Saturday, July 18, 2009

The NHL's Big 3: A blessing, or a headache?

The National Hockey League should be in a position of rejoice. It is on the precipice of regaining a place amongst the major North American professional sports due in part to its three elite stars all aged 23 and under: Pittsburgh Penguins centermen Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Washington Capitals left winger Alexander Ovechkin.

Having not one, not two, but three megastars to build around should be a huge boon for the NHL. Neither the NFL, NBA nor MLB can claim to have that many transcendent stars all at such young ages. The NHL has indeed taken advantage, especially with Crosby, the 21-year-old dynamo who's already hoisted the Stanley Cup along with his Conn Smyth-winning teammate Malkin.

There was another era where the league could boast more than one transcendent talent, and that was during the late '80s and early '90s with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Across the spectrum of the sport, amongst other players, fans and the media alike, Gretzky and Lemieux were respected, even loved. Their play and conduct left little to be desired, they made their teammates better and were true ambassadors of the game. Even though Gretzky was never all that gritty and Lemieux was always hurt, they were held in unanimously high regard throughout their careers.

This is where the NHL of 2009 has a problem. Despite the undeniably prolific skills of the three big current stars, there is some aspect of their personalities or their game that causes a significant portion of the hockey-watching populous to dislike them. This goes beyond the intense rivalry between Penguins and Capitals aficionados, extending to puckheads all over the world. When it comes to how casual fans might view these stars during this key period for the NHL, perception is a harrowing reality.

With these issues in mind, let's take a look at the pros and cons of these three men, and what their shortcomings mean for the game.


For Malkin, it's likely he'll never rise above second-banana or second-fiddle or second-whatever to the other two stars. He was second in the '04 draft to his countryman Ovechkin, and he's always going to be considered the Scottie to Crosby's Michael. But the numbers, and the consistency of his play, do not lie.

PROS: With all the adulation his more famous teammate receives, Malkin has been better than Crosby each of the last two regular seasons. Crosby spent much of '07-'08 injured, but Malkin was clearly the superior of the two in '08-'09. He won the Art Ross Trophy this past year by scoring a league-leading 113 points, 10 better than Crosby and three better than Ovechkin.

Malkin followed up with a dominating run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 36 points and earning Conn Smyth honors. It's possible Malkin would have won the Conn Smyth even if with a Game 7 loss. His scoring touch during the playoffs is exemplified by this ridiculous goal completing a hat trick against Cam Ward and the hapless Hurricanes in ECF Game 2. It's no surprise Malkin won the accuracy contest at last year's Skills Competition.

The Russian is a gifted passer who's made his hay while playing with second-line wingers. His 78 helpers last year were a career-high, and at 22 he'll only improve in that category. Malkin's defense has also improved during his time in the league, and while he won't win a Selke anytime soon, he's no liability on the other end of the ice.

Playing with Malkin is definitely a good thing for Crosby. Being paired with another star alleviates the pressure that come along with being one. To a certain extent, Crosby being there has the same effect for Malkin.

CONS: Going back to my earlier point, Malkin's sidekick status is unfortunate because a very legitimate case can be made that Malkin is the best player in the game and was the best player last season over Crosby and Ovechkin. You can't say Scottie was ever a better player than Michael during their primes.

But there's another significant reason why Malkin won't be bigger than his teammate or his countryman: the dude can barely speak English.

When he first came to Pittsburgh three years ago, he spoke Russian and nothing else. But with the help of Sergei Gonchar and plenty of time in North American locker rooms, Malkin can at least carry a conversation and do a short, cliché-ridden interview from time to time. This kills any marketing or entertainment potential from Malkin's phenomenal production, aside from the occasional brush with unintentional comedy.

What stands out about a player is how they perform under pressure, and those situations have not exactly brought out the best in Malkin. He infamously disappeared during the '08 SCF, appearing jittery and scoring only three points in the series. His '09 Conn Smyth run notwithstanding, Malkin managed eight points in the '09 SCF but his reputation took a hit by taking stupid penalties in seemingly every game and instigating the bizarre fight with Henrik Zetterberg that ended Game 2.

I lost a lot of respect for Malkin during the Final. I can't be the only one.


