The 2004 and 2005 NHL drafts set in motion a phenomenon that would forever change two hockey towns as two young men became franchise legends. The draft of first round pick Alexander Ovechkin in 2004 and of Sidney Crosby in 2005 turned them into competing faces of their franchises, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. They didn’t ask for it, but the hockey community quickly embraced the rivalry!
Ovechkin had to wait a year to play for the NHL. He was drafted the summer before the “GR8 Lockout” and would not hit the ice until after the 2005 draft. The Caps had not made a first round pick since 1976. And they went big, pinning their hopes for the future on a young Russian.
A summer later the Penguins took their pick to select a Canadian superstar who they too believed would change hockey for Pittsburgh. They were building on their 2004 first round second pick, Evgeny Malkin. It was an important time for the Pens who were building up a young team of upstarts to invigorate their stats.
The assessment of Ovechkin at the time of the draft was that he had a “belligerence to his game” and he had “Skill, skill, skill.” All Ovi ever wanted to do was play in the NHL–and win the Stanley Cup. It would be 12 seasons before he would fully realize his dream and lift the Cup. When the Pens called Crosby’s name he was already the two-time recipient of the Candanian hockey player of the year award. Of Crosby they said he was a “finisher” and had a lot of “lower body strength” and was “extremely tenacious.” We have seen how he has used those attributes to further his career and place in hockey history.
When Alex was drafted the pundits also predicted that he would energize the Caps locker room, which needed a jolt out of the past years of failure. He became the charismatic charmer and eventually the captain of the team in January 2010, replacing Chris Clark. The Penguins were in a rebuilding stage and they hoped Crosby would become the game changer for them. He became their captain in August 2007, the youngest ever in the NHL at 19. Crosby won his first Stanley Cup in 2009 and went on to lead the team to a win in 2016 and 2017.
The Russian and the Canadian began the 2005/06 season with a level of excitement in the NHL that ultimately put hockey in front of a new legion of followers. Every sport needs a good story and from Washington to Pittsburgh to Canada and across to Russia, NHL hockey was a hot commodity, maybe for the first time ever. The comparisons of their style, their personalities, and accomplishments began almost immediately. Each has been the focus of their team’s success and failures and each have reached milestones for their franchises and have set new records in the NHL.
Crosby does not lead the Penguins franchise in any of their milestone records; however, it is difficult to top the great Mario Lemieux who holds most of the records. With 1,116 points he has a way to go before closing in on Lemieux’s record of 1,723. Ovechkin, on-the-other-hand holds the franchise record for goals, points, even strength goals, power play goals, game winning goals, shots, and hat tricks.
Ovechkin became the fastest player to reach 100 goals since Eric Lindros of the Flyers in 1995, according to Fox Sports. He hit 200 in 2009, again joining an elite league of players who accomplished that in four seasons or less (Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux). Ovechkin has been awarded the Maurice Richard Trophy seven times – the most in the NHL as the league’s top scorer. Crosby has won the award twice.
The two players are equally respected by their fellow players. Each have been awarded the Ted Lindsay Award by the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) for Most Outstanding Player. Each player has received the honor three times. With six awards between them, they have dominated the attention of other players since their appearances in 2005 and the 2006 award presentations.
Awards and Accomplishments by Year
The two superstars are very different players. Although both have contributed to the success of their teams, they have done it in different ways. Ovechkin is a high goal scorer while Crosby is a pro at setting others up to score and therefore has a higher assist count. Around the NHL they have different reputations as well. There is no denying that “Sid the Kid” is the darling of the NHL which is dominated by Canadian analysts and former players. The “Great 8” has struggled against a reputation of a Russian bully, winning little favor with the same NHL reporters and personalities. And if you ask the Caps or the Pens, they will tell you that Crosby is a whiner and diver and that Ovechkin is a brut and selfish player. Each teams’ fans rally to their defense. It has always been that way and will likely always be that way! Its part of what makes hockey, hockey.
The two reportedly have a good deal of respect for each other–off the ice. One the ice it is all game and they both come to win. There were handshakes and private comments between the two when the Capitals finally passed the Penguins in 2018 to go on to win the Cup.
We know one day they will see their names in the Hockey Hall of Fame. They will each have a lasting legacy and will inspire Canadian, Russians, and budding hockey players worldwide to meet and surpass that legacy of play and scoring. It will be difficult to do!
Will there ever be such a dueling phenomena in hockey again? Probably not like that which began in 2005. There will always be team rivalries; however, it is unlikely that there will ever be the degree of player comparison we have witnessed with these two. No matter which side of the “best hockey player” of modern times you are on – this rivalry has been good for business and good for the fans. And it is far from over.