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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

From Sid to Connor

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins spent 10 years or so as the best player in the NHL. After grabbing that torch from Sid the Kid a couple years back, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers is well on his way to a similar run. Tuesday at Rogers Place, we get to see both of them on the ice at the same time. That’s special.

While I’m not trying to put Crosby into a rocking chair ahead of his time, at 31, his prime years are behind him just as the 21-year-old McDavid enters his. On any given night, like maybe Tuesday, Crosby still has enough game to show the Next One a thing or two, but McDavid is hands-down the best player in the game today. If you don’t believe that, just ask Crosby.

“I think McDavid has set himself apart just based on the awards and the accolades he’s gotten and the consistency he’s had,” Crosby said last week when asked who the top dog is. “I think it’s fair to say it’s an easy pick just because of that.” Crosby was speaking in the wake of a fast start by Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the tire-pumping that followed by some fans and media.

Matthews is a terrific young player, of that there is no doubt. He might be the best goal-scorer in the NHL today. That said, I think it’s more than a little early for Matthews to be in the best player conversation. Where Matthews slots in compared to McDavid will be played out over the next decade or so. Ten years from now, Sid the Kid will be 41 and long-retired.

GENERATIONS

Nov 8, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) handles the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the first period at the PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The transition from one truly great player to the next — be it Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux or ever further back than that — is yet another reminder how time flies. We’ve seen it for generations. For guys who’ve been around like me, that’s what makes seeing Crosby on the same ice as McDavid Tuesday special. How many more times will get to see then together with Sid near the top of his game? This year, another year after that?

To sound like your grandpa, it seems like just yesterday that the Penguins selected Crosby first overall in the 2005 Entry Draft. Here we are 13 years later. Crosby, who arrived with the same fanfare McDavid did, has won three Stanley Cups and twice won the Conn Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP. He’s won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader twice, the Hart Memorial Trophy as most valuable to his team twice, the Ted Lindsay Award three times. And let’s not forget Crosby’s Golden Goal at the 2010 Olympics. That’s a magnificent career in the rear-view mirror.

As Crosby winds down his career, McDavid is tearing it up as he begins his fourth season with the Oilers. He’s already won a couple of scoring titles — a Hart Trophy and two Lindsay Awards — and he’s done that on teams that have been decidedly mediocre in two of his first three seasons. As for the Stanley Cup rings, well, McDavid is going to need a lot more help than he’s been getting for that.

Crosby, who last reached the 100-point plateau with 104 in 2013-14, might still be one of the best five players in the NHL today, although he wouldn’t comment on that when he was asked about the McDavid-Matthews business the other day. Wherever he ranks now, it seems like Sid the Kid’s era, like those before him, has come and gone in the blink of an eye. This is McDavid’s time. With the torch already passed, we get to see both on the same ice together Tuesday as their career arcs cross one more time. That’s worth watching.

WHILE I’M AT IT

  • Just because, one more time with coach Peter Laviolette at Rogers Place after Nashville’s 3-0 win over the Oilers. This is the greatest moment I have ever seen from an NHL coach in more than 30 years covering the league. Well, that and Ron Low peeling paint in a post-game scrum after a particularly frustrating loss when he forgot that he was on live radio, but that’s not printable here.
  • With all the hoopla Matthews has received after his hot start (10-6-16) to open the season, what’s your over/under on when McDavid (4-7-11) passes him in the scoring race? I’m saying McDavid reels him in by the time he hits 18 games.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Ratt McNuge

    I love McDavey, but Crosby is only 31and has many years still ahead of him. He also has some Stanley Cup rings. McD has a ways to go yet before being considered better than Crosby.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        I keep coming on ON hoping to see some blockbuster trade… aaaand, nothing. Have to hope that they can string some wins together I guess with what we have…

      • Flint

        That’s like saying McDavid is better than Gretzky because “today” and Wayne is 57. If that’s the case, why bother making comparisons at all?

        Futhermore, you’re making an assessment based on what McDavid should do, vs what Crosby DID do.

        McDavid, and let’s hope not, could be seriously injured tomorrow. Sure, if we’re picking teams elementary school style, McDavid goes first 101 times out of 100, so, Oilers win that game.

        • “On any given night, like maybe Tuesday, Crosby still has enough game to show the Next One a thing or two, but McDavid is hands-down the best player in the game today.”

          Note the use of the word “today.” Not all-time. Today. So, no, it’s not like saying that at all.

          • Flint

            You’re still downplaying the fact that both players are from different decades and upselling the comparison. By comparing ‘today’ you’re saying “McDavid is so good he’s even better than Crosby.” But Sidney Crosby isn’t even the second best player today (by this cherry-picked narrow time measure) he’s arguably out of the top ten…

            I think what you might want to say is that we’re exiting the Crosby decade and are in the first years of the McDavid decade.

            Because career Crosby has 1121pts in 870games and is a first ballot hall of famer even if he stops today.

