It’s a debate that has raged for as long as pucks have been smacked around with sticks on ice: who is the greatest of all-time?
I can end the debate right now; there is no way to know. There’s just no way to know how good some of today’s superstars would be if they had played in the 1980’s, just as there is now way to know how the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe would fare in other eras.
The simple fact is that different eras of hockey vary too much to accurately compare players. There is no definitive way to say who the greatest of all time is, or even the greatest of each generation.
But that won’t stop me from trying.
Consider, if you will, a certain Russian sniper by the name of Alex Ovechkin. I’m sure you know by now that Ovechkin is red-hot to start the season with 19 goals already through 22 games. That’s a 72-goal pace which would rank among the top ten goal scoring seasons of all-time and mark the highest total since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny both potted 76 goals back in 1992-93.
Whether he can hit the 70-goal mark or not, Ovechkin does seem a sure bet to at least hit 50, the fifth time he’ll reach that mark (he could also win his fourth Rocket Richard Trophy, extending his own NHL record). If he does, he’ll become only the 11th player in NHL history to score 50 five times in his career. Given that Ovechkin is still just 28 years old, it also seems fair to suggest he may yet reach the milestone a few more times before he’s done.
So, it does seem that Ovechkin’s production is at least equal to or greater than that of some of the greatest goal scorers in hockey’s history, but could he, in fact, be the greatest?
Let’s use Gretzky as a measuring stick. Gretzky played 1,487 regular season games and scored 894 goals, the current NHL record. I say current, because there is a real possibility that Ovechkin could catch him.
Ovechkin has played 622 regular season games and has scored 390 goals for a 0.627 goals per game average. Assuming that Ovechkin is able to play at least the same amount of games as Gretzky did in his twenty year career, that would be 932 career goals.
I’ll say it again just to let it sink in: Ovechkin is on pace to shatter Gretzky’s career mark for regular season goals.
That torrid 0.627 goals per game pace is behind only Mike Bossy, Lemieux and a couple of guys who played before the turn of the 20th century (Cy Denneny and Cecil “Babe” Dye) in terms of the highest ever.
The caveat is, of course, that a multitude of things could yet conspire to ruin Ovechkin’s challenge of the record, not the least of which being serious injury, or slowing with age, but I do think it’s fair to say that Ovechkin may prove to be one of the best goal scorers the game has ever seen, in any era.
Having established Ovechkin’s future place among the greats, where does that leave fellow superstar and Co-Best Player In The World, Sidney Crosby?
Crosby is, without a doubt, the preeminent point producer in the NHL today. He leads the NHL with 30 points through 24 games this season, a 107-point pace (which would be his fifth 100-point season), and looks to be on track for his second Art Ross Trophy.
So far in his young career he’s amassed 250 goals and 695 points in 493 regular season games. Again, using Gretzky’s games played as a measuring stick, he could conceivably finish with 754 goals (third all-time, fourth if you want to include Ovechkin’s potential future results just for fun) and 2096 points (second behind Gretzky, making them the only two players to hit the 2000-point plateau).
However, like Ovechkin, these numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, especially for Crosby. In truth, there is some concern about whether he can even get to the 1000 game mark considering his disturbing concussion issues. He appears to have gotten over them, as of now, but who knows when they might return and knock him out (no play on words intended) for an even longer period of time?
Sadly, these debates come down to injury all too often. Imagine how the career numbers of Lemieux, Orr, and Bossy would look like had they all not suffered through some horrible injuries. Is Crosby the next to be added to the list of “what could have been”, or will he prove to be one of the all-time greats?
One thing is for sure, with a Stanley Cup, multiple individual awards and multiple all-star team nominations, there is no doubt that Crosby already has the Hall-of-Fame credentials, just as Ovechkin has. Also like Ovechkin, Crosby could very well be considered one of the best to ever lace up a pair of skates by the time he’s done.
There are certainly a few other players in today’s game that may end up worthy of being considered among the greatest of all time. Surely Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and perhaps even John Tavares could be close, but they all seem to be a step behind Ovechkin and Crosby at this point.
It seems the only thing standing between them and immortalization as two of the greatest the NHL has ever seen is maintaining their production standards and longevity. Enjoy them while you can people, one day you might be able to tell the next generation of hockey fans that you saw the great Sid and Ovi in their primes.
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