Since entering the NHL as the 1st overall selection in 2005, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins has held the title of “league’s best player” in a tight headlock.
In 12 years as a professional, Crosby is a 3x Stanley Cup champion, a 2x Art Ross winner, a 2x Rocket Richard winner, a 2x Hart Trophy winner, a 2x Con Smyth winner and a 2x Olympic Gold Medalist. Outside of the accolades, he has also recorded 1027 career points in 782 games played.
As Sidney Crosby continues to dominate in the modern-day NHL, the landscape of the league began to shift in 2015 when Connor McDavid entered the league as the 1st overall selection of the Edmonton Oilers. Hyped as hockey’s next superstar since he was just 16 years of age, the now 20-year-old McDavid has recorded 148 points in 127 NHL games. He has already won both the Art Ross and the Hart Trophies and was able to lead Edmonton back into the playoffs for the first time in 11 years this past season.
Over the course of the offseason, the question as to who is the NHL’s best player as of “right now” has frequently been asked. To settle this debate, both Crosby and McDavid will be compared to one another regarding offense, defense, and team impact. Many people may tend to factor in accolades and future upside into this discussion, however, the 10-year age difference between both players makes this impossible.
So, has Connor McDavid already transitioned us into the NHL’s future? Or is Sidney Crosby ensuring that we remain in the present?
As outlined above, in 782 games played Sidney Crosby has recorded a total of 1027 career points. Regarding playoff performance, Crosby has tallied a further 164 points in 148 postseason appearances. This means that in 930 combined games, Sidney Crosby has produced a total of 1191 points – equating to an average of 1.3 points per game over the course of his career in both the regular season and in the playoffs.
Also outlined above, in just 127 games Connor McDavid has already notched an impressive 148 points. In his first trip to the playoffs this past season, McDavid managed to record a total of 9 points in 13 games played. This means that overall, Connor McDavid has produced 157 points in 140 games played in both the regular season and in the playoffs. These numbers equate to an average of 1.1 points per game – slightly less than that of Sidney Crosby.
While Connor McDavid was brilliant last season – leading the league in both points (100) and assists (70) on an average of 1.21 points per game, Sidney Crosby was right there breathing down the young superstar’s neck. Crosby led the NHL with 44 goals last season, and although McDavid tallied 11 more points than that of Crosby (89), it must be noted that Crosby played in 7 fewer games. On average, Sidney Crosby scored at a rate of 1.18 points per game which shows that Connor McDavid was not as far ahead as it first appears on the surface.
Ultimately, it is much harder for a player to sustain higher career averages as they continue to play for a longer period. Despite this, however, Sidney Crosby still maintains higher career points per game averages than that of Connor McDavid. McDavid may have slightly out-produced Crosby in just his second season in the NHL this past year, but Crosby was much further ahead back in his second season as opposed to what McDavid was during his sophomore campaign – recording more goals (36) and more assists (84).
Additionally, Sidney Crosby also owns a much higher career points per game average than Connor McDavid in the postseason as stated above. McDavid has only been to the playoffs once, but Crosby also made his playoff debut in his second season just as McDavid did. Unlike McDavid however, Sidney Crosby was instantly able to be the point-per-game player that McDavid was not during the Oilers’ postseason run last season.
This upcoming season, Sidney Crosby shows no signs of slowing down. Given the fact that he still owns a higher point per game average throughout his career in both the regular and the playoffs, Connor McDavid is going to need to out-produce Crosby by more than just 0.03 of a point for me to say that he is a better offensive player heading into next season.
EDGE: SIDNEY CROSBY
In 2016/17, Connor McDavid recorded an impressive 76 takeaways on the season – tying him for the third highest mark in the NHL. Crosby, on the other hand, was only able to take the puck away from his opponent 39 times over the course of last season.
When blocking shots, Connor McDavid got in front of 29 pucks last season at an average of 0.35 blocks per game, while Sidney Crosby managed to block a total of 27 shots at an average of 0.36 blocks per game. There is very little separating these two players when it comes to getting in front of shooters, though the per game averages show that Crosby possesses more willingness to get in front of the puck.
Finally, when thinking about physical play last season, Sidney Crosby totaled 80 hits at an average of 1.1 per game, whereas Connor McDavid recorded only 34 hits at an average of 0.4 per game.
Regarding the aspects of defensive play that do not show up on the stat sheet (disruption, positioning, hustle), one needn’t look any further than the opinions of those around the NHL to determine who is further ahead in this department.
