I don't see my brothers as often as I used to, but when we all end up in the same room, as we did yesterday for Christmas, great debates ensue. Yesterday, my brother Ryan declared confidently that if Gretzky were playing in today's NHL, Crosby would be the better player.
I almost choked on my turkey when I heard that. I asked him to clarify the statement, to ensure I wasn't misunderstanding the premise of his argument. Basically, if both Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby were 23 years old today, and you had to draft one of them to play for your team, my brother Ryan would draft Crosby. I think he's nuts.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm a big Crosby fan. Even when it became cool to hate on the kid, I rooted for him. I still root for him, and consider him the best player playing the game today.
But really, Ryan, picking Crosby over Gretzky? Even in today's lower scoring NHL, that's crazy. Until this season, which is still fairly young, the great debate was whether Crosby was the best player in the game today. In fact, Crosby hasn't even dominated the scoring lead on his own team over the past few years. Malkin's beat him a couple of times. Nobody came close to Gretzky.
And that's my point. It's not about Gretzky owning the record books, it's about how much better Gretzky was compared to #2. If you leave aside his first season in the NHL, Gretzky's next four seasons saw him annihilate the league's second best scorer. Check this out...
1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton - 164
2. Marcel Dionne, Los Angeles - 135
1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton - 212
2. Mike Bossy, NY Islanders - 147
1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton - 196
2. Peter Stastny, Quebec - 124
1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton - 205
2. Paul Coffey, Edmonton - 126
Hell, in that 1982-83 season, Gretzky had more assists than anyone else had points. Then again, when all was said and done, Gretzky retired with more assists than anyone else had points. And oh yeah, he's the most prolific goal scorer in NHL history.
But what about my brother's point that the game has changed? I'm not suggesting Gretzky would get 200 points a season in today's NHL, I'm just suggesting he'd dominate and easily win the scoring race. And as much as I love Crosby, he's not doing that today. Over the past 4 seasons, Crosby has only won the scoring race once, by 6 points over Joe Thornton.
But I'll leave this debate by stealing an argument I read on the HFBoards.
Gretzky was better than Jagr. Sure by the mid 90's when Gretzky was getting old and ready to retire, Jagr was the better player by then, but Jagr at his peak never equalled Gretzky at his. I don't think there's many who'd disagree to that. Jagr only played 2 seasons in the NHL overlapping with Ovechkin, yet in both seasons Jagr outscored him. The first by nearly 20 points (123 to 106), the second by only 4 (96 to 92). Still, he outscored him both years. You could argue that Ovechkin was younger - these were, afterall, his first 2 years in the league, but Jagr was getting old. These were his last 2 seasons in the NHL afterall, not the 5 years of him winning Art Ross trophies. I realize this is a small sample size, being only 2 seasons, but if AO couldn't outscore Jagr (and neither Crosby nor AO have managed to equal Jagr's 123 points from 2005 season, let alone his 149 career high), and if Jagr wasn't as good as Gretzky, then how can AO be better than Gretzky?
Got that? I'll simplify it... Crosby hasn't yet had a season like Jagr's 123 points in 2005-06, which was after the lock-out in today's NHL. So even if you manage to argue Crosby is better than Jagr, and that's a better argument IMHO, nobody will ever suggest Jagr was as good as Mario Lemieux. So if Crosby = Jagr, and Jagr < Lemieux... I'll entertain a "if they were both healthy" debate about Lemieux vs. Gretzky, but we know Lemieux didn't stay healthy and that Gretzky had the superior career. So, if Crosby = Jagr, and Jagr < Lemieux, and Lemieux < Gretzky, how can you argue Crosby > Gretzky?
You can't, and the entire debate is silly. But was it ever entertaining!
If you had to choose between Gretzky and Crosby, and both are 23 years old and the year is 2010, who do you pick?