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Team success shouldn’t be discounted in Sid-Ovi debate

LAST TANGO

Today is the final of four Olympic hockey days, and a consensus among NHL folks with whom I’ve traded e-mails and texts during this break, Friday, Saturday and Sunday will represent the last three days of Olympic hockey involving NHL players for some time. The league is not pleased with U.S. television partner NBC’s decision to broadcast  an overwhelming majority of games – including the round-robin USA-Canada tilt – on sister satellite networks USA Network, CNBC and MSNBC. I’m told there has been a lot of discussion among NHL executives as to the worth of a near three-weak break (and extension of the Stanley Cup Final into late June) simply to send its players to the Games, which would be held for the first time in Russia in 2014.

I’m torn on the issue for a myriad of reasons, but before I offer some Penguins-related observations today, please consider this question: How would a 2014 Winter Olympics without NHL players affect your interest in the men’s ice hockey competition at the next games?

Thoughts are welcome at rrossi@tribweb.com – please include your FULL NAME and CURRENT HOMETOWN. Thanks.

ME VS CANDA, SID VS OVI

OK, so the worst-kept secret among the Pittsburgh sports media is my blind allegiance to Team USA in all Olympic events, but especially the hockey tournaments. Surely I will be forced to eat some crow from Canadian C SIDNEY CROSBY if his squad rallies from a disheartening loss Sunday to the USA and wins gold, which certainly looks like a possibility after Canada’s eye-opening pounding of Russia on Wednesday night. (By the way, did anybody else find it curious that Russia opted to scratch star RW ALEX OVECHKIN for that anticipated showdown with Canada?*)

Consider this exchange between Crosby and me after the Penguins’ final game before the Olympic break:

RR: Good luck in Vancouver, and try to enjoy it. This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff.

SC: (Smiling) Thanks, but I don’t think you mean it.

RR: (Laughing) I don’t. Silver would look really good hanging around your neck. … Actually, I don’t mean that either.

Disclosure: I consider some of my best friends in this business to be Canadian, and I truly believe Canadians are in many ways the best people on this planet; but when it comes to hockey competition I will root against Canada at any cost. I’m American. Canadians are my country’s friendliest neighbors, but they are also my country’s hockey archrivals. I don’t want them to win anything in hockey – ever; and since I’m not at the Olympics, I have enjoyed spending the past two weeks as a fan, which is something sports reporters sacrifice by the objective nature of our jobs. So, U-S-A! U-S-A! And, Go Slovakia, Go!

My want for Canada not to win gold (or any medal) in the men’s hockey tournament is not something I’ve hid from any Canadian, including Crosby and his family. When asked by his father TROY CROSBY for whom I was rooting at the Olympics, I responded via text message that I was USA all the way. Papa Crosby responded that Sid would be happy to show me a gold medal upon his return to Pittsburgh from Vancouver.

“Well, I’m going with my country because I am American,” I wrote in response, “but I’ve learned that it is not wise to bet against your boy.”

It’s not wise, by the way, to bet against Sidney Crosby. I’ve seen him live up to expectations quite often over the last four years. I’ve been accused in these parts of being a cheerleader for him, so allow me to likely build that reputation with this observation as to what separates Crosby from Ovechkin:

In three elimination games they’ve played against one another over the past nine months Crosby’s clubs own a 2-1 advantage in wins, and Crosby’s squads have scored 17 goals to 10 by Ovechkin’s teams. Crosby has played a part in five goals to 4 by Ovechkin.

The argument against defining these stars by success of their teams against one another is that Crosby’s are perceived to have been better. That argument is weak. The Capitals were a No. 2 Eastern Conference seed last season, and good enough to take a 2-0 series lead against the fourth-seeded Penguins before losing four of five to drop the series. That Capitals squad deployed five 50-points scorers that played an entire season in Washington. The Penguins entered the playoffs last season with only two such players, Crosby and C EVGENI MALKIN.

A lot of the words coming from suddenly talkative Canadians today in the wake of Canada’s 7-3 win against Russia – funny how a lot of them went silent from Sunday night through Wednesday afternoon (ha) – is that Team Canada is the sleeping giant that has been awoken. However, at best, Canada was only a co-favorite to win this tournament, with Russia being the squad many considered as most talented. Russia’s impressive Olympic roster only adds to the failed argument that Crosby’s teams have been “better” than ones with Ovechkin, and therefore comparing these players based off team success is not fair.

Crosby’s teams have won more so they are considered “better,” but Ovechkin’s squads have entered these showdowns as either the favorite (last spring in the playoffs) or an even-bet co-favorite (Wednesday night at the Olympics).

Team success isn’t all that matters to individual rivalries, but it matters a lot. If that wasn’t true, why did MARIO LEMIEUX have to win a Cup before he could be considered the game’s best player during the prime of his career?

Ovechkin is the favorite to win a third consecutive Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and will probably win a second Art Ross Trophy this season as the league leading scorer. His personal rivalry with Crosby is the stuff the NHL is made of right now, and will be as long as both players are active in the league.

However, until Ovechkin can figure out a way to get his team – Russia on the international stage or the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs – past one with Crosby, he cannot pass Crosby in the race to become known as the best player of this hockey generation.

*Sarcasm

SAY WHAT: MATT COOKE

“It would be like… I’m trying to think. There’s not a comparison. Commercials in Canada are dedicated to letting people know that hockey is our game. That’s how people feel.”

…From my conversation with Cooke after Penguins practice on Wednesday. We were discussing the impossible-to-comprehend connection Canadians feel to the men’s hockey team’s pursuit of Olympic gold at a Games hosted by Canada.

