When Sidney Crosby won his first Stanley Cup in 2009, many predicted a potential dynasty or at least a team that would challenge for years to come. Their extremely young and talented core of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and Crosby seemed destined for greatness. Instead, we saw years of disappointment as a talented team would fail to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the next five years. Where did it go wrong?
If Crosby had produced a dominant performance that won his team another Cup or at least made it to the Finals, we would not be having this conversation. If he had stormed the playoffs like Malkin had done, snatching a Conn Smythe along the way, we would look back at his career much differently. But instead we’ve seen new champions crowned and new players like Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar lead their team to multiple Cups.
We’ve also seen Crosby struggle with injuries. You can’t fault a player for this of course, but you can’t fight the fact that a player can only help a team when he’s in the lineup. Crosby has missed significant time in three separate seasons, his fewest games played being 22 in 2011-12. He’s just 27 of course and has plenty of great years left to bring his average back up. But in the here and now, workhorses like Kopitar, Toews and even an electrifying player like Patrick Kane are putting up a great case for the title of best in the world.
Part of an NHL player is their personality and influence on their team. As a young captain, he also earned the reputation of a “whiner” and was more recently called out for diving by his peer Jonathan Toews. When you think of the best player in the world, do the words “whiner” and “diver” come to mind?
We are not concerned with his amazing scoring exploits of nearly 10 years ago, and we are not concerned with what the rest of his career will hold. We are looking at the here and now.
Let’s take a deeper look and see if Crosby is truly the best in the world.
10 International Play
Yes he did score the golden goal but lets look deeper. For the past two Olympics, Toews has undoubtedly been Canada’s best player. His line remained dangerous throughout the entire recent tournament and especially in the games that mattered most. Crosby was able to pile up points in the preliminary games but was mostly silent against the stiffer competition. You could even make a legitimate point that Drew Doughty has been far more important to Canada's roster than Crosby.
It’s not Sid’s fault of course, but his time out of the lineup undeniably hurts his consideration for best player in the world. To truly rank a player as the best, all parts must be considered, and durability is high on the list. How can you help your team if you’re not in the lineup? Crosby is not only his team's top center, but their captain as well. His absence is a major wrench in Pittsburgh’s operations. His very large cap-hit must be considered as well. When he’s on IR, the team is missing a giant chunk of their roster that cannot be filled until he returns.
8 Patrice Bergeron
Patrice Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews all excel when it matters most. They may not get the most points or make the highlight reel, but they consistently drive their team to win. Bergeron is the ultimate team player and does whatever is needed. Whether scoring 30 goals or 19, Bergeron is always the most important forward on the squad. His faceoffs are an underrated facet of his game, but he constantly defuses dangerous situations in the defensive end with it.
7 Anze Kopitar
Like Toews and Yzerman before him, Kopitar is a complete player who wins. He leads by example and stifles the opposition while still possessing elite offensive skills. The Kings' two championships in three years are the closest thing the NHL has had to a dynasty in the much tighter cap era, and Kopitar is arguably the most important piece to that puzzle. Kopitar is a workhorse who stays out of the spotlight. He plays his role like a third-liner who just so happens to be one of the best in the league.
He’s also remarkably durable. While Crosby has missed a serious amount of time to injury, Kopitar rarely misses a game. He has played the full 82-game season a shocking five times! When you think about his gritty physical style this feat is even more impressive.
6 Drew Doughty
It’s an easy argument to make that a dominant defenceman is the most important piece of a championship team. Goaltenders are on the ice more of course, but the inconsistencies in their game renders them a wildcard that cannot be relied upon. A top defenceman will almost always log more minutes than the best forward, and they will log the most difficult minutes as well. Their job is to neutralize the other team's best weapon, and also push their team's system from the back end. The NHL has gotten so fast that it’s absolutely crucial for a defender to swiftly escape the zone and start the transition.
The last five years of Stanley Cup winners possessed elite rearguards like Doughty, Keith/Seabrook, Doughty(again), Zdeno Chara, and Keith/Seabrook (again). A defenceman is also a much larger piece of the puzzle as there are only six defenders to 12 forwards.
Doughty is the most notable of his peers (at this moment) with his two Cups in three years and his dominant play on the International stage.
5 Stanley Cups
When considering all aspects of what makes the best player, winning has to be near the top. Joe Thornton is in elite company for his regular season point totals, but he’s always been more associated with his lack of postseason success. Max Talbot has a career high of 34 points yet if he only scored those two goals against Detroit in Game 7 of the Final for his whole career, he would still go down as a Pittsburgh legend.
Crosby and his team won their lone Cup so early in their team's cycle that a dominant run seemed inevitable. The core was in place and years away from their prime, it felt like the second coming of Gretzky’s Oilers. Yet it didn’t happen. Since their triumph, Toews and Kopitar have led their teams to twice as many Cups.
Crosby has fallen from clear-cut number one to sit below the current crop of top-tier teams. With Steven Stamkos leading his team to greater heights and a newly invigorated Alex Ovechkin playing a less selfish game, Crosby feels even more like just one of the pack.
4 "Diving" and "Whining"
The best players lead by example. They inspire the team around them and make other players better. There is no question that Crosby elevates wingers to their best scoring totals with his gifted playmaking, but as a captain, he is not elite.
Crosby has received an obnoxious amount of media attention ever since his debut, and issues do tend to magnify. However, his reputation as a “whiner” and a “diver” don’t look good hanging on the supposed world’s best.
Perhaps the most polarizing moment came at the Winter Classic. Crosby’s Penguins were battling Toews’s Blackhawks in an exciting matchup when Crosby went down perhaps too easily. Toews leapt up on the bench cursing the fall. He went over to Crosby as soon as possible to let him know what he saw and recommended Crosby stay on his feet. Instead of Crosby standing up to Toews he instead chose to play dumb. At that moment it felt as if Toews had truly surpassed Crosby as an all-around player, captain, and winner.
3 Carey Price
Perhaps no other player in the league has a more profound impact on their team than Carey Price. On paper, the Canadiens have a fairly average roster that should be sitting around the playoff bubble, battling for a Wild Card spot. Price however, has different plans for his team. With a defence featuring an offensive phenom and aging veterans, Price has forcefully kept his Habs near the top of the East all season long. He’s doing it without much offensive support as well. While the Canadiens are second in the East, they are only 22nd in goals scored.
2 Evgeni Malkin
Crosby might not even be the best player on his own team! Malkin has more than risen to the occasion during all of Crosby’s absences, which are plenty. But it was during their lone Stanley Cup run that he rose highest. Malkin scored at a scorching pace, notching the most postseason points at the time since Gretzky’s 40 in 1993. He was the undeniable catalyst for Pittsburgh throughout their playoff run and assisted on Talbot’s deciding goal in the final game. Malkin won not only the Conn Smythe that year but the Art Ross as well.
1 Jonathan Toews
The moment at the Winter Classic was symbolic, but Toews has already outperformed Crosby in the eyes of many. His two Cups to one at such a young age is impressive enough. Toews winning the Conn Smythe is another feather in his cap. But beyond awards, Toews is known as the complete package. Most comparable to Yzerman, Toews can score with the best of them, but his elite defensive skill, leadership, and game-changing ability to win are what set him apart from the rest.
In the final minute of the most important game, whether protecting a lead or looking for a goal, I put out Toews ahead of Crosby every single time.
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