Ovechkin/Crosby vs. Gretzky/Lemieux

Matt StephensCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2008

Gretzky versus Lemieux. Arguably two of the best players to lace up the skates at their prime at the same time. We were privliged to see it in the 80's and early 90's, when the game was wide open and 200 points was possible.

Until his most recent comeback, Lemieux could claim he was the only player to average two points per game for his entire career. In 1992-93, Lemieux tallied 160 points in only 60 games. Similarly, in 1987-88 Gretzky put up 149 points in only 64 games and he holds the record of 215 points in 80 games.

Over the course of their careers, Gretzky and Lemieux averaged 1.92 points per game and 1.88 points per game, respectively.

After Lemieux retired for the second time in 1997 and Gretzky retired in 1999, the NHL really lost its offensive identity. It had even started before they retired but there were no full-fledged international icons in the game when they left.

There were important players such as Steve Yzerman, Dominik Hasek, Mats Sundin, and Peter Forsberg, but none of them could hold the mantle of the NHL like Gretzky and Lemieux had.

Until now.

The NHL is in the middle of a renaissance. Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin appear to be set to fill that NHL mantle. Crosby, like Gretzky, has held the mantle since he was playing major-junior hockey in the QMJHL.  Ovechkin, like Lemieux, has slowly grown in to the mold of standard-bearer.

Last year, Crosby led the league in scoring, and this year Ovechkin is setting the pace. You get the feel that these two are setting the stage for some epic scoring races.

Ovechkin has already eclipsed the 60 goal mark for the first time since Lemeiux and Jaromir Jagr did in the 1995-96 season. With only 6 games left, it is unlikely that Ovechkin will be the first to eclipse the 70 mark since Teemu Selanne (as a rookie) and Alexander Mogilny did it in the 1992-93 season.

Earlier this month, Ovechkin told The Washington Times, "If I could score 70, I will be very happy. It is good when you score lots of goals, but it is hard."

Looking at the supporting casts of Crosby and Ovechkin, you would have to assume that Crosby is going to have the easier time piling up the points.

In Crosby's extended injury absence this year, Evgeni Malkin has really stepped up. Malkin as Crosby's Jari Kurri. Jordan Staal would be Gretzky's Messier, and the other players on Pittsburgh are young as well.

Ovechkin has, well, Ovechkin. He finally got some help at the trade deadline in Sergei Federov, but Federov is on his last legs. Alexander Semin is supposed to develop into a top talent, but not yet. I guess Ovechkin will just have to keep searching for his Jagr.

Until then, I will continue to enjoy the scoring escapades of the NHL's newest icons.