The year was 2005 and while the National Hockey League had once again bottomed out – losing fans and sponsors alike – due to a season-long lockout, there was a glimmer of hope for restitution. That glimmer came in the form of a youth movement, with two big names leading the pack.
Those two youngsters came from completely different backgrounds, yet both were poised as the saviors of their respective franchise – both of which were in struggling NHL cities. Because the two were both first overall picks, the comparisons and debates of who was the better player began on Day 1 – and remain an intriguing topic all of these years later.
In one corner, there’s Sidney Crosby. The pride of Halifax, N.S., Crosby was touted as a future NHL superstar at a young age and by age 17 he had become the best prospect to come along since this guy by the name of Mario Lemieux, who was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984. Ironically enough, Crosby was drafted by the same team 21 years later and expected to turn the franchise around much like Lemieux had – only he wasn’t being compared to Super Mario, no he was nicknamed The Next One and instead compared to Wayne Gretzky.
In the other corner, there’s Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin – who hails from Moscow, Russia – represented the surge of European talent making its way into the NHL and while at the time there was a lot less information on the highly-regarded youngster, it was clear at 18 he had the makings to dominate professionally. He was a hybrid of Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorv, with an uncanny ability to score goals. Drafted by the Washington Capitals during the lockout, Ovechkin had to wait a year before his debut, causing the left winger to fly under the radar from fans and media alike.
Today, it’s difficult to argue against the fact that Crosby has had the better career when healthy but don’t count Ovechkin out, he’s gaining ground – and fast. Let’s break it down a little.
The most important thing is winning Lord Stanley’s Cup and while both players have helped turn their abysmal franchises into perennial contenders, only Crosby has hoisted the cup. The Penguins captain led his team to victory in 2008 after defeating the Detroit Red Wings, a year after finishing as runner-up.
Ovechkin has certainly had his chances, no more so than the 2009-10 season, when the Capitals won the President’s Trophy as the team to finish the regular season with the most points. But the ending was the way it has been throughout Ovechkin’s tenure – disappointing. Washington has rotated different pieces in and out over the years but has simply been unable to get over the hump, with much of the blame being placed on Capitals’ captain.
Since entering the league in 2005, the two stars have made their teams regular season juggernauts. As of the start of this season, the Penguins have gone 345-214-63 during the Crosby era and the Capitals have fared not quite as well, with a 321-224-77 record over the same time.
It’s clear that the nod goes to Crosby in this category.
Ovechkin won his third Hart Memorial Trophy (league’s most valuable player) last season after a ridiculous second half of the season. Add three Lester B. Pearson Awards (league’s most outstanding player), three Maurice Richard Trophies (league’s leading scorer), a Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year) and an Art Ross Trophy (scoring leader). The 26-year-old is also a five-time All-Star. Internationally he hasn’t been quite as lucky, failing to medal in the Olympics.
Crosby, on the other hand, has won Olympic gold – thanks to his medal-winning shot. He’s a four-time NHL All-Star to go along with his Maurice Richard Trophy, two Mark Messier Leadership Awards, a Hart Memorial Trophy, two Lester B. Pearson Awards, and an Art Ross Trophy. There might not be as much hardware for Crosby, given his battle with injuries in the past.
The edge definitely goes to Ovechkin on this one.
Crosby has some great numbers over the years, the most impressive of which might be his 1.41 career points per game average. In 470 regular season games with Pittsburgh, the 26-year-old has 237 goals and 427 assists for a total of 665 points. He’s also got 417 penalty minutes. But to truly know the importance of Crosby to the Penguins, you must look at his playoff statistics. In 82 postseason appearances, Crosby has 40 goals and 65 assists for a total of 105 points.
For Ovechkin, the numbers are slightly skewed given how many more games he’s played in throughout his career. In 601 regular season games, the Capitals forward has 371 points and 364 assists for a total of 735 points, proving he is an all-around solid player. He’s got a few more penalty minutes at 422. The number that really stands out, however, is his career points per game average, which is 1.22 – significantly lower than Crosby. Ovechkin does have 31 goals and 30 assists in 58 playoff games, proving he can dish the puck, or put it in the net, during crucial moments of the game.
As of late, the two have been even. In fact, the two had the same points total last season, however Crosby did it in 12 less games, leaving many to wonder why Ovechkin was crowned MVP. This season the two have gone back-and-forth, with both off to hot starts. Crosby currently has two more points than his adversary; however Ovechkin has a mind-blowing 17 goals – seven more than his rival.
Crosby gets the slight edge here.
There’s little doubt that Crosby has been the better player during his career but it’s certainly a lot closer than most might think. He’s become the face of the league and when he’s healthy, it’s difficult to think of any player who is more dominant. Ovechkin is right there, however, but it would take a banner raising in the nation’s capital for the argument to really heat up and perhaps sway in his favor.
One thing is for certain: they’re the two best forwards in the league.