MIGHTY MAX

C/RW MAX TALBOT, who has played in only 28 games this season because of left shoulder and groin injuries, said Wednesday he possibly could play Tuesday at home against Buffalo. Talbot, who has scored only one goal this season, has not played since Jan. 28.

I asked how close he is to the player who played such a pivotal playoff role last season.

“Pretty close,” he said. “Mentally it’s been tough this year with the two injuries. It’s been frustrating, but it’s been a good break.

“The shoulder is feeling way better. I was out with a groin the last three weeks to a month, and that has been given time to heal. My upper body feels 100 percent now and that makes a big difference.”

–BY ROB ROSSI

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

Comments

  1. stamko871771 says:

    MVP???Ovechkin??? The Caps have 6 or 7 players who will exceed 20 goals this year; four may exceed 30 goals, and 4 players who have more than 60 points already. Clearly if there was a case to be made that a single player is NOT carrying a team..here it is. Ovie’s team wins just fine without him, and in fact has three or four quality scorers (Backstom, Semin, Green, Knubble, Laich to name a few) whose depth would seem to far outpace many teams in the league.

    The Pens by contrast have only two players with more than 60 points and only 4 players who may exceed 20 goals this year, only 2 of whom are likely to reach or exceed 30 goals. Makes the MVP award seem rather meaningless..

    p.s. Interesting thing about Ovechkin and his scoring…if you watch any Cap’s games, you will notice that his “assists” are in large part because Knubble et, is collecting rebounds from Ovi’s shooting on net, not from any set up or passing skill he has added to his game. Also, I have read several game blogs which called him out for “hanging out at the blue line to cash in on empty netters” at the end of games to pad his stats. I am not clear on why several people mention him as mvp. If the winner is suppose to be most valuable to his TEAM then clearly Ovechkin should not be in the running. Have the MVP voters forgotten the criteria? It’s not the most goals..most assists etc. there are other awards for that achievement.

  2. Andrew says:

    While I generally agree with you Stamko, I’ve gotta say that I think you’re selling Ovie pretty short. It’s either him or Sid as to who’s the man and, while my money’s on Sid for sure, I feel like you’re leaving out some pretty relevant facts when making your argument, especially about his scoring.

    So Ovie gets assists while shooting? What on earth is wrong with that? The entire Mellon Arena crowd thinks that’s a GREAT idea!! It’s just the way Ovie makes those around him, including Knuble and Semin, better. It’s not the traditional way for the leading scorer but that’s what makes his skill-set so unique…the fact that his shot is a dominating factor in every game the Caps play.

    Why would Mario be considered to be a player that “raises the game” of the the likes of Robbie Brown, Warren Young, etc…but Ovechkin isn’t. So what if Mario, Gretzky, and Sid/Malkin accomplish(ed) this thru playmaking as opposed to shooting the puck on the net? Seems to me Ovie’s making a play to, just in a different manner.

    Shooting the puck on net counts for a reason and, if that’s a side effect, intended or not, of shooting the puck a lot then so be it. The points count and Ovechkin’s style of play leads directly to those opportunities.

    Those other players whom you mention are nowhere near Ovie’s level in terms of impacting a game…Backstrom and Green are the two most legit impact players on the list you gave. Without Ovie, I think they still might be in first in the Southeast but not in the Eastern Conference.

    All that being said…I still think Sid is the man and he proved as much in the playoffs AND a couple of nights ago. I just also happen to have an enormous amount of respect for Ovechkin’s skill, intensity and passion.

  3. concernedpensfan87 says:

    Shooting pucks on net creates an opportunity for OTHERS to make plays and is something that players on every team does and does not an MVP make.

    Besides, I think you missed the point Andrew, which is, Washington has demonstrated it has the depth to win without Ovie. And since the MVP criteria is not who scores the most, but who carries the team…that precludes Ovi from being a contender. I agree with that logic. Also agree Ovechkin has goal scoring skill. However, as a fan, I dislike the “intensity” that he shows running people for big hits that are borderline or illegal.

  4. eurydice_krg says:

    Mr. Rossi, I have had similar conversations about elimination games in the past couple of days. Why doesn’t anyone else notice that in big games, AO simply doesn’t bring his best game? Sid, on the other hand, thrives on pressure. He’s like one of those deep sea fish.

    I agree with you Stamko! I am baffled how AO could be considered for the MVP this year. Wasn’t the argument for Geno not winning it last year because of the presence of fellow prolific scorer Sidney Crosby? When AO was injured/suspended, his team did fine without him. I would even argue the point that the Caps play better without him. You’re observation about assists is also correct. The only reason why he has more assists this year is because of his teammates playing better. He certainly hasn’t developed any new playmaking abilities.

    At this point, I would give the Hart to Sid, but if not him, it should go to Ryan Miller or Henrik Sedin. If you go by the definition of the award, AO shouldn’t even be in the conversation.

  5. Steve says:

    As I see it, one of the primary differences between Sid and Ovi is this. When Sid’s teammates are asked about Sid the general response is something like, “He’s the hardest working player on the team at every practice. We can’t let up because of that.” When asked about Ovi the typical response is, “What a great player. He has the best shot in the league.” Sid’s a great leader while Ovi’s merely a great shooter. Sid makes his team better not only because of his playmaking, but also because of his leadership and example setting. That’s why his teams will always be better than Ovi’s. Also Ovi’s selfishness, illustrated by the $12,500,000 team salary cap he set versus Sid’s $8,700,000 team cap, will severely inhibit the Cap’s ability to maintain a team around him.

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