Posted by Rebecca Shesser
With the start of the first full NHL season since 2011 inching closer, fans everywhere are gearing up for their long-awaited 82 games. As the Chicago Blackhawks blazed through the first 24 games of last years' 48-game season without a loss, the lockout's damage left little room for any Cinderella stories. However, two storylines emerged from a pair of players whose legacies have tangled and twisted ever since their NHL debuts in 2005.
In 2004, the Washington Capitals selected Russian phenomenon Alexander Ovechkin as the first overall pick in the draft. Ovechkin, who had been playing in the Russian Superleague since the age of 16, signed a three-year entry-level contract. Due to the 2004-2005 lockout, Ovechkin returned to Russia for one more season before making his NHL debut in which he scored two goals in a Capitals victory. Ovechkin would go on to play in all but one game that season, accumulating 52 goals and 54 assists. This feat earned him the Calder Memorial Trophy (NHL Rookie of the Year award), the Kharlamov Trophy (NHL Russian MVP), and a place on two NHL all-star teams. Tallying three more 100+ point seasons from 2007-2010, Ovechkin made off with the Art Ross Memorial Trophy (Most Points) once, and the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy (Most Goals), the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP) and the NHL Player of the Year award all two times. However, Ovechkin wasn't the only rookie in the 2005-2006 season making waves.
Following a 200+ point peewee hockey season in his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, it was apparent that Sidney Crosby's skill did not match his age. Determined to give their son the challenge he craved, Crosby's parents signed him up for a league intended for players two to four years older than their 13-year old. After playing one game, in which he recorded four points, the league barred him from playing to avoid an inevitable conflict over his age. However, one thing became very clear from the situation: this young prodigy was no ordinary hockey player. When age became a non-factor, Crosby turned his sights to the NHL.
Following the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, there was no set draft order because there were no previous season rankings. The draft was a lottery, which became known as the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes and was won by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then, Crosby has tallied 665 points, won many individual awards and had the honor of hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head as a team captain.
These two incredible hockey players are constantly compared and their rivalry has become legendary. All conversations about these two extraordinary players ultimately lead to one question: who truly is the better player?
Statistically, Alexander Ovechkin has 60 career points over Crosby. However, it is important to note that injury marred Crosby's career, keeping his games played total to a mere 470 games while Ovechkin has tallied 601 GP. This wide difference puts Crosby's points per game at an impressive 1.4 over Ovechkin's 1.2 PPG. Additionally, Crosby has failed to play for an entire season since 2009-2010, which was also his last 100-point season. Out of the 212 playable games since then, Crosby has only participated in 99.
Coincidentally the 2009-2010 season was also the last 100-point season for Ovechkin, whose numbers decreased dramatically to 85 points in 2010-2011 and a disappointing 65 points in the 2011-2012 season despite being an active player for nearly all of the combined 164 games during those two seasons. The future of both superstars seemed to hang in the balance as the NHL slid into a lockout period prior to the abridged 2012-2013 season.
Despite questions of Ovechkin's skill and Crosby's health, both players exceeded expectations and provided the league with two classic Cinderella storylines.
Upon Crosby's long-awaited return, he became an immediate contender for the Art Ross Trophy. Simultaneously, Ovechkin initially struggled adapting to a new coach as well as a new position. The switch left Ovechkin dormant in the point department for the beginning of the season. However, once things on the Capitals' first line began clicking, there was no stopping the "Great-8."
Ovechkin surged to the top of the NHL goals category capturing the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as well as the Hart Trophy, two accolades that had escaped his grasp since 2009. Crosby's season was cut short due to another injury; however, his 56-point, 36-game season couldn't be ignored, and received the player-awarded MVP title.
These two comeback stories are nowhere near over. A newly refreshed Ovechkin poses an undeniable threat to the finally healthy Crosby and vice-versa. When the puck finally drops on the 2013-2014 season, there is no doubt that all eyes will once again be focused on this rivalry.