When I first joined Bleacher Report, the first article I wrote was a reflection on the career of Eric Lindros.
Needless to say, I believe his legacy should be much greater than it has become over the years and that Lindros was one of the greatest hockey players this world has ever seen.
Today, we have a player in Alexander Ovechkin who has taken the league by storm and become one of the most dominant forwards in recent memory. In fact, Ovechkin’s combination of scoring and physical play has some people drawing comparisons to the retired Lindros.
So the question must be asked: Who is the better player?
Clearly, Ovechkin could be considered the best player in the game today and is entering rarefied air with a likely third straight Hart Trophy following the conclusion of the 2009-10 regular season.
Ovechkin possesses one of the most deadly shots in NHL history, has excellent agility, and is not shy about throwing his weight around on a nightly basis.
And perhaps the most impressive factor is that the Russian sniper is on pace to challenge Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record.
More to the point, all of Ovechkin’s talents, statistics and wild personality have combined to create a player that is tailor-made for the media driven sports world of today.
He is exciting, brash, entertaining, unpredictable and the league’s highest paid player.
There is no denying that he is a true superstar in the NHL.
But does this mean Ovechkin is a better player than Lindros was?
I realize that for many people, particularly the under 20 crowd, this might not be much of an argument.
“Ovechkin is the best player in the game today, already one of the greatest ever, and certainly better than Lindros ever was,” they may say.
But look a little bit closer at the numbers, or watch clips of Lindros in his hey-day with Philadelphia and talk to those who witnessed first-hand the talent of the Big E and you might think twice about that argument.
Right now, Ovechkin is finishing up his fifth season in the NHL and has put up the following statistics:
Through Lindros’ fifth season, his numbers looked like this:
Obviously, the big thing that jumps out is that Ovechkin has been able to stay healthy and Lindros’ biggest downfall was that he could not do the same. Through five seasons, Ovechkin has already played over a full season more than Lindros and will end up having played roughly 100 more games.
But, look at these numbers again.
Ovechkin has averaged 1.33 points-per-game.
Lindros averaged 1.46 points-per-game.
I know Ovechkin’s ability to stay healthy and his insane scoring ability will probably produce some ridiculous numbers over the next few seasons, and that when it is all said and done, he will have a handful of MVP’s and possibly a Cup or two.
But through five seasons, Lindros produced better than Ovechkin.
That’s a testament to how good Lindros was before a litany of injuries and concussions derailed his career.
And this doesn’t take into account other aspects of the game of hockey, all of which were in Lindros’ favor in comparison to Ovechkin. Yet, through this point in their careers, Lindros had Ovechkin beat at his own game: producing points.
To be fair, Lindros was able to play in a league that allowed more scoring with weaker goaltending and defenses not as tough as they are today. But it is not like his career was in the middle of the 1980s where second-line centers could score 100 points.
Plus, Ovechkin has profited immensely from the post-lockout rules that give us one-handed love tap slashing and light hooking penalties that never would have been called even 10 years ago.
The result is a deadly Ovechkin unleashed each night on the power play, able to pad his statistics and fire ten shots a night on helpless goalies across the league.
Moreover, it’s really too bad that Lindros’ reputation, injuries and shortened career have hidden the fact that he was one of the all-time greats.
The comparisons between the two players is somewhat reasonable, but in actuality Ovechkin is a smaller, less fierce and less complete player than Lindros.
Ovechkin is basically the light beer version of Lindros.
Ovechkin is a better scorer, has a little more quickness, but he cannot match what Lindros had to offer in every other area of hockey.
Lindros was much bigger, just as fast, hit and fought as devastating as anyone in history, and also played the much more important role of center.
Just look at the plus/minus between the two players.
With each player’s teams having won roughly the same amount of games through five seasons, Lindros doubles the plus/minus of Ovechkin.
Ovechkin also picked up a larger percentage of his points on the power play than Lindros.
And although Ovechkin has played nearly a full season more than Lindros through five seasons, the Russian superstar has taken twice as many shots!
This is why it is so frustrating that Lindros hasn’t been afforded the legacy he deserves.
All of the off-ice baloney which, to this day, still clouds many people’s perception of Lindros doesn’t take away from the fact that we still haven’t seen someone as truly dominant as Lindros was in his prime.
In the end, it’s not really about asking if Lindros is better than Ovechkin, but rather, it is about giving one of the best players in NHL history his due.
In the near future, Lindros will be eligible for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Hopefully, that honor will be bestowed and the hockey world can once again appreciate one the most spectacular athletes to ever lace up a pair of skates.