The fates of Sidney Crosby and Alexander
Ovechkin have been intertwined ever since they were selected first overall in
back-to-back drafts either side of the 2004-05 lost NHL season.
When the league returned for 2005-06 with a
new set of rules aimed at opening the game up, Crosby and Ovechkin quickly
became the faces of the ‘new NHL’. They were both electric offensive players
and the more tightly called version of the NHL created the opportunity for an
18-year old and 19-year old to steal the show.
The two players quickly rose to stardom
playing for a pair of franchises in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington
Capitals that had drifted into mediocrity. It didn’t take either of Crosby or
Ovechkin to establish themselves as premier players in the league – they both
scored 100+ points in four of their first five seasons.
It helped that in many ways the two men
were the antithesis of one another. Crosby is a playmaker, soft-handed, a determined
physical competitor and a man who plays by the “Canadian code”. In opposition, Ovechkin is an often brash,
self-confident Russian with an unmatched desire to score.
It seemed inevitable that each would
eventually lead their teams to a new era of success, including multiple Stanley
Those expectations seemed even more
reasonable when Crosby led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in
2008 and the following year, the two teams were once again among the leagues
They would meet in one of the most
exhilarating and exciting playoff series in recent memory. That series was
decided in a Game 7 and was supposed to be just the first chapter in a rivalry
between two exciting teams and two dynastic players – who didn’t like each
other too much.
In the end, the rivalry has ended up
mirroring Game 7 of that series rather than the fantastic drama that had
preceded it. Pittsburgh and Crosby crushed Washington and Ovechkin 6-2 in what
was an anti-climatic and disappointing finish that match-up.
The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup
only a few weeks later and it seemed that the two franchises might be set to
swap championships in a similar vein to the way that Crosby and Ovechkin have
dominated the individual awards over the last 10 years winning more than a
dozen between them.
Instead, the Conference Finals are once
again starting without either teams’ participation. The Capitals are yet to
reach the Conference Finals in the Ovechkin era, while Pittsburgh have made on
appearance since winning the Cup, they were promptly swept by the Boston Bruins
in 2013. Both teams made coaching changes last summer, but neither Mike
Johnston (Pittsburgh) nor Barry Trotz (Washington) were able to generate a
better performance out of their respective rosters and another offseason of
inquiries looks to be the storyline for both franchises.
It’s difficult to understand or assess why
the rivalry has struggled to live up to its potential. Neither play has really
failed to live up to his potential. Crosby has 302 goals and 853 points in 627
regular season games, he has a further 43 goals and 118 points in 100 playoff
games. It’s true that 2014-15 was one of Crosby’s least productive season
offensively as he “only” had 28 goals 84 points in 77 games. He then managed
four points from five postseason contests. It was still good for third in the
league in scoring though and he would have won the scoring title had he played
even just a couple of more games.
Ovechkin finished fourth in scoring in the
season just passed with 81 points and he won’t yet another Richard Maurice
Rocket Trophy leading the league with 53 goals. Ovechkin has 475 goals and 895
points in 760 regular season games. His teams have never made it past the
second round, but he has still managed to score 36 goals and 70 points in 72
playoff contests. Ovechkin has 50+ goals in six of his 10 NHL seasons, one of
those other seasons was the lockout shortened campaigjn where had 32 tallies in
Perhaps the simplest reality is that the NHL
has changed. Greats like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux would have been
all-time greats regardless of the era that they played in, but in reality their
remarkable numbers were at least not hindered by playing against poorly padded
goaltenders and against teams that had little defensive structure.
Head coaches and video analysts have caught
up. They won’t allow players like Crosby and Ovechkin to completely dominate
proceedings with their individual talent and that becomes even more of a
reality in the postseason.
Instead, the champions over the last five
teams have been great teams. Chicago’s individual talent is unquestionable, but
GM Stan Bowman’s efforts to bring depth at both ends of the ice have been
crucial. Meanwhile, both the 2011 champion Boston Bruins and 2012 and 2014
champion LA Kings were built on defense-first systems and while each had
talented offensive players, scoring by committee was as much the order of the
There’s something mind-numbingly
uninspiring about an NBA where only a few teams have a realistic shot to win
the championship in a league dominated almost entirely by its superstars.
However, there’s also no arguing that the NHL has lost something with the spark
of a potential great rivalry between two elite players slowly slipping away.
Pehraps the rivalry will never quite be the
same, Ovechkin will have turned 30 before the start of the 2015-16 regular
season, Crosby will be 28. There’s a resigned feeling around both franchises as
they look for a way to compete. However, things can change quickly. The
Penguins and Capitals in 2009 were boosted by the quantity of talented, young
and cheap players that they were able to have on their rosters.
Still, Washington was only one win away
from a Conference Finals appearance this spring, and the Penguins will
undoubtedly start next season among the favourites once again. Perhaps there’s
still a chance for the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry to have closing chapters fitting
of its explosive beginning.
Labels: Written by Sebastian Egerton-Read - @Seb_Read