Thursday, March 16, 2006

The (lack of) a rookie race

About.com's Jamie Fitzpatrick doesn't sound like a huge fan of The Globe and Mail's 'The Rookie' series (the latest entry of which can be found here):
But the article doesn't acknowledge that Ovechkin is also growing into a complete player, one who certainly isn't shy about throwing his weight around. ...

It's in the Globe and Mail's interests to keep this discussion alive. The reporter, Shawna Richer, is assigned to follow Crosby for the entire season, recording his every move, his every utterance, the length of every nose hair. She's also writing a book about him. Don't expect any articles acknowledging that the paper backed the wrong golden boy.
It's fair comment. Something like stationing a reporter to follow one particular player for one particular season — especially that of an 18-year-old rookie on the league's worst team — always has the potential to backfire. That said, I'm not sure that just because Crosby doesn't win the Calder Trophy that the series is invalid or shouldn't have been attempted.

(In the penurious climate of today's sports media, ingenuity should always be lauded.)

In the article Mr. Fitzpatrick refers to, Globe reporter Shawna Richer does dig up some interesting tidbits from pretty 'in-the-know' sources that weigh in in Crosby's favour — something that I didn't, at this point, think possible. The argument about which rookie is 'better,' at least this season, had been seemingly dead since Crosby's Penguins lost 10 in a row and 16 of 17 games from early January to early February. (In fact, before Saturday's win over New Jersey, Pittsburgh had won just three times in their last 23 games. Now that's ugly.)

In that aforementioned 17 game span, Crosby had just five goals and was -8. In a year when fellow rookie Henrik Lundqvist is going to contend for the Vezina Trophy but not the Calder, that just ain't going to cut it.

In fact, even though Ovechkin competed through the entire Olympic Games and Crosby had the two weeks off, Alex the Great has scored on a 1.63 points-per-game pace since then — even better than he had prior to leaving for Turin.

Still, as Mr. Fitzpatrick notes, Crosby is on pace to finish this season with 94 points, an unfathomable number for an 18 year old player (and, in fact, the most ever for a kid that young). The only two players to finish with that many points (or more) in a year they were to turn 19 were Wayne Gretzky and Dale Hawerchuk.

Both are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Crosby's going to be there, too — even if he isn't named this season's rookie of the year.

Besides, I think at this point we can all say there's no shame in losing to someone like Ovechkin, who is one of the most individually talented players to enter the league in the past 20 years.

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20 Comments:

At 5:32 AM, March 16, 2006, Anonymous Colby Cosh said...

It's essential that writers realize that Ovechkin is 23 months older than Crosby--an unfathomable developmental difference when one of the parties is still a teenager. The question people should be asking is, "What was Ovechkin doing this time two years ago?" The answer, of course, is "finishing up a 23-point season for Moscow Dynamo." Not quite the same thing as being a top-10 scorer in the NHL.

With no disrespect intended to Ovechkin, this "contest" should be no contest at all in the long run. Gretzky, in his analogous season, was finishing behind Real Cloutier and Robbie Ftorek in a WHA scoring race.

 
At 6:53 AM, March 16, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

What we all need to consider when comparing the two is that during various times this year Crosby has played with Lemieux, Recchi, Pallfy, Leclair and has had Gonchar anchoring the Pittsburgh power play (Crosby has almost half his goals and points on the PP). Meanwhile Ovechkin is playinh with Zubrus, Halpern, Pettinger with Jamie Heward and Bryan Muir the defensemen on the power play. No player in the NHL has so little to work with yet despite that he has more goals and as many points as Daniel Alfredsson who many consider a serious MVP candidate and who plays on an offensive powerhouse. And noy only can Ovechkin deke you out of your pants he can run you over as well. Ovechkin isn't just the best rookie in the NHL, he is one of the top 5 forwards in the NHL.

 
At 7:45 AM, March 16, 2006, Blogger alyosha mcbain said...

Let's not leave Henrik Lundqvist out of the Calder race; he is arguably as important to his team as Sasha the Ovechkin is to his. I do not think that Crosby rates higher than Lundqvist in terms of performance or impact upon his team. Pittsburgh is a terrible team with no heart whatsoever, and Crosby's presence on their roster gives them maybe five extra wins. Lundqvist has been worth at least 10 extra wins for the Rangers.

I'm not sure what point Colby Cosh is trying to make with his analysis of the age difference between Sid the Kid and Sasha; Ovechkin is a rookie regardless of how much older he is than Crosby. The Capitals have a thin roster and Ovechkin has made his teammates better. The same argument cannot be made about Crosby. He is the one who decided to play in the NHL at 18, and should not be given any bonus points in the Calder race for his youth and developing physicality.

