By Jason Huskins
As I was watching the Pittsburgh Penguins battle the Ottawa Senators on Sunday evening on Sportsnet here in Canada, the announce team of Dean Brown and Denis Potvin brought up an interesting point that I had truly never considered before. They tabled the idea that the Pittsburgh Penguins had unintentionally stalled the development of Sidney Crosby. Now I know you are thinking “Development? He is already the best player in the world. How much more could he possibly develop?” I can understand why you would feel that way but they elaborated on the statement by saying “Imagine what types of numbers Sidney could have put up if he had a winger who could shoot the puck. They brought in James Neal and he meshed so well with Evgeni Malkin, what if Crosby had a Neal of his own?”
To take nothing away from Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis or Tyler Kennedy, it is amazing to see where Crosby ranks all time in points per game average in the NHL. When they posted the list of the top 10 players, I could not believe where Crosby placed and the company that he shared. Review the table below (supplied by Quanthockey.com)
As you can see, Crosby is fourth all time, yes ALL-TIME, in points per game average in NHL history. He is the only active player in the top 10 with Evgeni Malkin and Jaromir Jagr sitting in the 11th and 12th positions respectively. I find myself wondering if the two men who proposed this idea were correct. Where would Crosby be on this list if he was lining up along side a 40 goal man who he had a tremendous chemistry with? Is there a winger who could match Crosby’s intensity and creativity? Do the Penguins have the assets and salary cap space to acquire this type of player? Most importantly, does he need this type of scoring winger?
The impact that James Neal had on Evgeni Malkin can not be denied, as he elevated the Russian’s game to a new level. There was an instant chemistry there and “The Real Deal” and “Geno” bring out the best in each other on a nightly basis. Malkin had always been a dynamic player who showed glimpses of brilliance but Neal made him dominant. I truly believe that Evgeni Malkin needed James Neal to become the player that put up a MVP season last year. Malkin did make Neal a better player but it was Neal who pulled the best out of Malkin.
Where as it would be tremendous for the Penguins and Crosby himself to have a high caliber winger on his line, I feel he is not the type of the player that needs it. Sidney Crosby has the uncanny ability to raise the level, and with it the point totals, of whoever is playing along side him on the wings. Dupuis and Kunitz each scored over 20 goals last season and have hit that total previously in their career, so they are proven to put the puck in the net. Both benefit from the scoring chances that are created by playing with a player of Crosby’s caliber and could each hit 30 goals in a full season with Sidney.
I would not be against a proven scorer being added by the Penguins core group but do not believe that they are in a desperate need to try and make that type of move. There is a player in their own system that would fit the mold and his name is Beau Bennett. Bennett possesses good size, very good hockey instincts and is a natural goal scorer and it would not have surprised people if he made the team out of training camp. Right now in the AHL he has scored 6 goals, 18 assists and 24 points in 32 games and has shown that he has potential to be an important cog in the Penguins machine.
Maybe he is the answer to the riddle that is Sidney Crosby’s winger.