I would pay more to see Ovechkin than any other non-Bruins player in the NHL. That should stand for something. Entertainment value is awfully important in a league that will take anything for positive headlines. But Ovechkin's the most flawed player of these three, and his style makes the purists cringe.

PROS: Hockey puts a special premium on goals and those who can pot them, and Ovechkin is the NHL's best goal-scorer by far. The winner of the last two Hart Trophies scored 65 goals in '07-'08 and 56 this past season for a rapidly-improving Capitals squad. He's never scored fewer than 46 goals in any of his four NHL seasons. Of course, it's not just that he scores goals. He scores them like this. And like this.

Oh yeah, and like this. Almost forgot about that one.

The words "exciting" and "electrifying" don't really do Ovechkin's game justice. He has the ability to change a game all by himself in a way no other player in the league possesses, including Malkin or Crosby. As evidenced in the goal against the Habs, his ice vision is terrific and his skating and cutting prowess are second to none in the NHL. Simply put, nobody in hockey is more fun to watch than Ovechkin.

"Fun" is also the best way to describe Ovechkin's playful personality. He doesn't take himself too seriously, as this commercial attests. Unlike Malkin, this Russian speaks English with confidence and Bond-villain clarity, lending himself a chance to grow as a mainstream sports star. His flair on the ice makes him unique in hockey, and attracts people from the outside to see what the fuss is about.

And when they see what Ovechkin can do with his stick and his skates, it tends to make a lasting impression.

CONS: However entertaining Ovechkin's on-ice antics might be, it can rub hockey observers the wrong way. Hockey prides itself on tradition and class, and charades like his "hot stick" celebration following his 50th goal last season are not always well-received.

You may have heard of this guy Don Cherry. He's the patriarch of the hockey curmudgeons, and sure, this particular rant was xenophobic and borderline racist. But people often take stock in what he says. When he blasted Ovechkin last spring for his actions, fans and media took notice. It started a stretch of anti-Ovechkin sentiments across the hockey world, where many of his shortcomings as a player were exposed.

At different points last year I heard Ovechkin's effort on the backcheck and defense called "lazy," "listless," even "non-existent." As the season wore on, some clamored for Malkin to be awarded the Hart over Ovechkin because of Malkin's more complete play. After watching Ovechkin a few times myself, it was hard to disagree.

He appears bored sometimes on the ice, and takes shifts off on both ends. When he does try, it usually comes in the form of taking runs at opposing players and leaving his feet to smash them against the boards. There's no doubt he's the most physical and bruising of these three stars. But he doesn't always do it in a clean way. There's a perception around the league that Ovechkin will pay for the dangerous way he plays, and it could come sooner than later after his hit on Gonchar in the playoffs.

When you couple these tendencies with the fact that Ovechkin has not established himself as a leader and shoots the puck like Kobe Bryant shoots the ball (hint: too much), it's clear he's got plenty of work to do, and minds to change, before he can be considered the league's seminal star. With stigmas like "he's not a leader," "he doesn't care on defense," and "he plays dirty," it's hard to accept Ovechkin as anything more than an elite scorer that goofs around. With his talent, that's not a good thing for the NHL.


The Kid. The Next One. The Golden Child. Overrated. The Best Player in the NHL. The Biggest Whiner in the NHL. A Little Bitch. The man pictured above has undoubtedly been called all of these things at one time or another (or just by me personally). Crosby has once-in-a-generation talents, a Stanley Cup ring, the league's commissioner in his hip pocket, and a level of recognition few players in his sport have ever achieved–all before reaching the age of 22. Yet some cannot stand the sight of his face. The league can survive the mixed perceptions of Malkin and Ovechkin, but not Crosby.

PROS: After scoring a mind-boggling 217 points in Midgets at 14, Crosby's stage was set. Soon Gretzky was saying Crosby was the one player who could break his records, and the Penguins struck gold after winning the post-lockout draft lottery. The Steel City had a new icon to follow in Lemieux's footsteps, and thus far he's not disappointed, winning a Hart Trophy in '07 and a Stanley Cup in '09.

