Indeed, the following spring was another Detroit-Pittsburgh Cup finals, and this time the Penguins won, in seven games. At 21, Crosby became the youngest captain in NHL history to lead his team to the Cup. In 2009/10, Crosby and Steven Stamkos tied for the league lead with 51 goals, earning Crosby his first Rocket Richard Trophy and making it the first and still only time in his career that he surpassed 50 goals in a season.
Although today we look back at 1,000 games, there was a two-year stretch when it was uncertain Crosby would even make it to 500 games, let alone 1,000. It was on 1 January 2011, during the NHL’s outdoor game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, that Crosby took an inadvertent elbow from David Steckel near the end of the second period. A groggy Crosby played the third, and played the full game against Tampa Bay four days later. During that game, he took a clean, hard hit from Victor Hedman behind the net, and that proved to be Crosby’s last game for nearly a year.
His headache turned into a concussion which became post-concussion symptoms, rendering him unable to do even the lightest of exercise for many months. When Crosby returned, a month into the 2011/12 season, he played only eight games before suffering another concussion. He missed another three-and-a-half months, his career teetering on the precipice.
It may have been a blessing in disguise that the 2012/13 season didn’t start until January because of CBA problems between players and the league. The extra time off gave Crosby even more of a buffer to fully recover, and although the Penguins made it only as far as the second round of the playoffs he was still very much in the prime of his career. He won the Art Ross for the second time a year later, on the strength of 36 goals and 104 points, and he led the Penguins to a second Stanley Cup victory in 2015/16, beating the San Jose Sharks in a six-game finals. He was named Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the best player in the playoffs.
In so doing, Crosby became only the ninth player to win two Stanley Cups as well as two Olympic golds. The others are Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Peter Forsberg, Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty.
A year later, Crosby led the Pens to a second straight Cup victory thanks to a six-game win over Nashville. He again won the Conn Smythe, only the third player to do so in consecutive years (after Bernie Parent and Mario Lemieux).
It was during this 2016/17 season that Crosby also reached another career milestone. On 16 February 2017, he recorded his 1,000th career point in just his 757th game, the 12th-fastest ever to reach among the 90 to have made it as far.
Since that third Cup win of his career, the Penguins have had trouble continuing to be a dominant team. Crosby has continued to score, and in 2018/19 he recorded the sixth 100-point season of his career, but the team has been eliminated in the first round of both the 2019 and 2020 playoffs. With the recent retirement of GM Jim Rutherford, there are also suggestions it’s time for the Penguins to rebuild, but incoming GM Ron Hextall and new team president Brian Burke consider Crosby and the current roster to be very much in Cup contention again this year.
Crosby has averaged nearly 1.3 points per game over his career, the highest number since he entered the league in 2005. The only other player to have more points than number 87 in this time is Ovechkin, 1,291 to 1,275, but the Washington Capitals captain has also played in 164 more games.
In the summer of 2012, Crosby signed a 12-year, $104.4 million contract extension with Pittsburgh that will take him through the 2024/25 season. By that time, he’ll be 37 going on 38 before the next season, so it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do in four years’ time.
Internationally, he’s a lock to be named to Canada’s 2022 Olympic team if those Games are able to proceed with NHL players, and he currently has a remarkable 25-game unbeaten streak with Canada that includes the 2016 World Cup (6 games), the 2015 World Championships (9 games), the 2014 Olympics (6 games), and 2010 Olympics (4 games). The last time he lost wearing a Team Canada sweater was 21 February 2010, during the round robin of the Vancouver Olympics.
When he won gold with Canada at the 2015 Worlds, Crosby became the first and only player to make the Triple Gold Club by captaining each team to victory.
Crosby has met and exceeded all expectations placed on him from the time he was a child. He has done so with class and dignity, and he has survived two serious concussions. There is still much fire in his eyes and more to accomplish, but today as he reflects back on what he has done over a Hall of Fame career, he can only smile. And fans of the game can smile along with him.