Welcome to NHL.com's "Fantasy Faceoff," where our panel of insiders will dissect individual matchups to help determine which player carries the most fantasy value. Torn between two players on draft day? Look no further than NHL.com for the edge on the most compelling positional toss-ups as your fantasy draft approaches.
We begin at the center position, where NHL.com fantasy expert Matt Cubeta will debate the battle for the No. 1 ranking between the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos.
In this case, not only am I debating the top two fantasy centers, but in my opinion, I'm evaluating the top two overall fantasy players.
While many fantasy owners may be hesitant to draft Sidney Crosby as their No. 1 center because of his injury history, I'm here to tell you that he is 100 percent worth any risk or doubt you may have. Steven Stamkos has become one of the most prolific scorers over the past four years, but Crosby is the best player in the world and should be selected before the Tampa Bay sniper.
There's really no argument when breaking down per-game stats, but the questions regarding Crosby will continue to surround his health. But as long as he's healthy going into the year, he has to be the first player off the board in all fantasy leagues. And as of this moment, Sidney Crosby is completely healthy -- he'll be at Penguins training camp and should be as strong as ever. That's not to say he couldn't end up getting hurt at any point during the 2013-14 season (any player could get hurt at any time), but regardless, he is always worth that risk because of his per-game production.
FANTASY HOCKEY NEWS & ADVICE
Fantasy Rankings - CenterBy Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Fantasy Insider
NHL.com fantasy expert Matt Cubeta has Sidney Crosby leading the way among a deep group of fantasy hockey center rankings. READ MORE ›
While Crosby has missed 113 of the last 212 games (53 percent of his team's games) and hasn't played a full season since 2009-10 (81 games), let's take a look at exactly how valuable he is when on the ice:
* In his first eight NHL seasons, Crosby has averaged at least 1.26 points-per-game or better in each of them. He's done all of this while under the age of 26. In the history of the NHL, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are the only other players to have also achieved this eight times under the age of 26 (Denis Savard and Dale Hawerchuk did it seven times each). And since Crosby entered the League in 2005, no player has even accomplished this feat more than four times (Alex Ovechkin).
* Over the last four seasons, Crosby's plus/minus has never dipped below plus-15. He's posted a plus-rating in every NHL season with exception to his rookie campaign (minus-1). His plus-106 since 2005 is 12th best in the NHL.
* In 470 regular season games, Crosby has 417 penalty minutes. Over an 82-game season, that averages out to 73 penalty minutes per season.
* Crosby is a power play machine with 256 power-play points in 470 games. If you average out those totals for an 82-game season, it would result in 45 power-play points per year.
* He has averaged 3.4 shots on goal per game throughout his career. During those same eight years, only 11 other players have averaged more.
From the stats to the stories, there is no flaw to Crosby's game when he's on the ice. He plays on an elite team and is surrounded by talented players. His linemates, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, are a perfect fit to bring out the best in Crosby's playmaking abilities and his goal-scoring prowess. The team's top power-play unit features himself, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang and Kunitz (most frequently). And what's best of all is that he's still just 26 years old and in the thick of his prime.
Crosby is the best there is right now and still has plenty of time in his career to go down as one of the greatest players in NHL history. Could Stamkos go down in history as well? That's very possible, and he certainly has a leg up against any other player for the honor of our No. 2 fantasy center. Many of you might think Malkin could be second to Crosby, but in my opinion, the top of the center position should be broken down into tiers.
Tier 1 finds Crosby by himself. Tier 2 is Stamkos' alone. Then, in Tier 3 you have the likes of Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Malkin and Claude Giroux -- in that order. Stamkos is a notch above all of these players due to his consistency and his unmatched goal-scoring abilities.
Stamkos hasn't missed a single game in the past four seasons and during that time, no one comes close to his 185 total goals -- Ovechkin is second with 152 and then Corey Perry comes in at No. 3 with 129. The same goes for Stamkos' point totals -- his 340 points over the past four seasons are more than any other player (Henrik Sedin is second with 332, followed by Martin St. Louis with 327).
During those four seasons, Stamkos also ranks fifth with 1,029 shots on goal, his 18 percent shooting percentage is tops in the NHL, his 63 power-play goals are the most and his 1.16 points per game trail only Crosby (1.49) and Malkin (1.19). His penalty minute value is also extremely solid, as he averages 55 per 82-game season.
Stamkos' one weakness throughout his career has been the plus/minus category, where he's posted a plus rating in two of his five NHL seasons for a career mark of minus-9. However, the Lightning have added Jonathan Drouin and Valtteri Filppula to the mix offensively and Ben Bishop between the pipes, so there's reason to think Tampa Bay will improve and move in the right direction the next several years, which would likely help Stamkos' rating.
When all is said and done and you're faced with choosing between Crosby and Stamkos as your No. 1 fantasy center, there really isn't much of a debate. Nothing against Stamkos, but if you're not taking the Penguins captain first overall in every single draft, then you probably shouldn't be playing fantasy hockey. The only viable knock on Crosby is the health factor, but clearly, his potential outweighs that risk, and quite significantly too.