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Puck Daddy

Sidney Crosby vs. who? Debating the NHL’s greatest current player rivalry

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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It’s rather indisputable that the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry is dormant.

I won’t go as far as “dead” because there’s still a chance Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals go through Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins en route to a Stanley Cup, which would be the defibrillator to recharge the narrative. But that would mean the Capitals advancing past the second round, so …

There are no more tale-of-the-tape comparisons between the two on NHL.com the day of the game. There are no massive feature stories on the rivalry in the national media. Sidney has the gold medal, the Stanley Cup ring and an ever-increasing maturity and repertoire; Ovi hasn’t won anything of consequence on a team basis and has arrested development as a player, to the point of decline.

So if Ovechkin isn’t Crosby’s greatest rival, who is?

(Please note: It’s not hyperbole or hubris to say that Sidney Crosby is cemented on one side of the “NHL’s biggest player rivalry” equation. He’s considered the best player in the world – despite what Peter Laviolette thinks – and therefore all others are measured against his talent and achievement. The Crosby bashers don’t want to hear that noise, but it’s true.)

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Crosby vs. Claude Giroux

The majority opinion, at this point, is that the stars of the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers rivalry – itself the best one in hockey at the moment – are engaged in the best player vs. player rivalry in the NHL.

The rivalry predated the circus that was their playoff series last postseason, but that’s where it really picked up momentum – thanks, in part, to the momentum Giroux had when he knocked Crosby on his rump with a Game 6.

Then Laviolette played the Paul Heyman to Giroux’s CM Punk, declaring his star “the best in the world.”

Crosby escalated things by injuring Giroux’s wrist, for which he apologized. (Cough, Cough). When the teams met for the first time this season, it was as much the Crosby vs. Giroux show as a rematch of bitter cross-state rivals.

Obviously, Crosby has the advantage across the board in points, awards, trophies and prestige. Giroux is challenging for the throne, which makes for a compelling rivalry – intensified by the hate between the teams.

But what about a player that can almost match Sidney in hardware?

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Crosby vs. Jonathan Toews

Adam Proteau of The Hockey News offered this as the NHL’s best rivalry, and it took a second for it to register. How could two players that have played each other exactly twice in the NHL be considered rivals?

By accomplishments as young players, Proteau argues.

At 25, Crosby has world junior gold, Olympic gold, a Stanley Cup ring, an Art Ross, a Hart and, of course, the Mark Messier Leadership Award (twice), the most prestigious of all trophies.

At 24, Toews has world junior gold, world championship gold, Olympic gold, a Stanley Cup ring and a Conn Smythe. (He should also have had a Selke at some point, but hey, politics.)

The rivalry here is in the trophy case. Toews may never put up the points Crosby can and will, but it’s not hard to imagine him earning a Hart Trophy down the line. Their legacy as “rivals” will come down to who captained the more successful teams. So far, Crosby has the edge; but Toews’s squad is little rather good in the early going this season.

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Crosby vs. Steven Stamkos

Stamkos has world junior gold and will have to wait until Sochi to make his Olympic mark. He’s won the Richard Trophy twice, but doesn’t have another individual award.

What the 22-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning forward does have: a chance to challenge Crosby’s goal totals on a career level. To be a player that might not have Crosby’s intangibles, but has a stranglehold on the scoring titles Crosby would otherwise be winning. In other words, to be what Ovechkin used to be.

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Crosby vs. Evgeni Malkin

And here’s perhaps the greatest individual rivalry in the NHL.

A rivalry that has, at times, created a civil war within the team’s own fan base. It’s a king of the hill rivalry that’s gone on for years, and will continue to simmer.

Malkin has a world championship and a Cup ring. He’s got the Calder and the Hart and two Art Rosses, along with a Conn Smythe. At his best, he’s unstoppable, a physical force that Crosby isn’t.

He’s also playing with the knowledge that he’s on Sidney Crosby’s team, and not vice versa. Which makes for two elite players not only competing against the NHL but against each other. Which makes the Penguins that much scarier.

But for all the hype about Giroux and others, Team Crosby vs. Team Geno may still be the NHL's top rivalry, friendly as it is.

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