Henrik Zetterberg – a former Selke Trophy finalist – has been vocal in recent months about how impressive Sidney Crosby has become on both ends of the ice. In an interview with USA Today, Zetterberg stated that “Crosby is now playing a 200-foot game and doing it well”. Zetterberg didn’t stop there in his praise of Crosby, further stating that “he is so strong and he reads the play very well.”
Former Penguins GM Ray Shero strongly feels as though Sidney Crosby is amongst the league’s best defensive forwards, expressing his opinion that “when you want to lock down a game, you want him out there.”
At just 20 years of age, Connor McDavid is a young superstar that still has a lot of room to grow defensively. There were instances last season, especially in the playoffs, where McDavid found himself under fire for his defensive mistakes.
NHL Network’s Mike Johnson was extremely vocal in his criticism of Connor McDavid’s defense during Edmonton’s playoff series against Anaheim last season, and Oilers coach Todd McLellan publicly admitted to the media after Game 3 that his young cornerstone is “still learning.”
With everything that has been said surrounding defense, Sidney Crosby blocks shots at a higher rate, dishes out more hits and is more respected for his defensive ability amongst NHL circles. Connor McDavid taking away more pucks is simply not enough to surpass that.
EDGE: SIDNEY CROSBY
Image source: sportsnet.ca
There is very little disagreement – if any at all – surrounding the impact that Sidney Crosby has had in Pittsburgh since entering the NHL.
In the three years before drafting Crosby in 2005, the Pittsburgh Penguins were a 26-win team on average that had not competed for a Stanley Cup in 15 years. Throughout the 12 seasons in which Sidney Crosby has been a member of the Penguins, the team has averaged 44 wins per season, has made the playoffs 11 times and has appeared in 4 Stanley Cups – winning 3 of them.
Much to his credit, Connor McDavid has also been monumental in turning around the Edmonton Oilers. In the ten years before drafting McDavid in 2015, the Oilers were a 29-win team on average. In the two years that McDavid has been in the league, however, the Oilers have averaged 39 wins per season and finally managed to return to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years this past season.
Aside from wins – penalty minutes, faceoff percentage and plus/minus are all vital stats that can numerically show the kind of impact that a player has on their team.
Last season, Connor McDavid spent a total of 26 minutes in the penalty box, whereas Sidney Crosby spent a total of 24 minutes in the penalty box. When you scale those figures to the number of games that each player suited up for, you get an average of 0.31 penalty minutes per game for McDavid, and an average of 0.32 for Crosby. While these numbers may seem close, it is worth mentioning that Sidney Crosby’s 24 minutes in the penalty box last season was somewhat of an aberration, as over the course of his 12-year career he has averaged 48 minutes in the penalty box per season. McDavid’s 26 minutes last season was far more in-line with his career average of only 22 minutes.
Regarding faceoffs, Sidney Crosby found success on 48.2% of his opportunities last season and has been victorious on 52% of his chances throughout his career. Connor McDavid still has some work to do regarding faceoffs, as last season he won only 43.3% of his faceoff attempts and owns a 42.3% success rate over the course of his young career.
In terms of plus/minus, Connor McDavid finished last season with a +27 rating, while Sidney Crosby ended the season with a score of +17. Plus/minus is often a significant statistic for measuring a player’s impact on the ice; however, it does have a major flaw – it can easily be skewed by the performance of a players’ line mates.
While Connor McDavid may have finished 10 points higher than Sidney Crosby in this category, McDavid’s two primary line mates – Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl – scored a combined total of 33 points more than both Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel last season (Crosby’s primary line mates). When this is taken into consideration, it can easily be argued that Connor McDavid’s +27 rating isn’t any more impressive than Sidney Crosby’s rating of +17.
In overall regards to team impact, Sidney Crosby’s teams have won more games on average since 2005 as opposed to what Connor McDavid’s teams have won since 2015. Connor McDavid may do a better job staying out of the penalty box; however, Crosby is comfortably ahead in terms of making his teammates better and capitalizing on faceoffs.
EDGE: SIDNEY CROSBY
The Final Verdict
Connor McDavid is extremely close to taking over the NHL. He is a transcendent talent, and this time next year he could easily be the unanimous choice for the best player in the world. However, as of “right now,” Sidney Crosby is still the undisputed king of the NHL.
The skill level on offense, the grit and determination on defense, and the ability to make an entire team better – nobody combines these aspects quite like number 87.
Featured Image source: espn.com