Crosby possesses every on-ice skill needed in a great hockey player. He has an uncanny nose for the goal, and can make the highlight reel with the best of them. He has peerless ice vision, and makes his teammates better with a fantastic passing touch (he has a 2:1 assist to goal ratio for his career). His effort on the ice can never be questioned. He plays strong defense, and shows grit when necessary. Pound for pound, he's the best player in hockey with few contemporaries in today's game.

It's an understatement to say Crosby was a godsend for the NHL following the lockout from a PR perspective. Here's a young, handsome, sure-thing Canadian center with comparisons to Gretzky playing in a city with a penchant for creating recent hockey demi-gods. Should we be surprised that Gary Bettman fell in love with the guy? From Day 1, Crosby has been the focus of the NHL's public reclamation project. In many ways it's been great thing, as Crosby is a household name and even non-fans know who him. In many ways it's been a bad thing, and I'll get to that soon.

Now that he's got a ring at such a young age, Crosby has not just the hockey world but the sports world at his feet. He holds a tremendous amount of power both on and off the ice, and he still has lots of time to further his legacy. The league has drawn its lot with Crosby, and he should be the face of the NHL for years to come.

CONS: To so many fans, it doesn't matter that Crosby is an uber-talent. They loath him. They derisively call him "Cindy Crosby," wear t-shirts that express their ultimate feelings and create hilarious photo illustrations in his honor. Crosby's haters don't root for only Philadelphia or Washington. They extend to the furthest reaches the league's fanbase. I don't believe the biggest star in any other professional sport is as disliked as Crosby. For the NHL, this is a nightmare in the making.

Part of the backlash against Crosby is the backlash against him being shoved in the faces of average fans. Some feel he was given too much an unworthy age. To be fair, this isn't really Crosby's fault. He didn't ask for this level of attention, it was pretty much thrust upon him because of his talent. In the end, however, that doesn't matter. It's Crosby himself that's everywhere, and he's the target.

I personally don't think Crosby is soft. But on the ice, he's mastered the art of complaining, and his peers agree. In a survey last season, Crosby was voted by his fellow players as the whiniest player in the league. Is it because he feels entitled to every call? Is it because he believes that's you show leadership? Or is it a case of immaturity that will dissipate with age, as his defenders claim? I'm not sure. But it's no good for both Crosby, and the league, if the biggest star is perceived to be the biggest whiner. Perception is reality, and that reality has trickled down to the fans.

There are so many more issues surrounding Crosby and his image (like how Malkin supporters belittle Crosby by asking, "How can the best player in the league not even be the best player on his own team?") that talking about them all would take up too much space. But his leadership skills, or lack thereof, are an omnipotent piece of discussion.

One questions the wisdom of a hockey team that names a then-19-year-old captain. He wasn't ready then, and based on his conduct and performance in big spots over the last few years, he's still not ready. The trials and tribulations of the '08-'09 season provided the truest test of Crosby's leadership. This might sound shocking, given that Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup and all, but Crosby failed that test more than once.

Everyone forgets this now, but the Penguins were mediocre through much of the regular season despite elite performances by Crosby and Malkin. It wasn't like the Penguins didn't have talent outside those two guys. They were lousy and were in significant danger of not even making the playoffs near mid-season. I remember watching the Bruins beat them up during this time and wondering what the hell was wrong. Then three things happened: Dan Bylsma was named head coach, Ryan Whitney was dealt for Chris Kunitz, and Billy Guerin came over at the deadline.

From there, the Penguins took off. This was not because of anything Crosby did. He played the same before and after these moves. The Penguins were better because of the new guys, not because of Crosby.

In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Malkin was setting the world on fire, Crosby was inconsistent. He was phenomenal against both Washington and Carolina, scoring 20 points in those 11 games. But in the Final against Detroit, he was a complete non-factor. Outside of a goal and an assist in Game 4, Crosby scored one other time in seven games. Henrik Zetterberg shut him down to the point that I began worrying for his personal safety.

Allow me to repeat myself, in caps this time: Crosby was a COMPLETE NON-FACTOR in the Final. Was Gretzky ever a non-factor when he was winning all those Cups? Or Lemieux, or Orr, or Howe, or Richard in all their Cup runs?

