Forget Sidney Crosby's 1,001st game. Why game 1,589 matters. And what it means for his future.

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Tim Benz, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·6 min read
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Feb. 23—I'm looking forward to Sidney Crosby's 1,169th game as the Penguins play in Washington Tuesday night.

Wait. What?

I'm sure you're wondering how I came up with that number, seeing as how we just witnessed Crosby's 1,000th game Saturday against the New York Islanders.

I just happen to think that recognition is overdue, seeing as how he's also played in 168 playoff games. And based on how a lot of NHL players talk about postseason games being "twice as intense" as regular-season games, maybe that number is actually 336.

So if you want to credit Crosby for 1,336 games played, I'm not going to stop you.

But before I turn this into a theoretical numeric exercise the likes of which we haven't seen since Stanley Tucci's bridge monologue in "Margin Call," let's get to the point.

In a non-pandemic year (if we ever see one of those again), the league plays 82 games.

Therefore, Crosby has essentially played two extra seasons' worth of NHL hockey in playoff games alone. That's in addition to completing 15 regular seasons (plus 16 games so far this year).

So let's figure out how much that extra mileage will weigh into Crosby's longevity.

If you don't like numbers, just skip down to the part where you see Crosby's stats in bold and italics, and we'll catch you up. If you want to to see how we get to the other side of the bridge, stay with me.

Here are a few comparisons to other NHL greats with whom Crosby is often linked.

—Steve Yzerman (22 seasons) skated in 1,514 regular-season games, 196 in the playoffs.

—Wayne Gretzky (20 seasons) played 1,487 regular-season games, 208 in the playoffs.

—Mario Lemieux (17 seasons) tallied 915 regular-season games, 107 in the playoffs.

In terms of hockey acumen, skill level and accomplishment, many draw parallels between those players and Crosby. Then there is Jaromir Jagr (24 seasons) who has similarities to No. 87 when it comes to hockey mania and training dedication.

Jagr totaled 1,733 regular-season games and 208 in the postseason. And Lord knows how many in the KHL, the Czech league, international competition and whatever European pick-up leagues he tried during various offseasons.

Crosby has only missed the postseason twice. Once in his rookie season. Once because of his concussions that sidelined him in 2011. Gretzky made the playoffs 16 of 20 tries. Jagr 18 of 24. Yzerman 20 of 22. Lemieux 8 of 17.

These are all difficult comparisons to make because of pandemic pauses and labor stoppages, not to mention Lemieux's injuries and illnesses, Jagr's departures for Europe and Crosby's concussion issues.

However, now that we are halfway over Tucci's bridge, the picture is getting clear enough that despite some significant extra wear and tear from his postseason heavy lifting, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Crosby could play a few years after his current contract expires at the end of 2025.

Sid "the Kid" would be almost 38 years old at that point. Gretzky retired at 38. Yzerman was 40. Mario was also 40 when he left the game for good. Jagr ended his last NHL season in 2018 at 45.

Except for Lemieux, those other three guys played between 28 and 40 more playoff games than Crosby has so far.

This is when the projections get a bit hazy because we don't know how many games Crosby will play in the regular season and how often or how deep the Penguins will go in the playoffs. So we'll go by averages.

In his 13 playoff seasons, Crosby has averaged almost 13 games per playoff stint. Or roughly one six-game and one seven-game series.

Since Crosby returned from the concussions and the lockout, the Penguins captain has played, on average, 79 games per season. That's starting with the 2013-14 campaign and running through the end of 2019, while throwing out the 2020 mess that was truncated by the pandemic and Crosby's core muscle injury.

Counting Tuesday's contest in Washington, the Pens have 40 games left this year. Let's be optimistic and say the NHL squeezes in all of them and Crosby doesn't miss any.

Take 79 regular-season games and multiply it by four years remaining after the conclusion of 2021, that's 316 more regular-season games. Add this year's remaining 40 games, too.

Now take the average of 13 postseason games per year over five postseasons (including this one, fingers crossed). That equals 65 more playoff games before Crosby's contract is done.

That gives us a projected 421 more games in a Penguins uniform before Crosby's deal ends.

With those 421 games added onto Crosby's stats, the total number of playoff and regular-season games played would look like this by the summer of 2025 when his contract expires.

Jagr (45) — 1,941 (24 seasons)

Yzerman (40) — 1,710 (22 seasons)

Gretzky (38) — 1,686 (20 seasons)

Crosby (38) — 1,589 (20 seasons)

Lemieux (40) — 1,022 (17 seasons)

Those projections are highly optimistic for Crosby. They assume some playoff success for the Pens and that Crosby has no major injuries. That said, when it comes to how much hockey he could have left after this contract expires, they show that he is in the same ballpark as some of those historical peers.

So what is the point of this exercise?

Watch "Margin Call." That's the point. It's a highly underrated film. Timely now, too. Enjoy it. Thank me later.

Beyond that, though, the point is that Crosby will likely still have some hockey in his tank by the time this contract ends. And it's going to be up to the Penguins and Crosby to figure out if he wants to play another two or three years here or elsewhere.

"I think as long as I feel good, I think I'd love to play as long as I can," Crosby said Friday. "I don't really have an idea of what that age is or number is. But I think I'm just focusing on playing out my contract and seeing where I am at then, but I feel really good.

"I want to play as long as I can, so I guess we will have to see."

Another comparison? Two of those guys stayed in one city (Lemieux, Yzerman). Two didn't (Gretzky, Jagr). But Gretzky and Jagr left their first teams at 28 years old. Crosby is already 33.

"I love playing here and this is where I would love to play for the rest of my career," Crosby added.

So maybe the Penguins can hire Tucci to figure out how to work another $8.7 million hit against the cap for 2026 ... and beyond.

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Brian Metzer of the Penguins Radio Network joins me for Tuesday's "Breakfast with Benz" podcast. We examine Sidney Crosby's 1,000th game milestone, his long-term future, Evgeni Malkin's struggles, and the state of the Eastern Division.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Philadelphia
-112+1.5O 6
Pittsburgh
-106-1.5U 6