Ever since his arrival in the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin has been compared to his contemporary, Sidney Crosby. The two are very different players and they don’t even play the same position — Crosby is a center while Ovechkin plays left wing. So, if this argument is so flawed and pointless, why have it? Well, there is value in a healthy debate, and when you have two superstars playing in the NHL at the same time, comparisons are inevitable. Rivalry is a valuable and oft-repeated narrative in sports, so rather than cop out and call it a moot argument, I’ll indulge.
In a time of countless think pieces about how difficult scoring goals in the NHL in the modern era is, one player stands out among the rest. Ovechkin, or Ovi, captain of the Washington Capitals, hit the 50-goal mark on April 9 for the seventh time in his career. He is the third player in NHL history to reach this mark seven times, joining hockey greats Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky. This is important, considering that both Bossy and Gretzky played in an era with significantly more scoring. Ovechkin is also the first player in league history to do this in three consecutive seasons — twice. He is also part of the exclusive list of players who have reached 500 career goals.
Not only does Ovechkin have stellar stats — including being the highest-scoring Russian-born player in NHL history — he is also an incredible player to watch, in terms of both speed and physicality. Ovechkin is 6 foot 3 and weighs 230 pounds. Getting hit by him must feel like getting hit by a truck. He’s notorious for laying other players out on the ice, causing some to label him as a dirty player. However, that is a subjective label and has no bearing on the conversation. He never fails to put on a show with spectacular goals, including this one against then-Phoenix. He has earned his nickname — Alexander the Great — twice over.
Ovechkin is certainly a polarizing figure, though. Don Cherry and other famous hockey broadcasters love to take potshots at his exuberance, both on and off the ice. He’s not afraid to take pride in his accomplishments, which has gotten him labeled as self-centered. This pride often manifests in hilarious ways, such as the time he entered a raffle to win a meet-and-greet with himself. Or the fact that he named one of his dogs after himself.
Despite all of this, Ovechkin has a one-up on his rival. Sidney Crosby is notorious for arguing any penalty he has ever been given, and referees generally do not like to make calls against him, despite what any Pittsburgh fan would have you believe (Flyers fans will attest to this). For all of Crosby’s talent, you still won’t find a Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy on his trophy shelf. Meanwhile, Ovechkin has racked up six, including four straight.
Ovechkin is just plain-old better theater. Crosby gives the same answers over and over again in a flat, monotone voice. I understand that humility is considered the mark of a good hockey player, but my goodness, it makes for boring press. It makes the sport more difficult to market. Individuals are easier to appeal to non-fans than whole teams, and the NHL needs all the help it can get in the marketing department.
You can say what you want about Ovechkin’s ego, but you can’t deny what he does for his community off the ice — both in Russia and Washington. Most famously, during last year’s All Star Game, Ovechkin rallied to get picked last in the draft so he could win a car. That doesn’t sound impressive in and of itself, but he did it so he could donate the car to the Washington Ice Dogs, a local hockey club for children with special needs.
It’s juicy for hockey media to pit these two stars against each other — every star’s story is made more interesting by having another star challenge them for their crown. No matter if it’s justified or not, Crosby will always be the media’s darling, and Ovechkin will always be tagged as a prima donna whose ego has distracted from his ability. But, plainly, Ovechkin is better. It’s time someone noticed that we are watching possibly the greatest goal scorer in NHL history before he’s past his prime. We are watching possibly the greatest goal scorer in NHL history and it is about time somebody noticed.
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