Oh, What's the Difference?

With both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby being in the news (for much, much different reasons) I thought the time was right to irritate as many people as possible by mentioning who I like more.

Hey, where are you going?

Since they've entered the league, fans of the Capitals and the Penguins (as well as haters of both those teams) have loudly bellowed the virtues of their guy and the deficiencies of the Other(tm).  But how about actually comparing the two? 

(Disclaimer: I actually like both these players, odd as that may sound to the more hysteric fans.)

Some things are more obvious than others, but there is one deciding factor that causes me to favour one before the other; if it came down to the old "who would you have on your team?", I'd choose the Sedin twins, but let's assume they're out of the running.  Who would I pick and why?

First, the less controversial stuff:

Popularity: This is outside the attention each player gets for their on-ice skill set.  Both Crosby and Ovechkin have big, big marketing deals, but even outside that Ovechkin has crossed into the popular lexicon in the United States in a way Crosby hasn't, and probably never will.

Edge: Ovie.

Image: Crosby has been interviewed since before he was in his teens, and is clearly very careful in what he says. In a country as obsessed with hockey as Canada, the "Next One" is a search that's never ending with scouting going all the way to Pee Wee level.  So it's no surprise that he's viewed as the nice, clean cut kid you'd be delighted your daughter brought home, but that's a tradition in hockey as well: it's got a whole lot of polite, small town Canadian kids, and it shows.  Just don't tell mom that Gretzky swore like a sailor who hit his thumb with a hammer whenever he was on the ice.

Ovechkin, on the other hand, can be said to share a certain "FTW" sentiment that many like.  He makes no apologies for being Russian, or for anything else for that matter.  He likes making a big, rowdy noise wherever he goes, and has all the elements of a superstar, including a music video, of all things.  You can not only picture him hosting SNL, but also being the DJ at a strip club.  An unshaved, messy-haired pussy hound and loving it.

Edge: You got kids?  Then probably Sid.  Otherwise it's Ovie.

But let's get back on the ice, shall we?  Comparing skill sets is always more controversial, as it's something of a judgment call on the part of the viewer.  So why be scared?  In we go!

Puck control: Both players are hard to knock off the puck, and they've got incredible amounts of knowledge and puck sense: seeing Ovechkin bat the puck out of the air into the net, or seeing him know where the puck is when he's on his back is staggering.  But then, watching Crosby contort himself to sweep past three checkers with minimum impact and flick the puck one handed over the stunned goalie leaved you jaw-dropped and unblinking.

Edge: Ovechkin, but not by much.

Physical Play: If Crosby is 200 pounds, I'll eat his skates (the 5'11" I believe, at least).  People mocking him for not being a particularly physical player are simply out to lunch: he entered the NHL as an 18-year old, a full two years younger than Ovechkin.  That being said, he has started taking and throwing hits more of late than early in his career.  But physical play is Ovechkin's delight: he goes through defenders with the bloody-minded glee of a punk in a mosh pit.

Edge: Ovechkin.

Hockey Sense: This is "The Gretzky Skill": he knew where the puck was going, where his players would be, what the opposition is thinking...  The legend about there being a league-wide dictum not to hit Gretzky was just from people too embarrassed to admit they couldn't.  (It's basically what Lindros lacked, and why he's not still playing.)  That being said, both these players know where to be to be at their most dangerous; but Sidney is slightly better at using the players around him to get the results he wants, whether it's a breakout from his own zone or using a defender to screen his shot.  Ovechkin is excellent at reading plays when attacking, but you get the feeling he just doesn't care if someone's standing in his way when he enters the zone...

Edge: Crosby.

Pressure Play: Ovechkin has now had three chances to prove that one man can't win championships in hockey.  He's done well come playoff time, increasing his shooting percentage last season and pounding in 1.5 points a game over 14 games.  Firing 90 shots in 14 games showed, as much as anything else, that he was willing to take the team onto his shoulders and drag them to the finals.  He didn't make it, but that certainly couldn't be attributed to his skills or his desire.

Crosby learned a different lesson, adding a defencive game to his play, drawing checkers and using the full team to get wins.  Don't think he wasn't scoring, though: he had 19% shooting last playoffs!  To compare, Steve Yzerman was a brilliant offensive player, but only won championships when he rounded out his game and became a leader of the Red Wings.

Edge: Crosby.

Future: Here's where the real difference lies: Crosby is a student of the game, while Ovechkin hasn't shown any signs of improving or developing his intimidating skill set.  Ovechkin came to the league a fully-formed superstar, where Crosby refuses to accept that title and still prefers to think of himself as a team member.  So far, it looks to me like when Ovie starts losing his skills, he'll shrug, retire, and go play with his money, where Crosby will stay in the game in some capacity, even as a player/coach (see also: Chris Chelios).

Crosby is who I'd take, if I were building a team from scratch, and I'd keep him as long as possible.  Of course, if I were starting a team in a place that didn't know the game, I'd start with Jerome Iginla.  Good lord, that man is built of charm and smiles when he's off the ice!

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