Fair or not, the image so many will take away from the Final is Crosby accepting the Cup and lifting it over his head, as if he actually had something to do with winning the series. The real leader of the Penguins through their Cup run was Guerin, a veteran with league-wide respect and one Cup already under his belt. The "C" on Crosby's chest was a formality. Then came the highly-publicized handshake line incident where Crosby failed to greet opposing captain Nick Lidstrom. I don't think Crosby went out of his way to not shake Lidstrom's hand, but this wasn't a good thing for Crosby's already-tenuous reputation as a leader.

There's still plenty of time for Crosby to outgrow the perception (or reality) that he's a crybaby non-leader. But he's been in the league four years now. If he doesn't start getting it soon, he'll lose an even greater portion of the hockey-caring populous. At that point, this little image problem will become one of the biggest issues facing the NHL.

* * * *

Who could the NHL turn to as its saving grace, with these three megastars carrying more baggage than European tourists? The most complete player in the NHL, including leadership, intangibles and the like, is Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk. But like Malkin, his grasp of English is incomplete despite moments of incredible hilarity, and with Detroit it's never about one guy. He'll never put up numbers like Crosby or Ovechkin because there's too many other guys that share the wealth.

Two young stars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, play for a great market in Chicago. Kane, the All-American boy, is the prime target for superstardom. But neither are prolific scorers, and won't be with Marian Hossa signed up for the next 12 years.

In my mind, the perfect candidate to breakout as a transcendent star is Columbus' Rick Nash. He's 25, a solid all-around player, a good leader and by all accounts a terrific guy. The Blue Jackets are improving, and he's signed for a long time, but the team will need to get much better for him to enter the discussion with these other three stars.

So, is it true that the embarrasment of riches for the NHL is nothing more than an embarrasment? Not right now. But unless Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin round out their games and public personas, they'll never acquire a stature commensurate with their talents. Thankfully for the NHL, time is a friend for everyone involved.


  1. Amazing post. I'm writing an email to Puck Daddy right after I'm done with this because this was an incredible piece of unbiased work and raises a rather important question in today's NHL. It's that good. Nice work bud.

  2. Thanks man. That means a lot, coming from you. And thanks for e-mailing Wysh, he's done some work on this subject himself.

  3. Hey! Just caught the link here through PD and had to comment on how thorough and well-thought-out this was. Anyone can bash one player and hype another, but I really liked the diplomacy you treated each one with.

    Not to mention I agree with your picks at the end. I've been commenting all year on how I'd pick Toews over Crosby for captain every time. I feel like he actually shows some leadership and surprisingly gains respect even at a young age.

  4. Thanks for the kind words about Pavel Datsyuk. We Red Wing fans know that his English isn't up to snuff, but we still think he's overlooked by a lot of other NHL fans.

  5. Don't Forget about Gonchar coming back from injury right around the time the Pens turned it around.

  6. I don't know how long you've been watching playoff hockey, but the fight by Malkin at the end of Game 2 against Zetterberg is a typical playoff fight. At the end of games, players want to send a message to the other team. It's not about being a sore loser, it's about being smart. You see, if Zetterberg retaliates in any way or if Malkin gets in Zetterberg's head in the slightest, that fight could lead to a penalty by Zetterberg, or anyone on the Wings looking to get back at Malkin in a moment of weakness for the Wings.

    And even if it doesn't work,

    If you don't realize that, I question how long you've been watching playoff hockey. And to nit pick on an incident like this to trash Malkin is just pathetic. Crosby has no problems with his "persona". He is a role model on and off the ice. Does he play dirty every now and then? Sure. He's a hockey player. He gets his nose dirty. He has absolutely no problems with his personality. This notion that he's a crybaby and a diver is something that has been perpetrated by Flyers, Caps and Rangers fans because there's a big rivalry with the Pens.

    Crosby is a class act. Malkin could learn how to hit a little bit better, some of his hits are borderline, but he doesn't need to change much at all, he just needs to learn English. Ovechkin doesn't need to change much either. He might be a cocky showboater full of himself, but a lot of people like that. None of these players need to change a thing really.

    And on Datsyuk - he's 29, isn't he? Ovechkin, Malkin and Crosby are all under 23. They will be much better than Datsyuk at age 29. They're already better than him. He's a great 2-way player and one of the top 5 players in the game, but he doesn't belong in this discussion. Neither does Rick Nash. He's not half the player any of these 3 guys are.

