I was looking at the stats page on NHL.com earlier this week and couldn't help but notice two very familiar names right at the top: Sidney Crosby leading the League in points and Alex Ovechkin leading the League in goals.
Ovechkin has since been overtaken by Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues, but it was nice to see the two biggest names in our game back on top, especially when you consider the noticeable lack of buzz surrounding these two players last season. With Crosby rehabbing from injuries and Ovi off to a slow start that saw him score two goals in his first 10 games, the narrative had switched to how the Sid vs. Ovi show was a thing of the past.
I can see why people were saying it. Sid was banged up and battling the health challenges he had, and Ovi had lost his way. At the end of the day, the fortunate and unfortunate thing about our business is it is performance-based. That's what it is about. People look at numbers and interpret them how they want, but I don't always believe that numbers tell the whole story. I believe it's more about the process. Sometimes you can have the right process and for an extended period not have the numbers. Then you get discouraged because people say you're not producing.
That process has helped the two biggest names in hockey get back on top. And we're all the better for it.
At the beginning of last season, much of the conversation was about how dominant Evgeni Malkin was, and rightfully so. He staked his claim to the title of the world's best player. His work ethic at that point in time, his approach, his commitment, all the on- and off-ice work was at the same level as Sid, who arguably is the most driven person in the sport.
But Geno has to be willing to do that every day. That's what makes Sid, Sid. That's what makes Kobe, Kobe. That's what makes LeBron, LeBron. It's the process. It's what made Larry Bird and Michael Jordan who they are. Going through the process every day, every detail. That's how Sid is. And that's why he's the best.
I spoke to Pat Brisson, Sid's agent, last week, and Pat was just telling me how he feels, and other people in Pittsburgh concur, that Sid is more in control than he probably ever has been. And he already was a regimented guy.
When you look at his point production and what he has been able to produce so far this season, it really comes as no shock because he is willing to put in that work. Whatever he does to make him who he is, he does it all the time.
As for Ovi, he got off to one of the best starts of his career when he began the season with 10 goals in 10 games. It was a continuation from last season, when he finished the regular season with 22 goals in 21 games. He's very motivated, he looks very fit. At first he didn't really embrace playing on his strong side. But Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates has sold him on that. Today he has embraced it because he started to see he was having success with it and it's starting to make sense. But there could be more to Ovi's process this season.
As we all know, Ovechkin is a proud Russian. That's his homeland, that's where he is from. You always have to respect someone for embracing their heritage and this is an Olympic year. The Olympics are in Sochi, his home soil. He wants to put his best foot forward. From what I've seen so far, he's doing the best this season in terms of trying to perform for team and country.
Sid already has been an Olympic hero, so he might not have the same Olympic motivation. But then again, Sid is always locked in. It doesn't matter if it's an Olympic year or not. I'm sure it adds a little extra something for him. But I remember a great quote: "The good thing about Michael Jordan is he wants to be Michael Jordan every night." And that's the same thing with Sid. His expectations of himself are so high that he wants to be that all the time. That's part of the battle. Just wanting to do that and be great.
As great as it is to see how these two are performing right now, teams ultimately win games. And that's why the NHL is so great. The playoff races are very compelling and they're often decided in the last game or two of the regular season. And that's after 82 games. The Los Angeles Kings as an eight seed couldn't score goals and barely got in the playoffs, but they ended up being the most dominant postseason team and winning the Stanley Cup. Who would have thought that would happen?
But let's make no mistake about it. We're in show business too. When the bright lights get turned on, people want to be entertained. Heck, I want to be entertained. I love seeing the star players. And there's nothing better than seeing two of the game's biggest stars shining so bright.
It's great exposure for our game. It's the notoriety. It's the buzz that people have going to watch those guys knowing they're playing at such a high level. When I'm on vacation and I'm at a sports store in Paris, people ask me about Sidney Crosby. That really helps continue to build our game. Of course, they ask me about Don Cherry as well.