            Austin Matthews leads the NHL with 10G/16P today.

            And Connor is neither today. Thats why this narrow definition is silly.

            Is it decade Connor… sure probably is. But we gotta give more credit to whats actually been done than what likely will be, no?

    • Hemmertime83

      Ah like Babcock. Makes no sense. “He has cups so he’s better. “. So does Chiasson. Doesn’t make him better than 97 but if winning it all is what counts apparently we should trade Lucic for Matthews

      • Gravis82

        Every player has top years. It is expected there will be an up and then down. That is part of the normal process.

        To say someones career is winding down somewhat suggests that something negative is going on, or that he is regressing faster than expected. But it is not, this is just part of the expected thing that happens in one’s career. In fact, I would say that Crosby will regress in his final years much much less than almost all others players in the NHL over that time at the same age.

          • Gravis82

            every player winds down. Crosby will not wind down nearly at all, in comparison to what we would expect from other players who are also humans. The guy is a stud based on even above average NHL players and will continue to be one until he decides to retire. Each stage of the career has its own set of expectations and Crosby is currently exceeding the expectations of his current age-based career path and is not winding down in any way. I feel he is a good enough player that you should have also mentioned that at the same time, to clarify what you were implying.

            He is simply playing more NHL seasons and his observed performance is continually better than what we would expect. That is not winding down, that is just playing more years of hockey.

            Referring to Crosby having anything to do with winding down at 31 is a bit odd.

            But hey, I’m continuing to click and comment, this is good for ON

          • Leichs

            Gravis82 Geez what are you talking about? You are reaching sooo hard at nothing. Crosby has not scored more than 89 points in the last 5-6 years after scoring over 100 multiple times… This year he currently has 0 goals. Its not a huge shock or overstatement to say that his best years might be behind him and I’m not sure why you are so defensive of Sid slowing down. Like Brownlee said, Crosby winding down is still top 5 player in the league, but he will never have a career year again when it comes to scoring. I’m sure when McDavid is 30 (more like 50) he will begin to wind down as well.

  • Dapper Dan 3099

    Ok, I can see the Sid vs. Connor debate, even at this stage in their careers….what baffles me is the constant throwing in of Matthews into the conversation about “best player in the NHL”
    1. Matthews career high is 40 goals and 69 pts, Connor had 41 last year but added 67 assists on top of that…..heck even Leon (on a “down” year) had 70 pts….. am I missing something here?
    2. Ok, so Matthews had 63 pts, in 62 games last year, so he’s more than a point a game player right?….. so that means he would be on pace for an 83.3 point season, lets say 84 pts…. so even if he gets 84 points, he’s still in the conversation as a “better” player than McDavid? REALLY!? ….no really am I missing something?
    3……….. Oh that’s right, it just hit me! …. he’s the best player in the NHL because he plays for the LEAFS! It all makes sense now, Connor could get a 300 point season, and it still wouldn’t matter because he doesn’t play for the leafs…. silly me

    • The word Leafs isn’t an English word. The Toronto Maple Leafs and their media cannot even spell the name of their team correctly. It should be spelled Toronto Maple Leaves, like to leave the playoffs early and leave the conversation.

    • btrain

      Agreed 100%. The only way an American born player, in a league full of young stars, is in the conversation for best player based heavily on projection, is if that player is a Leaf. All others, have to prove it first and even then don’t get the benefit of the doubt that Matthews gets. A good comparison to what Matthews would be if not a Leaf is just South of the border.
      On a much worse team since he arrived in the NHL, Jack Eichel has .95 pts/game since the 2016/17 season. So basically Eichel is on pace for his 3rd straight pt/game season while having a fraction of the supporting cast, offensively, that Matthews has had. Considering these facts, I am not sure how TSN justifies ranking Matthews as 8th best in the league and Eichel 33rd best. I’d say, based on what they have actually accomplished in the NHL to date, Matthews is much closer to Eichel if not slightly behind him, then he is to McDavid. Oh, and there is nothing wrong with that because Eichel is an incredible talent in this league as well!

  • positivebrontefan

    That Bull Mask thing is hilarious!!! I hadn’t seen that till now.
    McDavid today is a better player than Crosby today. McDavids peak vs Crosby’s peak? I don’t think we’ve seen McDavids peak yet, but I sure hope that by the end of it all, he’s still here and has an equal amount of Cups and rings, and hardware that Crosby has. What I do know is that Malkin>Draisaitl. And McDavid will need a better supporting cast in order for the rest of the accolades to happen.

  • ifiwasgm

    Crosby was by far the best player in his early 20’s, but really now, due the head injuries, I don’t believe he is the best player on his own team.
    That no slight on him, Lindros was a shade of his former self due to head injuries.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Lindros was over-hyped. Not at all a generational player like Lemieux, Gretzky, Crosby or McDavid…
      I’d compare Lindros to Matthews actually. In fact, if Matthews doesn’t become a bit more humble, I think that he may soon have a few more head injuries to contend with…? To Dapper Dan’s point he hasn’t yet got the yearly points to even rank 10th in the NHL… Arizona as a last ditch effort to keep the franchise will offer-sheet him 16 mil.

      • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

        Lindros had a ego-centric personality, something McDavid never will have. When he found out he was going to the worst team, Lindros pouted and demanded a trade. When McDavid found out he was going to the worst team, he didn’t whine, he didn’t moan. He said he’d play for us regardless

      • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        Honest question, did you ever see the Legion of Doom play up close and personal? That wasn’t hype. They could take the opposition apart seven ways from Sunday. Lindros was the Mike Tyson of hockey: an unstoppable force who broke the laws of gravity and eventually paid the price.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    The ole Best Player??? LOL
    Best fastest (fwd) skater? Mick David
    Best skater (backwards)? Erik Karlsson
    Best D-man to protect a lead? John Carlson/Victor Hedman
    Best pure shooter” P. Laine/Ovie
    Most offensively tanlented player? Mick David/Alex Barkov/Kuznetsov?
    Best Goaltender? B Holtby/J Gibson?
    Best passer? N Backstrom/ Nugent Hopkins?
    So what was the question again????

  • Hemmercules

    No one in the world is better than Mcdavid right now. Period. Mcdavid will probably win more individual trophies than Sid ever will but Sid has those cups and McD will never match those 3 cups rotting away on the Oilers.

  • OriginalPouzar

    One of the most unfortunate things about the NHL players not going to the 2018 Olympics was missing out on the a McDavid, just starting his prime, playing on the same team with Crosby still in his prime (or close thereto).

    Given the NHL’s focus on China, they will absolutely be at the Beijing Olympics in 2022. While Crosby will be on the team I’m sure, he will be far removed from his prime and more of a leader and complimentary player. McDavid will be mid-prime and pure supernova I’m sure.

    Its too bad we never got to see them play together in a major tournament when both were at or near their best.

  • D1983

    Mcdavid does need a better supporting cast I agree but hopefully that is coming. I’m not a fan of the whole best in the world comparisons there are lots of real good players. If I was to pick the two best I’d pick one of the two but honestly I really don’t care I’m just glad we have connor he is an absolute amazing player so I’m just glad he is an oiler.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    As a Flames fan AND-dare I say-an unabashed Connor admirer, I submit that any objective hockey person knows that between McD and Matthews it’s McD.

    Like, it’s insane to me that this is even a query. Not even close.

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      Everyone outside of Toronto knows that McDavid is leagues above Matthews. It’s those hacks in Toronto who think Matthews is better ONLY because they’re still sour that McDavid isn’t on their team.

  • OilCan2

    Most NHL players peak at 25-26. Nuge, for example has a good shot at his best year ever this season. McDavid has years of improvement to look forward to. Crosby is legend but his stat line is following my opening statement.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Watching NHL plays of the week half were Toronto highlights…lol. it was like a regular goal became a highlight reel goal because a Leaf scored it. We need a sports channel for Canada that is not a cheerleader for Toronto teams

  • Heschultzhescores

    The Flanes had some really good teams when the Oilers were the best. They may have even been the 2nd best. My point is. We need McD and the Oilers to be the best and keep the Leafs away from the cup like we did the Flames…all but one year. It’s hard to believe, but I think the Leafs winning the cup would be even more puke-worthy than the Flames

  • Old school

    Great article .. the best debates are always fun but l think historical context is needed .. of course Connor is the best player currently but will have to string together several more years in a row to be considered the next dominant player in what has been a long line of greats in the game to hold that mantle . History says a minimum of 6 years as the dominant player is the gold standard…beginning with Howie Morenz who passed the torch to Eddie Shore – The Rocket – Howe ( 10 years)- Hull- Orr- Lefleur – Gretzky- Lemieux- Lindstom- Crosby that’s a pretty elite list and l have no doubt Connorcwill Carry the torch forward

  • CMG30

    As Brownlee said: McDavid is the best player in the league TODAY. How his overall body of work will stack up compared to the greats like Sid, Gretz and Howe will not be known for another decade or more. McDavid has the POTENTIAL to be in conversations around greatest of all time but he will have to work his tail off for a decade to force his way into those conversations. Outside his control, the Oilers need to figure out how to build a supporting cast for him. Hockey is a team sport after all and McDavid can never reach full potential without great teammates. Decades from now he will never be in those lofty conversation without cups behind his name.

  • Afc Wimbledon

    I think it’s fair to say McDavid is the best player in the game, it’s a shame he’s playing on a team that will waste that talent completely, that most years, if the current trajectory continues, he wont even make the playoffs, that he will be consigned in History to a ‘what might have been’ footnote in hockey history, like George Best or Steve Nash.