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Wednesday May 23 2018
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The Kid That Saved Pittsburgh

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On Thursday night, Sidney Crosby cemented another brick in his mansion of greatness when he became just the 86th player in NHL history to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau.

Crosby's milestone came on an assist of a Chris Kunitz goal in a 4-3 win over Winnipeg. The Penguins' captain became the 11th youngest to reach 1,000. Naturally, Crosby put his seal on the evening with the game-winning goal in overtime.

But 369 goals, 633 assists, two Stanley Cups and a bevy of hardware that also includes a Conn Smythe and a pair of Art Ross trophies don't begin to define what Crosby has come to mean to a city that almost never got to witness any of it.

I shouldn’t have to remind all of you just how bad things were in uptown prior to the 2005-06 hockey season (and I don’t mean the busted windows on cars parked along the road in the hill district.)

Fresh off a labor strike that resulted in a lost season and no Stanley Cup playoffs, it may have felt better to some fans if Pittsburgh simply didn’t play the next year, either.  The Penguins stunk.  Twenty-two wins, to be exact.  The stench wafted all the way to Kansas City, which appeared about to become the new home of the Penguins, what with the Lemieux Group's hands full with Pennsylvania politicians, and a looming lease expiring in the Mellon Arena.  Relocation was a word on the tongues of every cautiously pessimistic Pittsburgh hockey fan.

Through that utter turmoil and controversy there was one silver lining: the rookie season of the league’s top draft pick and, playa’ please if Crosby didn’t absolutely dazzle the hockey world in that 05-06 freshman campaign. "The Kid" punched in 39 goals and 61 assists in 81 games.  No. 87 finished just second behind Alexander Ovechkin for the Calder Memorial Trophy.

Crosby's resume, and his team, only got better from there. 

His sophomore year, Crosby brought home three trophies, including the Hart (MVP), and led the Penguins in a complete 180, going 47-24-11 and grabbing the five seed in the playoffs.

You know the rest of the story. 2009. The 2010-point streak. The concussion. The return. 2016. His stunning 2017 campaign thus far.  

The journey with Crosby should feel more palpable and closest to the heart with Pittsburgh sports fans more than any other athlete in this generation.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ben Roethlisberger is great.  

He’s got hardware, he’s got Lombardis and he’s a few years away from going down as the greatest quarterback in Steelers history.  But Big Ben came to a winning team, to a winning coach, to a winning franchise that is as much of a permanent mainstay to Pittsburgh as the Monongahela river. 

Sure, Ben was the catalyst for three Super Bowl appearances and two championships.

And Sid has been the catalyst for the Penguins winning championships as Pittsburgh.  Not Kansas City.  Not Las Vegas.

Could you imagine the Lemieux group selling the $290 million new arena proposal to guys like Ravenstahl, Rendell and Onorato without the marketable star Sid?  Remember that all of these negotiations went down the same year Halifax’s best product found his home.  It was March 2007 when the Lemieux Group finalized the deal, linking the Penguins franchise to Pittsburgh for 30 years with a new arena on its way.  

What did No. 66 and his friends possibly have as a selling point to the politicians without No. 87?  

The Penguins were last in attendance in 2003-04.  

They achieved just 23 wins that year and 27 wins the year before that.

Mario, Martin Straka and the best of the rest were skating to retirement. The top jersey seller was Mr. 47, Rico Fata. Milan Kraft and Ryan Malone were the future.

The Pens were the trash of the league and the Mellon Arena was its asbestos-filled receptacle.

Enter the most successful disaster restoration project imaginable. 

No other player in this generation of the NHL carried as much gravitas, heralded status and marketable bliss as Crosby did coming into the league.  Not the great Evgeni Malkin (sorry, Geno) nor Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos or Patrick Kane.  New stars like Conor McDavid and Auston Matthews do not have anywhere near the pressure upon their shoulders that Crosby had.  It helped that the NHL held a bigger stage with a national audience, carrying its weight with LeBron James and the NBA.  Sid was the last true coast-to-coast household name that the sport produced at its pinnacle.

In this city, he served as the product, a selling point, the foundation to a pitch that was surely themed as a rebirth.  There’s no doubt Sid was a first-tier component in keeping this franchise between Fifth and Centre.  There’s just no substance to any other argument.

Now 87 is the face of a rejuvenated, revitalized hockey institution that stands as one of the most prolific winners in the game since his arrival, boasting a fan base that is responsible for a current 461 consecutive game sellout streak.

The renaissance of the Pittsburgh Penguins would never have been possible without Sidney Crosby.  Enjoy the greatness, fans.  You’re in hockey paradise now, served by a 1,000-point mayor.

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