Will the 2010 Olympics prove Crosby is the best?by Jeff Mackie
The most anticipated hockey game of the 2009-10 season isn't the Winter Classic, nor is it the Stanley Cup rematch between the Red Wings and Penguins, and it isn't Dany Heatley's first appearance in Edmonton or Ottawa.
The best hockey game we'll see this season isn't even on a schedule and it may not even happen. I'm referring to a potential matchup between Canada and Russia at the Vancouver Olympics. Because they are in separate pools, the battle will have to take place in the medal round. We're hoping for a gold medal showdown, but hey, we'll take what we can get.
A Canada-Russia contest would feature the three best players on the planet in Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. The terrific trio were last on the ice together during a second-round playoff series featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. It was epic seven-game series ultimately won by Malkin and Crosby's Penguins. In Vancouver, the tables will be turned. It will be old rivals Ovechkin and Malkin joining forces against Crosby in a relatively short tournament featuring the world's best players.
With all due respect to Ovechkin and Malkin, Crosby will be the star attraction at the Vancouver Olympics. At the age of 22, he's Canada's most recognizable athlete. He'll be competing on his home soil with some very weighty expectations placed upon him. He'll be the best player, possibly the captain, on a team loaded with stars, a squad that is required to win gold. Second place will not suffice.
Crosby is treated like royalty in this country. His Stanley Cup celebration in his hometown of Cole Harbour N.S. attracted thousands of people. His endorsement deals with Reebok, Gatorade and Tim Horton's net him millions of dollars a year. His profile in this nation is befitting of someone who is the undisputed best athlete in their chosen sport.
But that just isn't the case.
Crosby has accomplished a great deal during his first four NHL seasons: he's won a Stanley Cup, along with Hart, Art Ross and Pearson trophies. The one thing he doesn't possess, however, is the title of the world's best hockey player. At the very least, he shares that mantle with Ovechkin – with Malkin closing the gap.
Who's the better player - Crosby or Ovechkin? Making that distinction is like comparing apples and oranges. They're two completely different players, of course, with separate attributes. Ovechkin is the dangerous triggerman, the finisher, while Crosby sees the ice better and would rather feed his teammates that shoot the puck himself.
From a statistical perspective, Crosby lags behind his rival. He's never scored more than 39 goals in a season, while Ovechkin has notched 50 goals in three different years. Ovechkin is also the more decorated of the two – he's won the Hart, Richard and Pearson trophies twice. He also claimed the Calder over Crosby during their rookie seasons. Ovechkin has been a first-team all-star in each of his four seasons; Crosby has made been a first-teamer only once.
Crosby may not even be the best player on his own team. Malkin, after all, did win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Penguins last season, along with the Art Ross Trophy. He's a year younger, too, and because he plays a much less physical game, isn't as likely to miss time with injuries. I'm not suggesting that Malkin is more valuable to his team than Crosby, only that he could very well establish himself as a more prolific point producer than Crosby.
The 2009-10 campaign is a crucial one for the Crosby brand. He has the opportunity to eclipse Ovechkin and Malkin as the game's greatest player. Leading Canada to gold in Vancouver is a requirement. He also needs to wrestle the Hart Trophy from Ovechkin. Another scoring title would help too, as would a 50-goal season.
One thing is for certain: a coming out party for Sidney Crosby is scheduled over 12 days in February. Whether Crosby shows up for this party is one of the most interesting storylines of the new season