Tim Benz: Too late for Penguins’ Sidney Crosby to make MVP push? | TribLIVE.com
Tim Benz, Columnist

Tim Benz: Too late for Penguins’ Sidney Crosby to make MVP push?

Tim Benz
The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby celebrates after scoring during the first period against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, March 2, 2019 in Montreal.

Is Sidney Crosby making a late push to get into the MVP conversation?

It was a topic on the KDKA Sports Showdown Sunday. It came up on Mark Madden’s show on 105.9 the X Monday. “The Athletic” mentioned it after Crosby’s four-point performance in Montreal. And it was featured on the ESPN Pittsburgh radio blog as well.

Well, I guess if we are having this much discussion about the conversation, let’s have the conversation then.

The Penguins captain has 25 points since Feb. 1. He’s now tied for fifth in the league in scoring with 83 points.

Via an assist with some stat crunching from our Penguins beat writer Jonathan Bombulie, Crosby’s 4.4 on-ice goals for per 60 minutes of ice time is tops in the NHL among forwards with at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 play. That’s according to advanced-stats website Natural Stat Trick.

This recent hot scoring stretch has buoyed a consistently good defensive effort throughout this season. Crosby’s 2.02 goals against per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5 is better than the likes of Patrice Bergeron (2.47), Anze Kopitar (2.57), Mark Stone (2.63) and Jonathan Toews (3.01).

Kopitar, Toews and Bergeron have all won the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward). And Stone is renowned as a strong two-way player as well.

Maybe we should be talking as much about Crosby for the Selke as we should be for the Hart Trophy (most valuable player).

Let’s stick with the Hart discussion for the time being, though.

Crosby’s two-way acumen has to be part of the analysis. So does the fact that his offensive emergence has come at a time when other top scorers in Pittsburgh — such as Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel — have been injured, suspended and slumping.

Unfortunately, advancing that argument makes as much of a case for Patrick Kane putting the Blackhawks on his back via his 94 points as it does for Crosby.

If you want to dismiss Kane and Connor McDavid (92 points) because their teams likely aren’t going to make the playoffs, that’s fine.

But then you have to try to make the argument for Crosby against Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.

Kucherov leads the NHL with 106 points on a team that is going to win the President’s Trophy with the league’s best overall record. Ovechkin’s 45 goals are best in the NHL on a Capitals club that’s on top of the Metropolitan Division.

Then there’s Johnny Gaudreau with one more point than Crosby on the Pacific Division-leading Flames.

All that is to say nothing of defensemen Brett Burns, Mark Giordano and Morgan Rielly, who may deserve to be in the race, too.

In the case of Kucherov, I’m trying to envision a media person in Pittsburgh telling Penguins fans that Crosby — in a year when he wins the scoring title by double digits on the best team in the league — shouldn’t win the Hart Trophy.

Do you think Penguins Twitter would condemn that person to death or merely organize a good tar-and-feathering in the middle of Grant Street?

When it comes to the praise of Crosby’s two-way play, that’s great. It is well deserved.

But a few years ago, when some were trying to say Toews’ was the best player in the league, I remember Penguins loyalists telling me that stuff shouldn’t matter.

Goals and points. That’s what’s mattered.

Let’s avoid moving the goalposts depending on which argument better fits the guy we like. Crosby’s charge to a potential third Hart Trophy may simply be occurring too late in a year with too many good candidates.

Want to put Crosby in the top five right now? Sure. Top three? That’s a stretch. Win the Hart? No. Not yet.

To borrow a line from Le’Veon Bell’s infamous agent, Adisa Bakari, “barring something exceptional,” this probably won’t be his year. However, March is a long and important month. No. 87 had 20 points between March 1 and the end of the season last year.

Things can change. And to borrow another line from a different estranged Steeler, Crosby does have “exceptionalism.”

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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