Google tells me that Andy Griffith and Marilyn Monroe were born on precisely the same day. So were Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. But the best parallel we can make for two people of bound by precisely the same birthday and excellence in the same craft are B.B. King and Charlie Byrd, who were a couple of pretty decent guitar players.
Of all the 18-year-olds to clinch an NHL roster spot this fall, Pittsburgh’s Daniel Sprong is the most unlikely – on paper, at least. Forget the fact the right winger was born and raised in Amsterdam: he was also drafted in the middle of the second round by the Penguins, not hearing his name called until the 46th pick in the 2015 draft.
So how did this all happen?
It will be 10 years this week since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin debuted in the NHL. The 2004-05 lockout produced the happy accident of two No. 1 overall picks commencing their careers simultaneously and, fair or not, they were destined for constant comparison. It didn’t matter that they played different positions, Crosby center and Ovechkin left wing. They were the most exciting young forces in a league desperate for new flag bearers, and they’ve delivered on that hype time and again.
Who’s better? The pendulum seems to swing back and forth year to year:
It’s Ovechkin, the big, fast, energetic man-child who helps Russia to world junior gold and goes first overall in the 2004 draft.
No, it’s Crosby, the generational talent who torches major junior like no player since Eric Lindros and goes first overall in 2005.
No, it’s ‘Ovie,’ the 2005-06 Calder Trophy winner. He outscores Crosby with 52 goals, many of them with jaw-dropping beauty.
No, damn it, it’s ‘Sid the Kid.’ He explodes for 120 points as a 19-year-old sophomore to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophies in 2006-07. Youngest MVP in league history. Youngest scoring champion in major professional sports history.
Come on. It’s Ovechkin. Sid sits out with a bum ankle for a large chunk of 2007-08 while ‘Alexander the GR8’ becomes the first player to score 65 goals in 12 years. He wins two straight MVPs.
Crosby’s turn. The pair face off in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal between Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals. Both stars notch hat tricks in Game 2. The best player torch passes back to Crosby, whose Penguins play for the Stanley Cup for the second straight year and this time take it home. He’s the youngest captain in league history to hoist the chalice. A year later? Golden goal in overtime at the Vancouver Games to crown Canada Olympic champion.
Then it’s Ovechkin again, by default. His game slips under coach Dale Hunter, but at least Ovechkin is on the ice. Crosby misses bushels of games with concussion woes. He plays just 63 times from 2010-11 to 2011-12. His career is in jeopardy. Ovechkin scores 32 goals in an abbreviated 48-game season, and 2012-13 yields his third MVP.
Surprise: it’s Crosby again. He’s back healthy. He wins the 2013-14 scoring crown by 17 points. Another MVP. Ovechkin answers in 2014-15 with his second straight 50-goal campaign and fifth Rocket Richard Trophy.
And on it goes.
After a decade of constantly mentioning them in the same breath, where does the debate rest? Does one finally have an edge over the other? And is the answer still relevant as they approach the end of their primes?
Let’s be clear about one thing: teams do not trade away “great” players because their teammates don’t like the scent of their aftershave. Especially when they only recently committed to the player for eight years and $64 million dollars. The lifetime deal. The retirement package.
Nope, that’s not the way things work.
Teams trade such players under those circumstances when they become a giant pain in the…neck. They trade them for prospects and draft picks when the mathematical equation of, addition by subtraction, is the glaringly logical way to proceed.
They trade them when the player is Phil Kessel. Now he’s a Penguin – a bird that cannot fly.
Nobody has ever denied Kessel, 27, has superhuman talent. He does. When he is engaged, he’s one of the few players in today’s defense-first NHL game who can propel fans out of their seats. When Kessel breaks toward the net and snaps a shot, it is, well, as good as it gets in hockey. Goals are hard to come by these days. Thanks Phil. Read more
Earlier in the off-season, photos surfaced of Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon working the drive-thru at Tim Hortons, the famed Canadian coffee shop, in their home province of Nova Scotia. Now, we have the footage.
In a brand new series of advertisements for Tim Hortons, Crosby and MacKinnon take orders, serve up coffee and try and stifle their laughter when a customer mispronounces jalapeno. Suffice to say, they’re probably going to be sticking to sports. Read more
By Shelly Anderson
Given his scholarly demeanor, Mike Johnston didn’t get caught up in the shock wave of Pittsburgh’s big off-season trade. That doesn’t mean the Penguins coach was unmoved by the acquisition of sniper Phil Kessel from Toronto.
While some had stars – or maybe question marks – in their eyes, Johnston had goals on the brain. Pittsburgh acquired a world-class winger to play with one of its star centers, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Not a prospect with unlimited potential, not an aging star hoping to catch fire once more, but an established finisher with five 30-goal seasons still in his prime at 27, two months younger than Crosby.
“That was a need we had as a team,” Johnston said. “I just know his speed, his shot. His speed, whether it’s off the rush, in the offensive zone or on the power play, all three of those he has an ability to help us. Today’s game is all about speed.” Read more
2014-15 Record: 43-27-12 (98 pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 5th, Metropolitan Division
What To Expect: A mix of uproar and apathy from Penguins fans after another early playoff departure transformed into renewed optimism when GM Jim Rutherford made the biggest splash of the NHL off-season. The common refrain of “get a winger for Sidney Crosby” was silenced with the acquisition of five-time 30-goal scorer Phil Kessel. And, to the delight of Pens faithful, Pittsburgh didn’t surrender either of its top two prospects – Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta – to seal the transaction. It also gets Kessel at a discount after Toronto agreed to retain $1.2 million for each of the seven years left on his pact.
Rutherford also upgraded the bottom six forwards, swapping Nick Bonino in for Brandon Sutter and adding Eric Fehr, Matt Cullen and Sergei Plotnikov in free agency. Rutherford’s off-season shuffling will get the Penguins into the post-season, but they’ll struggle to keep pace in the Metro Division. Read more
It hasn’t even been a decade yet, but Evgeni Malkin has assembled a very impressive career. He’s won the Calder, Art Ross, Ted Lindsay, Hart and Conn Smythe trophies, been a multiple first-team all star and won a Stanley Cup. He doesn’t have an Olympic gold medal, but a World Cup of Hockey win with Russia would work in the short-term.