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.
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.