I know the Olympics shouldn't have any relevance upon the rookie race, but both Lundqvist and Ovechkin gave notice to the world that they are elite players. Crosby was not there to give an accounting of his skills, although he probably should have been.

 
At 10:45 AM, March 16, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

The book doesn't have to be about the rookie race, nor does the Globe have to apologize for backing the wrong horse. Crosby's rise in the NHL is a remarkable story in its own right. Exploring how he is dealing with the expectation that he should be the best in everythingn he does is a nice angle for Richter.

There will be enough knock off books about Crosby and Ovechkin, littering the "literature" sections of 7-11s everywhere. A compelling record of one kid's first year in the NHL could be would be on my "to read" list, right up there with "The Game" and Peter Gzowski's book about the Oilers.

No reason to obsess about who's number one. Ovechkin will take that crown, and deservedly so. Let the book be deeper than that...please!

 
At 11:48 AM, March 16, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

What we all need to consider when comparing the two is that during various times this year Crosby has played with Lemieux, Recchi, Pallfy, Leclair and has had Gonchar anchoring the Pittsburgh power play

What's awesome is that this sentence can be totally rewritten:

"What we all need to consider when comparing the two is that during various times this year Crosby has with a guy who has such severe heart problems that he's entered the hospital on various occasions, Mark Recchi, a guy who retired partway through the season, a guy who last had an elite season in 1999-2000 and has had a guy universally described as a failure and waste of money anchoring the Pittsburgh power play..."

Fame does not equal good.

 
At 1:12 PM, March 16, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Sure, but the guy with severe heart problems had 22 points in 26 games. The guy who retired had 42 points in 42 games and was still an excellent player. The guy who last had an elite season has 38 points which would put him second on Washington. And the guy who is a failure and a waste of money 41 points and would also rank second on the Capitals.

Despite their poor seasons and or their late stages of their career, they are still far better than Zubrus, Halpern, Pettinger, Muir and Heward and no matter how you want to spin it, you can't change that fact.

Ovechkin has 5 more goals any anyone else on his team has points. Has that ever happened in the history of the NHL?

 
At 1:26 PM, March 16, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

Despite their poor seasons and or their late stages of their career, they are still far better than Zubrus, Halpern, Pettinger, Muir and Heward and no matter how you want to spin it, you can't change that fact.

If Pittsburgh put such a superior team around Crosby, then why are they averaging almost identical goals for per game? It's 2.88 for PIT to 2.78 for WSH. An extra goal every ten games for the Pens...who have eight ENG to WSH's 2 ENG, which basically wipes out the difference. I'm not convinced that the players around Crosby are significantly better.

It's not like LeClair's 38 points have him buried on the Pens either-he's fourth in scoring there.

Crosby has scored 23 points in 18 games since Palffy's retirement. Lemieux has been gone since December. It's interesting that Ovechkin has more goals than any of his teammates has points but I don't know that I attach much signifance to it in comparing the two supporting casts. It's not like Crosby is surrounded by All Stars.

The age and lack of pro experience wins out for me. I love OV and think he should win the Calder but if I was picking one for my team, I'd take Crosby.

 
At 3:40 PM, March 16, 2006, Blogger PJ Swenson said...

I would have to agree off the bat with CC. Almost 2 years older, and a year of RSL play makes a side-to-side rookie comparison impossible without a caveat.

One thing about the talent surrounding Ovechkin and Crosby. Ovechkin has produced more without as much around him, but now that Recchi is gone, Lemieux retired, and Palffy is out, Crosby is starting to light it up. Crosby has 5 goals and 8 assists in his last 8 games.

About a nothing-but-Crosby blog, and a Crosby specific book, I have no problem with it. It is Canada. It would be like Silicon Valley devoting a reporter just to cover Google or Microsoft, or ESPN devoting a reporter to just cover Barry Bonds [dont get me started]. But Ovechkin is a once in a generation type player, so enthusiastic about the game he even fired up Kovalchuck and Kovalev to start throwing around the body more in the Olympics. The goal scoring highlight clips were available from Russia last year, but no one came close to describing his physical play before the start of this season.

That being said, Malkin was the most impressive player on Team Russia at the Olympics. Could Malkin be as good as Crosby and Ovechkin? Imagine all three of them in the NHL this season.

 
At 5:39 PM, March 16, 2006, Anonymous Colby Cosh said...

I hope nobody thought I was making a Calder case for Crosby--Ovechkin is rightly considered ahead in that race. All I meant to say was that the attention to Crosby is more than justified by his upside.