    "In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Malkin was setting the world on fire, Crosby was inconsistent. He was phenomenal against both Washington and Carolina, scoring 20 points in those 11 games. But in the Final against Detroit, he was a complete non-factor."

    Hahahahaha! Crosby was terrific defensively the entire series. And he scored the game-winning goal in Game 4. Look at what Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Lidstrom were able to do offensively - not much. Crosby had a lot to do with that. He was great in the whole playoffs and led all scorers with 15 goals. And he's not even a goal scorer. He also had 8 points in the Flyers series. Detroit's defense was terrific against him, and the grinders, like Talbot, decided the series. To say that Crosby was a non-factor, and a "complete non-factor" (LOL), shows how much you know about hockey. Which is, not much at all.

  7. "But his leadership skills, or lack thereof, are an omnipotent piece of discussion."

    LOL what? What proof does ANYONE have that Crosby isn't a good leader?

    He led the Pens in points in the playoffs last year and had 31 this past spring. That's 56 playoff points and 7 playoff series wins and a Stanley Cup in his 2 years as captain. And he's 21 years old. If that's not leadership, I don't know what is.

    Everything his teammates say about him is positive. There have never been ANY stories about having any attitude problems like a Jaromir Jagr for instance, or no stories of any rifts or problems with his teammates in the locker room. Mark Recchi didn't like Therrien - his departure had nothing to do with Sid.

    He's not the most outspoken player ever. Sorry that he's not Mark Messier on steroids in the locker room. Big whoop. That's his personality. This notion that he has no leadership abilities is PURE CRAP. It's fans like you who are looking to find a negative aspect to his game and his persona. There is nothing there. You're grasping at straws.

  8. Ivan, I've watched plenty of playoff hockey in my life. How you feel about the Zetterberg/Malkin fight depends on your perspective. You can believe Malkin was being a leader. I believe he was out of line instigating a fight at the end of a playoff game to "send a message." Under league rules he should have been suspended. If that system wasn't entirely out of whack, and he actually got suspended, how would that have looked for Malkin?

    Most of what I talked about with Crosby was "perception." Around the league, he's "perceived" to be a crybaby and a whiner. My point was that perception becomes reality, and Crosby has a problem with this. I never, ever said anything about Crosby being a dirty player. If you actually read what I wrote, you'd understand that.

    As for the Final, maybe Crosby was adequate on D but I give most of the credit to the, you know, actual defensemen like Orpik and Scuderi who played the best games of their careers in the Final. Sidney Crosby does not get paid $8.7MM to play some defense and contribute virtually nothing on the offensive end in the biggest series of his life. He failed in the Final, besides Game 4. Sorry.

  9. Your other comment barely requires a response because I'm beginning to think you didn't actually read any of what I wrote. All I can say is that I wrote this based on what I've observed of all three players. I don't have inside info. It's my opinion, based on what I've seen, that Crosby is a poor leader. Deal with it.

  10. I'm surprised by the no mention of Crosby's filthy playing. How about his going for the family jewel's or attacking a Panther's player in the face-off circle?

  11. fascinating analysis, remarkably thorough!

    one comment: while i totally agree that perception is powerful, especially once it gains the status of conventional wisdom, there also seems to be a lot of convenient forgetting in hockey. a lot of the criticisms you mention of the current brace of superstars were also, at times, criticisms of earlier generation stars: whining, showboating, getting away with dirty plays, etc. i don't think gretzky, lemieux, howe, richard, messier, hull, etc. etc. were immune from those kind of accusations (some or all, depending on the player) in their time. it's just that on the scale of history, their achievements overwhelm everything else. most of the criticisms are petty day-to-day things that pale in comparison to records, cups, and good stories. the main problem these guys have is that they haven't achieved enough yet. if they do, very few of the 'cons' will matter.

