In our annual Yearbook, we rated Edmonton’s Connor McDavid as the No. 1 player in the league for 2017-18, the first time he has earned the distinction. That ranking came at the expense of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, who naturally had to slide down to the second spot.
It was a tough decision. Crosby, after all, had just piloted the Penguins to their second-straight Stanley Cup title, despite key injuries to starting goalie Matt Murray and top defenseman Kris Letang (the latter didn’t come back at all for the post-season).
But McDavid was the reigning Hart Trophy winner and had looked pretty good himself in the playoffs, even if the Oilers were stopped in the second round by a more experienced Anaheim team. There was also the fact that McDavid doesn’t turn 21 until January, while Crosby is now 30. Everything we knew about today’s game suggests that players are hitting their primes very early and McDavid was the perfect example.
McDavid, quite publicly, disagreed with our ranking. He thought Crosby was still the best and it’s hard to blame the young Edmonton captain based off personal experience.
On Wednesday night, Crosby extended his unbeaten streak over McDavid to four NHL games. In this particular matchup, their lines both produced a goal in head-to-head play. But Crosby caved McDavid in when it came to possession, at nearly 60 percent, according to naturalstattrick.com. When McDavid got away from No. 87, he was at 50 percent on the night – but no Penguins forward saw McDavid more than Crosby did.
Which got me thinking: How much does Crosby crave these head-to-head challenges? At age 30, he’s already a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a top-10 player all-time, maybe even top-five, depending on your criteria. He has won everything you could win as a professional, from three Cups to two Olympic golds, a World Championship and the World Cup of Hockey.
I would propose that, along with more Stanley Cups, he loves taking on any challengers to his individual throne. McDavid may well be the new Alex Ovechkin – and you can tell that Crosby is hawk-focused when he’s on the ice with McDavid.
For McDavid’s sake, I hope the rivalry is more friendly and not as one-sided. With all apologies to Washington fans that may get triggered by this, let’s quickly sum up what Crosby has done against Ovechkin since the great Capitals sniper took the Calder Trophy over Sid in 2006: Pittsburgh has eliminated Washington from the playoffs all three times during the Sid-Ovie era, no matter which team was originally favored. The Pens went on to win the Cup every time, while the Caps have never won it. Ovechkin’s Russians haven’t medalled at all in the two Olympics where Crosby won gold with Canada and Crosby joined the Triple Gold Club by helping Canada thrash Ovie’s Russians 6-1 in the 2015 World Championship final. Canada also knocked Russia out of the World Cup in the semifinal.
Now, McDavid-Crosby can’t possibly be as bad, because McDavid is also Canadian and the Penguins and Oilers play in different conferences. If they meet in the Cup final? You never know what state the lineups are in health-wise by then; anything could happen.
But I am now utterly fascinated by how this matchup will play out. As I said before, Crosby is already 30, but superstars like him don’t age the way normal NHLers do. Heck, Mario Lemieux had a 91-point season for the Penguins during the Dead Puck Era and he was 36 at the time (and he only played 67 games, to boot).
McDavid, as scary as it might seem to other teams, is still getting better and though his Oilers look like dogs right now, he still has a great running mate in Leon Draisaitl.
Edmonton will have to turn around the aircraft carrier if the Oilers want to get into the playoffs this year, but assuming they do – could we see Sid and the New Kid in the final? I wouldn’t turn the TV off.