Ever since the lockout, hockey's been largely about two players. Sidney Crosby: the clean-cut, soft-spoken Canadian boy with the vision, playmaking and drive to win. Then the yang to his yin in Alex Ovechkin: the brash, shaggy, emotional Russian with an other-worldly shot, non-stop motor and a tremendous drive of his own.
Through four seasons now they've won three scoring titles (with Evgeni Malkin, the Russian Penguin alway in the background getting the fourth). Crosby's scored 1.37 points per game (regular season), just a hair ahead of Ovechkin's 1.30 points/game. Crosby has one MVP but Ovechkin has the last two. Crosby has helped the Pens to 31 playoff wins, Ovechkin's Capitals have just 10 -- certainly through no fault of AO's 1.42 points/playoff game average. Crosby, for his part, has a 1.29 playoff points/game average, with more games coming in tighter checked late round matches.
So the eternal question: who's better? The goal scoring dyanmo with a sensational individual resume? Or the player 23 months his junior who's won about everything there is to win.
Puck Prospectus breaks it down thusly with the standard each player needs (based statistically) to claim the throne:
If Sidney Crosby is truly the best player in the world, we'll see him score 115 points this season, lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup finals, and Team Canada to the Gold Medal game in Vancouver. This time next year, I think it's fair to say that the debate will be over one way or the other.
Ovechkin's upside potential for next season is 125-129 points.....Scoring 129 points in 2009-2010 would likely make the Moscow-native the winner of the Hart Memorial and Art Ross trophies and could propel Washington to a very high Eastern Conference playoff seed. If Ovechkin can lead Team Russia to a 2010 Vancouver Winter Games Gold medal, lead the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup victory and continue putting up the astonishing statistics he has put up in previous seasons, then I believe the debate will be put to rest. He will not only be considered better than Sidney Crosby, but he will be considered the best player in the game.
As you can see, both authors put a high price on the Olympic gold, which may be unfair to boil it down to just two players when both Canada and Russia will ice mega-allstar lineups with potential heroes literally all over the place.
What do you think of their analysis? Personally, I don't see why Crosby needs to score 115 points (which he's done) and go to the Stanley Cup finals (which he's done...twice) to be considered the best player all of a sudden. Does he really have to do it all again to conclusively prove he's the best?
By the same token, Ovechkin supporters will rightly point to all his individual hardware and skills as evidence to his stand-alone greatness. Does he have to win the gold medal to prove that?
No matter how you slice it the debate will continue and rage on for most, if not all of their respective great careers. The bottom line is both are uniquely gifted and incredible hockey players - their styles on and off the ice may be polar opposites, but that doesn't mean one is clearly superior to the other. On any given night either can make a compelling case that he is the best player in the world. But so can Malkin, the man not even mentioned in this article that led the regular season and the playoffs in scoring.
All are fantastic talents, all of them are special, and it's something to enjoy and debate about, even if there's nothing conclusive as to who's the best.