 
At 1:51 AM, March 17, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Both are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Crosby's going to be there, too — even if he isn't named this season's rookie of the year.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He still has a whole lot to prove to show he deserves to be in the hall of fame.
Many people touted Eric Lindros as a future hall of famer when he came into the league, but is he? Somone blogged a couple months ago discussing that topic which I can’t seem to find.

I’m not trying to compare the two players, just simply saying that a lot can happen and change in the amount of time it takes to become worthy for the hall of fame.

 
At 10:59 AM, March 17, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

Almost 2 years older, and a year of RSL play...

Ovechkin's advantage is bigger than realized-he had 3.5 years of RSL play.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He still has a whole lot to prove to show he deserves to be in the hall of fame.
Many people touted Eric Lindros as a future hall of famer when he came into the league, but is he?


I actually think Lindros is a HOF player. 839 points in 711 games spent largely in the dead puck era compares quite well with Neely's 694 points in 726 career games during the 8-7 era. If you're one who thinks we should consider a player's place in the story of the game as well, that only strengthens Lindros' case in my opinion. Of course, the collective hockey media would fellate Cam Neely if given the chance (I won't even get into what John Bucigross would do); Lindros doesn't inspire quite the same love (although James quite rightly defended him a little while ago).

Somone blogged a couple months ago discussing that topic which I can’t seem to find.

It may have been me. I wrote two posts about these two, concluding that this is the most talented offensive pair of rookies to ever enter the league in the same year:

Ovechkin and Crosby
More on Ovechkin and Crosby

Quite simply, injury is the only thing that stops guys who start like this from becoming hall of famers. They are very, very special offensive talents.

 
At 12:51 PM, March 17, 2006, Blogger Jamie Fitzpatrick said...

If I ran the Globe and Mail I too might have decided to send a reporter to follow Crosby for year. So one can't be too harsh in judging.

(Though it rankles that Canada's self-appointed "national newspaper" can assign someone to follow an 18-year-old hockey player in Pittsburgh, but can't spare a reporter to cover the province where I live. But that's another discussion.)

But regardless of who turns out the better player in the long run, there's no doubt that Ovechkin is the hockey story of the year. He's also seems like a more colourful guy. Has Crosby ever said anything interesting?

 
At 1:27 PM, March 17, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

He's also seems like a more colourful guy.

Maybe I've missed out on the wit and wisdom of Alexander Ovechkin (I avoid athletic interviews at any cost) but is he that much more exciting and interesting? Or does he just jump around a lot when he scores in yet another 5-1 Caps loss? I'll accept that Ovechkin has a certain Fleury-esque joie de vie on the ice that Crosby doesn't really express but I don't really think it goes to the question of which is a better player or will be a better player.

Has Crosby ever said anything interesting?

In the great tradition of the holy trilogy (Gretzky, Howe and Orr), Crosby is as boring as a Flames-Minnesota game, in my opinion. It's nothing new from the hockey elite.

 
At 2:17 AM, March 18, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Let's not leave Henrik Lundqvist out of the Calder race; he is arguably as important to his team as Sasha the Ovechkin is to his.

While that may be true, Lundqvist doesn't, in my humble opinion, have a chance at winning the Calder this year. I'd argue that he has, in fact, been the NHL's second-best rookie behind Ovechkin this season, but the fact is that no goaltender will ever win the award when two rookies net better than 90 points. It just ain't going to happen.

 
At 2:21 AM, March 18, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I’m not trying to compare the two players, just simply saying that a lot can happen and change in the amount of time it takes to become worthy for the hall of fame.

Ahh, pshaw. This is a blog, not some commentary for the masses. I don't think it's far off to say, barring two broken legs each, both Crosby and Ovechkin will be in the Hall of Fame. Especially considering how easy the NHL's has seemingly been to get into in recent years.

If that's not the case, track me down in 25 years and I'll buy you a pint.

 
At 2:27 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

I have to question the real significant of Ovenchin being 2 years older. The difference between 20 and 18 isn't terribly substantial. I supose its arguable that Ovenchin as a result might be "stronger" or more "experienced" but that's begining to sound rather like an apology for Crosby being unable to live up to the hype that the media created for him.

I mean come on, its not like Ovenchin is 25 and was previously playing in the WHL or a simmilair league. The Russian Super League may be good, but its basically like playing in the AHL. Both Ovenchin and Crosby are playing on terrible teams, though arguably Crosby's was the better of the two at the begining of the year before it lost Lemieux, Palfy and then Rechi.