  12. "the league's commisioner in his hip pocket ..."

    while you did your best to remain unbiased, comments like that make it difficult for a reader to understand where you're really coming from. fair enough. you have good points and arguable ones. many people in fact do dislike crosby due to what he's been handed and may not have earned, he has been shoved down the throats of ALL fans, not just fairweather, and that can be agitating. while i agree crosby could have been better in the final, he certainly was not a non-factor. he and zetterberg clashed throughout and essentially neutralized each other, and i honestly believe he was suffering from some type of injury. show me another marquee player on another team that has dominated the wings. didn't think so, it doesn't happen. he's not the first superstar to have that happen to him. where was lemieux in 1996 against the panthers? where was gretzky in 1993 against the habs? where was patrick roy in 2002 against the red wings?

    as for malkin and the loss of your respect, how does sticking up for your teammate by fighing cause respect to decline? by far the rarest sight in hockey is a european, especially a russian doing something like that.

    your choices of transcendent stars were pretty flawed. datsyuk will be 32 and still hasn't impressed me in the playoffs enough to be considered a true leader. zetterberg has and has my upmost respect. and rick nash? a superb talent no doubt, but the guy plays in a virgin hockey market that could care less about anything outside of ohio state football and essentially can do no wrong. i question his effort in a town like that when the circumstances are lined up, which they are. throw him in toronto, new york, or even san jose and see how well he would play and be taken by the media.

    remember, lemieux was often criticized by the media early in his career for not leading the penguins to the playoffs. that all changed after the 1987 canada cup

    the bottom line is that crosby wins, and if opponents of him don't like him because of his play and the way he carries himself, they may have a bigger problem on their hands as their teams exit spring early at the hands of him and the possible teams he plays for

  13. Jake,

    I really enjoyed this piece. Its quite evident you put a lot of thought and effort into it. I respectfully disagree with a few of your assessments about Crosby but for the most part, I agreed with what you have to say about the other two. I find these three players and the arguments they produce to be very compelling and as a Penguins fan, I obviously have strong opinions myself. I posted a link to your piece on my blog so that my vast readership of about 5 might check it out as well. My disagreements regarding Sid are also posted, so please feel free to read and comment if you like. Again, very nice piece here!

  14. D,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to respond in a smart and respectful way. I appreciate it. I defer to you, as a Penguins fan, for the assessment on how Crosby played after the trades. I didn't see it personally, but I trust you did. Anyway, thanks again.

  15. "Three things happened: Dan Bylsma was named head coach, Ryan Whitney was dealt for Chris Kunitz, and Billy Guerin came over at the deadline.
    From there, the Penguins took off. This was not because of anything Crosby did. He played the same before and after these moves. The Penguins were better because of the new guys, not because of Crosby."

    This tells me that you really weren't paying attention to the Penguins final 21 games of the season in which Crosby's consistency, as well as his point production, improved tremendously. He had a 16 game point streak and a 5 game power play assist streak. In the final 6 games of the regular season, he had 4 power play goals when he only had 3 before then.
    Crosby's first 56 games: 21 goals, Shooting % 12.6% (167 SOG), 49 Assists, 1.25 Point per Game.
    Final 21 games: 12 goals, Shooting% 16.9 (71 SOG), 21 Assists, 1.57 Points per Game.
    Crosby's projected season totals (based solely on his final 21 games): 77 GP, 44 Goals, 77 Assists, 121 points, an Art Ross, and a Hart.
    That enough proof for you that Crosby was better after Bylsma, Guerin, and Kunitz joined the Pens?

    "...on the ice, he's mastered the art of complaining..."

    The fact that you called Crosby a whiner shows that you haven't even watched a Penguins game since Sid's rookie season; Crosby rarely whines anymore (I saw it twice all season). Period. I agree with you that Crosby is perceived as a whiner and I also agree that could become a problem for the NHL, but to actually call him a whiner doesn't help his perception now does it?

    Sidney Crosby: the youngest captain to win the Stanley Cup in NHL history. Translation He's mature, the team can (obviously) win and win often with him as their leader; just because he isn't a vocal leader (on the ice) doesn't mean he isn't a good one. Take this for example: he is always available to the media...every pre-game, every post-game, every off day - he's always available to the media...that means he spoke after each and every game while the Pens were in that slump. Ovechkin would never do that, and Malkin just can't (but that's not his fault).

    "In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Malkin was setting the world on fire, Crosby was inconsistent. He was phenomenal against both Washington and Carolina, scoring 20 points in those 11 games. But in the Final against Detroit, he was a complete non-factor."

