The Inevitable Decline of Crosby and Ovechkin
It’s been a milestone season for Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. Both reached the iconic 1,000 point plateau, an achievement only 84 others reached before them.
Crosby and Ovechkin will be forever remembered as the top NHL players of this generation, just as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were in the 1980s and 1990s, and Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard were in the 1950s. Both are certain first-ballot Hall of Famers, their legacies secure among hockey’s all-time greats.
Sadly, we’ve also already seen Crosby and Ovechkin at their best.
At first glance, that seems a premature assessment. As of Feb, 18, 2017, Crosby’s jockeying with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid for the points lead and on pace to win his second Richard Trophy as the leading goal scorer. Ovechkin, winner of six Richard Trophies, is only four goals back and capable of overtaking his long-time rival to win it again.
But time and the long grind of many NHL seasons will inevitably catch up with them. Crosby turns 30 in August and Ovechkin 32 in September. They are approaching the period when performance starts to decline. Even the very best, no matter how well-conditions and determined, cannot escape the effects of aging.
In the NHL, a players makes the jump from fresh-faced kid to elder stateman within 10 years. After 11 NHL seasons, that’s where Crosby and Ovechkin now find themselves.
It wasn’t that long ago when an 18-year-old Crosby and a 20-year-old Ovechkin made their NHL debuts. They helped the league quickly overcome the bad aftertaste of a bitter season-killing labor dispute. Thanks to their contributions, plodding defensive-trap hockey was out, replaced by a more exciting mix of speed and all-around skills.
Today, Crosby is recognized as one of hockey’s great all-around players and Ovechkin as one of the scorers. While there is no notable decline in their respective performances this season, the downturn will become apparent in the near future.
At some point within the next five seasons, Crosby’s pinpoint passes will lose some of their accuracy and Ovechkin’s blistering one-timer won’t be as potent. They will become slower, their shifts will get shorter, their playing time will be reduced and they will no longer challenge for scoring titles and most-valuable player awards.
When they string together a few good games, commentators will remind us that they haven’t fully lost the skills that once made them the best of their generation. Should Crosby make a slick passing play or Ovechkin rival home a goal, fans will nudge each other and murmur how they’ve still got it.
Those moments, however, will become less frequent. In the near future, Crosby and Ovechkin will be overtaken by McDavid, Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Toronto’s Auston Matthews. McDavid, in fact, is already establishing himself as the future face of the NHL.
Over the last 11 years, NHL fans were fortunate to see two of hockey’s greats in the prime of their career. Crosby and Ovechkin have given us wonderful moments and memories that made them the standouts of this generation. They’ve been so dominant for so long that it’s easy to take them for granted.
All too soon, however, we’ll be talking about their greatness in the past tense. Their special moments will be relegated to memory, their highlights part of retrospective videos.
Appreciate “Sid the Kid” and “The Great 8” while they’re still at the peak of their powers. It won’t be long before they’re no longer capable of reaching those heights again.