At the start of the current NHL season, TSN conducted a survey of the 30 NHL general managers and asked them the following question:
If you could pick one player to build your team around for the next five years, who would it be?
By a wide margin, the GMs chose Sidney Crosby, with Alexander Ovechkin second and Roberto Luongo third.
Since the season started, however, all I’ve heard is how Ovechkin is the league’s best player and a shoo-in for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player at the end of the season.
Some insist that Crosby is not even the best player on his own team anymore, with that title going to Evgeni Malkin in the minds of many. I even had a heated debate with a hockey mind I respect greatly, who tried to tell me Zach Parise is as good as Sid the Kid.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think all of those players are amazing. Ovechkin is as dynamic an offensive talent as the NHL has ever seen, and his style and personality have attracted a whole new group of fans to the National Hockey League.
Malkin is also superbly talented and somewhat underappreciated, playing in Crosby and Ovechkin’s huge shadows. And Parise is having a break out season, cementing his place as one of the league’s rising stars.
But for my money, No. 87 is still the pick of the litter. Sure, he doesn’t score as many highlight reel goals as Ovechkin, and maybe he trails Malikin by a few points in the NHL scoring race (although when you factor in Crosby’s five missed games, they are pretty close), but if you consider all the things he does for a team, he’s still the man.
Crosby’s best attributes are his competitiveness, his amazing puck skills, and the ability to make the players around him better. How many times have you seen an amazing Crosby pass cut the heart out of an opposing defense and give one of his teammates the hockey equivalent of an uncontested lay-up?
Unfortunately for Sid the Kid, he played the first 60 games of the season with players who couldn’t throw a rock in the Pacific Ocean from five feet. Shockingly, when he actually started playing with guys who could find the back of the net without directions (i.e. Kunitz and Guerin), the points started to pile up.
I’m pretty sure if Crosby had been matched with his current line-mates all season, both the MVP and the scoring title would already be in his back pocket.
Sure, he played with Malkin a lot this season, but that’s not a perfect fit either. Both are players who have to have the puck on their sticks and are much better when they’re the guy doing the passing and somebody else is doing the shooting.
Crosby leads by example every shift. He plays with passion and fire and what his critics call whining is really a defense mechanism to protect himself from an endless barrage of slashes and cheap shots that all real superstars are subjected to.
As I recall, Gretzky was a bit of a whiner, too and he turned out all right. He’ll figure it out with maturity and experience. Crosby is only 21, after all.
In addition to his offensive gifts, the Pittsburgh captain has worked hard to turn himself into a good face-off man and a good penalty killer. He has the potential to be great in both areas. His defensive awareness has grown in leaps and bounds since entering the league as an 18-year-old.
Crosby’s biggest problem is expectation. If Zach Parise scored 100 pts. this season, people would call it a spectacular season. If Crosby scores 100, it’s a disappointment. He’s a victim of his own success.
So take Ovechkin if you like. Or Malikin. Or Parise. Or maybe even Mike Richards or Jarome Iginla. I’ll take Sidney Crosby any day of the week, without regret or hesitation.
Then let’s see who comes out on top.