I think what most people notice about Ovenchin is that's he's explosive, and clearly possesses the ability to dominate a game in a way that Crosby cannot. When the Capitals win it generally seems to be because he took the team on his back and dragged it to victory kicking and screaming.

I really don't see any basis for saying there is more "upside" to Crosby. He's failed thus far to meet the expectations put on him. On the other hand he's played very well. He's a young player, but then so is Ovenckin so logically we can expect both of them to become better. However, I've seen nother nor heard nothing suggested which forms any basis for suggesting at one point Crosby will be better than Oveckin. The matter as it stands is probably that you could flip a coin on which of the two will have a better career, my answer the won who doesn't get injured will.

 
At 3:16 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

He's failed thus far to meet the expectations put on him.

I think that there's an excellent case to be made that Crosby is having a better 18 year old NHL season than any player in history not named Wayne Gretzky. How in the hell has he failed to meet expectations?

 
At 3:39 PM, April 12, 2006, Blogger Terrible_Tigger said...

I'll say that Ovechkin most likely will win the Calder, and he deserves it. He's clearly had a better season than Crosby. Period. Why is this? Ovechkin is simply the kind of player who plays on his own - a kind of Howie Morenz - Maurice Richard - Ilya Kovalchuk sort of performer. He doesn't depend on his teammates as much as most players do, which means that even if he is traded to and plays on a great team, his point totals aren't going to jump too much. He is essentially (and I don't mean this in a negative way) an individual player. That's his style, and because both Crosby and Ovechkin are in situations (being on crappy teams with horrible supporting casts) where the best solo performer will score the most points, Ovechkin is winning -because that's his style.

Crosby, on the other hand, is made in the Peter Forsberg - Adam Oates mold, he passes more and generally uses his teammates to a much greater extent than Ovechkin does. He's a team player, or as someone said earlier, a "loyal foot soldier". If you put Crosby on a good team with good linemates, his numbers will skyrocket - because he'll use his teammates. He's a bit like Gretzky that way. Remember how drastically Gretzky's numbers dropped when he moved to St. Louis and New York? Yeah, we all do. Gretzky was a true blue team player - that was his style. It's partly Crosby's style as well, though Crosby is much stronger and more physical than Gretzky, which is why Crosby is more like Forsberg than Gretzky. Therefore Crosby is lagging behind Ovechkin. That's not to say he isn't putting up record breaking numbers, though - apparently he's the youngest NHL player to reach 90 points. I'll let the Canadian in me speak and say that I hope he'll be the youngest NHL player to a hundred points as well.

That's why the future will be different for these two players. Ovechkin, no matter where he goes, will always fare well, will always be a top player. Crosby will too, but given the right teammates, he will turn from NHL superstar to NHL legend. That's my prediction. Yes, he'll make it to the hall of fame. So will Ovechkin. The great thing about these two players is that they have a rivalry between them - the playmaker/ passer versus the aggressive/spectacular, the Russian versus the Canadian - that will last their entire careers, and will make for some spectacular hockey showdowns in the future.

 
At 9:55 PM, April 22, 2006, Anonymous Aaron Loewen said...

I believe very much with what Terrible Tigger said, but I do have a few disagreements. I think, for now anyways, if Ovechkin and Crosby are on teams with similar low-end talent they will be fairly close in points. Crosby would finish with more goals, Ovechkin would finish with more assists. However, I believe that if Crosby and Ovechkin both play on teams high-end talent Crosby will finish with a goal total much closer to Ovechkin's and will finish with a much greater assist total, thus vaulting him to "legendary" status. I think we'll also see that Crosby will be a better big-game performer than Ovechkin. I agree that Crosby is shaped into the mould of Forsberg, but Crosby is a much better goalscorer than Forsberg will ever be; Crosby's 38 goals as an 18-year=old this year are 8 more than Forsberg has ever scored in any one season I think this is what makes Crosby so unique, and why he is probably closer in talent level to Lemieux than Forsberg. Crosby is a playmaker with serious goalscoring capabilities. The only other two players that really possessed this quality to the level of Crosby were Lemieux and Gretzky. Crosby is the type of player who has the ability to score 100+ assists and 50+ goals in one season. Ovechkin has the ability to score 65+ goals, but I don't think he'll get much more than 60 assists in a season. This is my speculation anyway. The NHL will be an exciting place as these two guys enter their prime.

 
At 9:57 PM, April 22, 2006, Anonymous aaron loewen said...

Sorry, just to clarify, I meant to say that if Ovechkin and Crosby were on similarily low-end talented teams Crosby would finish with more assists and Ovechkin would finish with more goals.

 

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