The celebrations were raging along with a debate which will never be resolved. Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins had become the first team for nearly 20 years to retain the Stanley cup.
A spirited Nashville rearguard had been broken along with Music City’s collective hearts thanks to the brilliance and sheer bloody mindedness of skipper Crosby , who bagged a goal and six assists in a tremendous series.
Undoubtedly the finest player in the world right now, another gold star added to a continually glimmering resume for the two time Olympic champ.
But as all the platitudes flew about following his team’s coronation and his award of series MVP for the second year on the spin (winning successive Conn Smythe gongs in an era when the salary cap was supposed to inject parity across the board is some achievement), one Pittsburgh newspaper decided to just throw it out there: Who’s the greatest North American sportsman? Crosby or Tom Brady. One wears skates. The other throws deflated balls.
At one point LeBron James and Mike Trout, the best players in the NBA and MLB respectively, were also thrown into the mix. It’s a rubbish debate. Same sport? Okay. Yet trying to compare and contrast the merits of James and the Cavs with Crosby and the Pens is a waste of time.
We are, however, in a time where former Irish plumbers turned mixed martial artists are getting the opportunity to become boxers for one night only, so perhaps a smidgen of credence should be applied.
All aforementioned athletes are superstars. Brilliant performers who’ve been there and proved themselves. Yet the ice hockey pantheon has two long-term residents in the peerless Wayne Gretzky (below) and Mario Lemieux. Two absolute cast-iron legends.
Sidney Crosby: 3 Stanley Cup wins, 2 Olympic gold medals, 1 World Championship gold medal and 1 World Junior Championship gold medal pic.twitter.com/SPXygUAa7g— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 12, 2017
Is Crosby on course to join them? The franchise’s official Twitter have no doubts , dubbing their leader the ‘GOAT’.
Outsiders will look at the numbers and nod approvingly. Speak to those inside the game and the answer is strikingly different.
“Do I wish I had the talent that Sid has? Of course, but to real hockey players, I feel there needs to be an entire package to call someone the greatest, “ one former pro told me. “Many outsiders probably think he deserves that title, but I’m pretty sure you would find a different opinion among hockey players.
“There is a lot of talk about the protection he receives from referees, and the favorable calls that he get “He is strong, and he find a way to win. He is a leader on his team.
“A guy like Gretzky, he was so well respected across the entire league because of his sportsmanship on and off the ice, on top of his incredible work ethic and talent “I think Crosby’s potential to be the greatest ever could still come to fruition if his attitude changes.”
The social media comedians had a field day – a photoshopped picture with Crosby holding a massive ref’s whistle aloft instead of the gargantuan Stanley Cup trophy certainly tickled me. Perhaps it’s because he’s the best, the most successful, the star man.
This Preds fan has a message for Sidney Crosby! pic.twitter.com/tNpk07l2J5— WSMV-TV, Nashville (@WSMV) June 11, 2017
Crosby’s peers , however, have been outspoken. “Crosby cheats,” said San Jose’s Logan Couture following Pittsburgh’s Game Two win last year after a face-off row flared up .
“He gets away with it.” Bending the rules isn’t a crime yet it can blur the notion of sporting perfection. “For him to win three Cups puts him amongst the greats of the game,” said Penguins owner Lemieux after watching his team bag glory in Nashville’s own backyards following that dramatic, late Game Six win.
Whether the Canadian ,who could also land an overall NHL MVP award, will become the best ever remains to be seen. Yet looking at images of a crazy pool party celebration at his mansion last week, I don’t think he cares.