Sidney Crosby has long been considered the NHL’s best hockey player.
Crosby was still a teenager when the notion that he was the league’s best hockey player first took root, back in 2006-07. That’s the first year he won the scoring race and was named the league’s most valuable player by both the professional hockey writers association, who award the Hart trophy, and his fellow players, who award the Pearson. That reign lasted at least eight years, as he earned all the same distinctions once again at the end of the 2013-14 season. During that time, he was won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals and averaged 1.42 points per game — way in front of teammate Evgeni Malkin in second place with 1.22.
But there is another player who could lay claim to being the league’s best in the salary-cap era: Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin.
The Great Eight is already the NHL’s 30th best goal-scorer of all time after adjusting for the for different schedule lengths, roster sizes, and scoring environments of different eras and has a bevy of individual accolades himself:
- Five goal-scoring titles
- Top point producer in 2007-08
- Three MVP awards
- Three Ted Lindsay awards for being league’s most outstanding player as voted by the players
In fact, if you take into account all voting for the most valuable player (Ted Lindsay voting results are not disclosed to the public) you can see Ovechkin has received a higher number of first-place votes than anyone.
And don’t forget, Ovechkin beat Crosby for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s best rookie, by garnering 124 of the 129 available first-place votes.
So right from the start, Ovechkin was considered the better player.
And advanced metrics buttress this point.
According to point shares, an estimate of the number of team standings points contributed by a player, Ovechkin (121.1 point shares to date) has a sizable lead over Crosby (105.1).
However, Crosby apologists will point to his injuries as why Ovechkin has the better totals, and they would have a point. After adjusting for games played (Ovechkin has played in 760 games while Crosby has played in 627), Crosby comes out slightly ahead.
War on Ice’s wins above replacement, a metric designed to evaluate the worth of a player over one that might be available in free agency or as a call up from the minors, also puts Ovechkin (37.95 WAR) ahead by almost five wins over Crosby (32.33). But according to this metric, neither is the top player in the league: Pavel Datsyuk (41.69 WAR) and Joe Thornton (38.14) both rate higher.
Datsyuk would get support by many as one of the league’s top players, having been voted the league’s best defensive forward three times and winning the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2002 and 2008. Thornton is a tougher sell, but it is hard to argue his 2005-06 campaign wasn’t something special.
So with Ovechkin pushing 30 years old and Crosby starting the end of his prime (he turned 27 in August), who will be the league’s next best player?
The consensus seems to be that Crosby is no longer the game’s best player. But there is no consensus on who has taken over his place.
— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) July 22, 2015
If you believe the hype, it may already be Connor McDavid, the top pick in the 2014 draft.
@robvollmanNHL “That’s Connor McDavid’s music!!”
— Michael Gross (@JustFlyskippy) July 22, 2015
The 18-year-old phenom has drawn comparisons to Crosby by the player himself and Ron MacLean, one of the hosts of Hockey Night in Canada, thinks the addition of McDavid puts the Edmonton Oilers on the fast track to a championship.
“Gimme a glass of wine or a beer, and I think in two years they win the Cup,” MacLean said. “That may be a little eager, but I don’t think more than four.”
@robvollmanNHL its toews, maybe stamkos after this next year passes
— Curtis Jr ⚡️☁️☔️ (@CurtJr_22) July 22, 2015
Chicago’s Jonathan Toews could make a case. He has long been considered one of the game’s best two-way players (he was named the best defensive forward in 2012-13 and has been a finalist in four of the past five seasons) and has been the captain of three championship teams: 2010, 2013 and 2015. That first championship run saw him named the most valuable player of playoffs.
Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos is arguably the league’s second-best scorer after Ovechkin and led his team to the Cup Finals this year. But so far that hasn’t translated to wide-spread acclaim.
One of the young blue liners like two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson of Ottawa or Montreal’s P.K. Subban could make a case with their offensive contributions in addition to their defensive prowess, but they are long shots. As is Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who has been named as the league’s best goaltender once (2011-12) despite being in the top five of ballots in four of the last five year.
@robvollmanNHL Carey Price?
— Zach Laing (@Loweded) July 22, 2015
Carey Price had a sensational year, winning the Hart, Vezina and Ted Lindsay Award. He became the first goaltender since Dominik Hasek in 1998 to win all three. But that’s just one year — it would take a few more for him to dethrone a forward to be considered the league’s best player.
However, the MVP award voting points to two possible candidates: Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Islander’s John Tavares.
Using a rolling weighted average of voting shares, with the most recent year being worth four times as much as four years go, here is how each is trending compared with Ovechkin and Crosby.
Crosby is clearly considered by the voting bloc to be the league’s best player right now, but the Ducks’ appearance in the Western conference finals and the Islanders’ resurgence back to relevance could place a new face at the top of everyone’s mind.