The Best Threesome Ever?

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The Best Threesome Ever?

Who is the best player in the NHL? For the past couple of years we have had no definitive answer. This is a great departure from the eighties of Wayne Gretzky, the nineties of Mario Lemieux, and the pre-lockout era of Jaromir Jagr. I believe Jagr was also the best in the year following the lockout, regardless of Thornton's Hart win. But now it seems the NHL has a wealth of talent vying to be the best, with three exceptional players in particular.

This is not going to be one of those articles where i try to pick who of Ovechkin, Malkin and Crosby is the best. There are legitimate arguments that can be made for each player. The more intriguing topic is whether the NHL has ever had 3 players as dominant as these playing in one era.

Finding a comparison in the NHL's storied past is difficult but I think i've found a good one. In the early nineties, the balance of power was beginning to shift from Gretzky to Lemieux, however it also saw the rise of goal machine Brett Hull. In the '91-'92 season Lemieux lead the league in scoring, with Gretzky third, and Hull fourth. Lemieux missed 16 games that season, so ultimately the race was much closer than it should have been. In the previous season Gretzky led the league with 163 points, Hull lead the league with 86 goals, and Lemieux averaged almost 2 points a game after recovering from a serious back injury. Ultimately, the Great One, Super Mario, and the Golden Brett share many similarities to the dominant three of today.

By using simple word association: Lemieux is to Malkin, Gretzky is to Crosby, and Hull is to Ovechkin. Lemieux had soft hands and body presence which he used to dominate the puck. Gretzky drew the attention of all the defenders on the ice and then slid a killer pass to an open teammate. Hull had the wrist shot, the slap shot, and the awareness to find open ice. We could very easily be speaking about Malkin, Crosby and Ovechkin.

In the 1991 playoffs, both Gretzky's L.A Kings and Hull's St. Louis Blues were elminated in the second round. Both were devasting losses as the favoured teams were defeated by teams who did not actually have a winning record in the regular season (the Oilers went 37-37-6 and the North Stars went 27-39-14!) Lemieux's Penguins would go on to face the Minnesota North Stars in the Stanley Cup Finals and prevailed in 6 games. 

The 2009 playoffs featured the dream match-up between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The series went to seven games with the Penguins saving their best for the deciding game and convincingly knocking out Ovechkin and the Caps. The Penguins would ride the wave all the way to the Stanley Cup finals where they edged out the defending champion Detroit Red Wings to win for the first time in the post-Lemieux era. Sidney Crosby led with 15 goals while Malkin had 36 points en-route to winning the Conn Smyth Trophy.

Having found a precendent to the current kings of the ice, it seems like the similarities are endless. However, their are important differences. The obvious one being that Crosby and Malkin play for the same team. They are the most dominant one-two punch since Lemieux and Jagr, but are more similar to the Oilers' two headed monster of Gretzky and Messier. But unlike those two duos, you really can't choose between Crosby and Malkin. The two are 1A and 1B on the Penguins roster, with the designations changing continuously.

Ovechkin is a sniper like Hull, but that is essentially where the similarities end. AO is the one of the most complete hockey players since Forsberg and leads his team in ways Brett Hull never did. As well Ovechkin relies more on dekes and puck control than Hull's strategy of getting open and letting the puck come to him. However, Ovechkin may well put up Hull-esque numbers if Nicklas Backstrom develops into the next Adam Oates.

To revise my earlier associations: Malkin is Lemieux with a mean streak and more defensive awareness, Crosby is Gretzky with a willingness to drive to the net, and Ovechkin is Hull with powerful hitting and a flair for the dramatic.

With that said, i still think Lemieux and Gretzky are still a class above Malkin and Crosby. Maybe in ten years I will have to change my opinion, but right now it really seems like an unattainable comparison.

Ovechkin however is more talented than Hull and I think will eventually go down as a better player. He has the ability to truly make it a three-horse race between himself, Crosby and Malkin. And who knows, within a few years maybe the debate will have to increase to include Datsyuk, or Zetterberg, or even Tavares. What's clear is that the future is shining pretty damn brightly for the NHL right now.

And i know i might just be lobbing a Molotov into the comments but, in my opinion:

Gretzky > Lemieux > Hull

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