The best of the Stanley Cup playoffs has come and gone.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, having vanquished the Washington Capitals will now tussle with the Carolina Hurricanes.
What has been made apparent over the last couple of weeks is that you either favour Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. Eric Staal, as fine a player as he is, is not a suitable substitute for either man.
Ovie or Sid is like Betty vs. Veronica, chocolate vs. vanilla, John against Paul.
Who you choose depends on what you value: convention over brilliance, modesty over flamboyance, guts over glory.
There is no one answer, just thousands of opinions lined up beside either man.
Ovechkin and Crosby understand that. Did you see the handshake after the Pens beat Ovechkin’s staggeringly flat Capitals in Game 7? It looked like a wresting staredown.
The difference between the two is that Sidney Crosby’s main influence was Wayne Gretzky. I think Ovechkin’s is Rasputin.
Ovechkin is mercurial, emotional. He brandishes the hockey player’s badge of honour, a missing front tooth, like a ceremonial mace. We were talking in his first year and he was struggling to find a word in English. He laid his left fingers across his right. Try it. The word he was looking for? Prison. That, friends, is an expansive thinker.
Ovechkin relentlessly seeks out contact. He redefines how a hockey player can score. His release is another man’s twitch. The Hockey News found when you work league-wide goals per game into the equation, Ovechkin has been as prolific a goalscorer in his first four years as Wayne Gretzky was in his. Bill Torrey, longtime GM of the New York Islanders contends that for much of a game, players simply don’t think about scoring. The real goal scorers prowl about the game looking for just those moments. Mike Bossy, Torrey said, was such a player. Ovechkin is another.
Ovechkin is an artist powered by his own passion to score. His celebrations, his ill-conceived ‘hot stick’dance after he scored his 50th and the bar tab that is making the internet rounds, are built to scale.
Crosby is the third generation superstar. The elements Gordie Howe brought from Floral, Saskatchewan, decency, humility, were picked up by Gretzky in Brantford and, a generation later, Crosby in Cole Harbor.
The exotic defines Ovechkin. Its absence is what makes Crosby Crosby. For all his skills - he is a powerful skater who is profoundly difficult to knock off the puck – he is positionally much less reckless and therefore far more sound than Ovechkin. Crosby does what everyone else can do, only better. Ovechkin does what no one can manage. That’s the difference.
Crosby captains the Penguins. Ovechkin’s style and temperament probably won’t accommodate the C even though he is unquestionably the Capitals’ best player.
Ovechkin\Crosby marks the first time hockey fans have had to choose since Howe and Maurice Richard represented radically different constituencies in the forties and fifties. With Sid and Ovie, the contrast is so profound, their different charismas so potent, you have to pick.