    You obviously have more of an appreciation for offense than you do defense because Crosby was a defensive machine in the Finals.
    Crosby scored 4 goals and 4 assists in the Philly series, and hovered at about a 63% faceoff percentage just for good measure.
    P.S. before the Finals, he scored in 15 out of 17 games. You know what I call that? Consistency. If anything it was Malkin who was inconsistent throughout the first two series.

    Final note: get your facts straight about Crosby. I know he not as exciting as Ovechkin where you notice his presence right away, but watch Crosby play for a few games and the light will come on - leadership, consistency, and passion are just a few descriptive words.

  16. Thoughtful piece. There will be plenty of people stating their agreements or disagreements with your posted pros and cons of each player, as well as your too short list of other potential leaders. The point I'd like to make however is that I'm not sure I buy the overall premise of your post.

    Do the so-called "flaws" of these stars really threaten the NHL in a way that holds more potential danger than say, LeBron's stalking off the court after the Brown's playoff loss? Or Manny's strange artificial hormone problem? Not too mention Vick's puppies, Pete Rose's gambling, Michael Phelp's bong . . .and list goes on and on.

    Perhaps you can make the argument that the flaws you mention are not "one-time" offenses but speak more to overall character problems. Even so, it may be that we, as hockey fans, are a bit spoiled by the general and well-earned reputation that "hockey players are great guys" and we hold our stars up to a higher standard. Even so, I just don't see items listed above so severe as to impact the league to such a negative extent that overrides what these great players bring to and contribute to the game.

    Yes, the NHL needs more boosting than busting. Perceptions do become realities - more so now in the multi-media accessible days of you-tube and blogging, than in the past when a few minutes on the local station and one or two beat writers was the extent of a fan's options for sports coverage. When comparing current and past generations, it's important to note that perhaps Mario and Wayne's early negatives didn't "stick" like those of the terrific trio above has much to do their respective maturity as players and men, as with the inability of such negatives to reach critical mass as quickly and pervasively then, as they can in today's media and opinion driven world. Today's stars still have the ability to develop personally, but their ability to control their own media destiny is a bit more tenuous.

    One item I disagree with is your conclusion that Crosby "disappeared" in the finals. I don't agree, and I don't think Zetterberg would either.

    But I do like that your post gets us thinking, and talking, and arguing about hockey (in JULY!), so that's a good thing.

  17. Are people still ragging on Malkin for fading in the finals in his 2d year in the league? Are people really ragging on him for taking some penalties in the finals this year? What do people want from the kid? He's not Superman and this isn't the 80s/early 90s. One player can't dominate every playoff game. The guy had 36 points in the playoffs, yet he still doesn't perform well under pressure. Give me a break.

    What the hell has Ovechkin done in the playoffs anyway? He had one good series against the Pens. Other than that, he has been entirely average and barely noticeable.

    I find it interesting that you accuse Malkin of not playing well under pressure, but you point to Datsyuk as being perhaps the best player in the NHL. Datsyuk has been terrible in the playoffs except for 06/07 and 07/08. He was horrible this year before his foot injury. People in Detroit wanted to get rid of him during the first part of his career because he was a playoff choker. Look at his numbers:

    Malkin already has more career playoff goals and points than Datsyuk in half the total games.

  18. And as far as Crosby goes, I can understand why people don't like him. I hate Tom Brady for much the same reason. That said, I respect Brady and I don't try to denigrate his skills. I just hate him and I hope he never wins another Super Bowl.

    The new knock on Crosby is his leadership I guess. I find that to be a reach. When guys like Bill Guerin, Rob Scuderi and Mike Babcock praise Crosby's leadership, I'm going to take their word for it over a bunch of slobs on the internet. Crosby did what he had to do during the Pens midseason slump. So did Malkin. They were both top-5 in scoring and they played the system. They tried to lead by example, but the team was in a slump. The play and leadership of Malkin and Crosby are pretty low on the list of factors that contributed to that slump. There wasn't much more those guys could do. Steve Yzerman, widely regarded as one of the best leaders in the history of the game, couldn't make Detroit a champion without the right teammates and the right system.