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Sports

The Hockey World is Not The Same


Chris Granicolo, Howl Staff

NHL Lacking Star-Power Without Crosby and Ovechkin Rivalry

It seems like ages ago when Sidney Crosby engrained himself forever in the hearts and minds of Canadians with his climatic Golden Goal against the Americans in the final of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

With Crosby on the mend with a severe neck injury and recurring concussion symptoms, having played only one month of hockey in 2011, the absence of Canada’s golden boy in today’s NHL is a marketing nightmare for the league.

Coincidentally, Crosby’s long-time rival Alex Ovechkin has seen his career take a massive dip after his lacklustre performance at the 2010 Olympics. Adhering to the defensive first system laid forth by then-coach Bruce Boudreau (who has since been fired), Ovechkin put up a very pedestrian 32-goal, 85-point campaign in 2010/2011. Over a point-per-game is an outstanding season for any player, but to his standards, this was seen as a weak season, as “Ovie” has averaged at least 50 goals and over 100 points in his 5 seasons prior to last year.

Pundits have criticized Ovechkin’s lack of intensity and leadership ability since the Olympics. As the top-ranked Eastern Conference team during last spring’s playoffs, the Capitals were overwhelming favourites to win the east, but were embarrassingly swept in the second round by the surprising Tampa Bay Lightning.

When Crosby was healthy and producing, and Ovechkin lighting up goalies league-wide on a regular basis, the NHL had a PR dream on its hands. Marketing the two faces of the game, both of whom broke into the league in the same year and have been neck and neck in the scoring race almost every season, was a huge draw for young and old fans alike.

Granted, there are elite level players currently in the league that are arguably as talented as either Ovechkin or Crosby, but the NHL is without question missing its special ingredient with Crosby on the shelf and Ovechkin having an even worse statistical season than last year.

The media played brilliantly the rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin. Crosby was depicted as the humble leader, bringing his team to the Stanley Cup Final two years in a row and defeating the Red Wings in 2009. Ovechkin, toothless grin and all, spitting out wisecracks in broken English and playing with such intensity, was depicted as the most exciting player to watch.

Fan debates over whether Crosby or Ovechkin was the best player in the game would be a recurring topic of conversation in hockey circles and in the media. This writer, along with the majority of Canadians who preferred Ovechkin, sided over to Crosby after his Golden Goal.

Ovechkin has also been criticized for not attending this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game. Granted, he was suspended for three games prior to the event, and he felt he had no place being in the game. However, he still was allowed to play in the event, and he chose not to. The executives of the NHL are surely banging their heads against the wall when the game’s most marketable player (since Crosby has been out) is sitting out during their most important event of the season. The All Star game is crucial for sponsorship and the NHL needs a player of Ovechkins ilk at this weekend’s game.

The emergence of Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, the continuing dominance of Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk, and Evgeni Malkin, along with the ever-improving Jonathan Toews, leaves the NHL with no shortage of elite level talent to market their game to fans of all demographics. However, with Crosby out indefinitely once again, and Ovechkin’s reputation tumbling as each day goes on, the NHL is hoping for a PR miracle.

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