From 2005 to 2010 the question over who was the best hockey player in the world began and ended with a conversation surrounding Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. But from 2010-2012 this question began to lose some of its luster as Ovechkin struggled mightily, posting the two worst goal and points totals of his career. What was really telling though was that he appeared to have lost a bit of speed and a tinge of the recklessness that made him so great in the first place.
Ovechkin’s 2013 season may have just reopened the debate though.
After initially getting off to a lukewarm start, Ovechkin amped his play up over the last 29 games of the season as he scored 24 goals and had 17 assists. This great run left Ovechkin with a 2013 statline of 32 goals, 24 assists, a Hart Trophy Award and the defensive Maurice Richard Trophy.
But Ovechkin did not only look rejuvenated on the score sheet in 2013, he was back to the fast paced and reckless style that made him great in the first place. In addition to reverting back to the style of play that made him great in the first place, Ovechkin showed a real willingness to skate back and contribute in the defensive end of the ice for the first time in his career. Developing a defensive side of his game helped elevate his game as a whole and allowed him to stay on the ice during important situations in both the offensive and defensive zone, something the Washington Capitals had not always been comfortable with.
With Ovechkin back to his best in front of the net and also playing hard in the defensive zone, it must be asked, is there anyone better in the NHL than him?
When this question comes up the mind immediately drifts to the number of young and talented players in the NHL currently such as Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Anze Kopitar. Each of these players are game changers and faces of their franchise, but when seriously taking a look at the world’s best hockey player the only competition that can truly stack up with Ovechkin is Crosby.
Crosby is a great player in a much different way than Ovechkin, preferring to share the puck and play with a finesse style whereas Ovechkin shoots the puck any chance he gets and likes to go through his opponents. The 2013 season was a perfect example of this preference to share for Crosby as he contributed 15 goals and 41 assists in only 36 games played. These gaudy statistics were a fair indication of the fear that Crosby strikes in opposing defenses whenever he touches the puck.
In addition to being an offensive threat, Crosby has worked hard to become very good in the face-off circle and establish a strong defensive presence. The result in 2013 was he won 54.3% of his face-offs, had a +26 plus/minus and established a very large presence in the defensive zone. Being able to do all of this is crucial for a center, and has allowed Crosby to become one of the most complete hockey players in the world.
The one major deficiency in Crosby’s game has been his inability to stay out of the trainer’s room, as he has missed 46.7% of Pittsburgh’s games the last three seasons. This is a substantial amount of time missed, and has led many people to wonder if Crosby can truly be expected to tough out a full NHL season after not playing a full season since the 2009-2010 season.
In the end, when comparing Crosby and Ovechkin it is easy to see that both are lethal in the offensive zone, and have developed their games in the defensive zone to become at least league average. This leaves them on very equal footing in terms of contributions on the ice, but leaves out one major factor which needs to be mixed into the equation in durability. After all durability is a major factor in Ovechkin currently having three Hart Trophy’s in his closet and Crosby only having one. Durability is also what gives Ovechkin the edge over Crosby as the best hockey player in the world right now.