At the dawn of the 2006-07 season, we posed the question to NHL GMs: if you were starting a team from scratch, who would you take? Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby or Dion Phaneuf.
Twelve managers gave definitive responses, with six opting for Ovie, five for ‘The Kid’ and one for Phaneuf.
Conduct that same poll today, 27 months later, and we’d surmise the gap would be much wider in favor of the gap-toothed Russian.
Certainly, he has usurped Crosby as the NHL’s leading man; all-star weekend told the tale. Ovie was showered with love from the Bell Centre spectators, getting roars of approval and laughter during the skills competition and significant support during the game itself.
He further endeared himself to fans by being “human” when he was busted on the JumboTron for admiring two female fans. Was he embarrassed? Heck, no. He was being heterosexual.
He dropped by The Hockey News Radio Show last Friday in Montreal and, when he was handed a copy of an edition on which he graced the cover, he grinned widely and seemed genuinely impressed and excited. He thought the treatment we gave the layout inside was cool. A couple days later, we spotted him in a Montreal nightclub, “working” the DJ booth.
In short, his charisma still matches his considerable talent. He’s open and honest and vulnerable and fun-loving. And he’s in line for the Rocket Richard Trophy and quite possibly his second consecutive Hart.
Crosby, by contrast, remains typically Canadian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. His public persona is guarded, his interview answers measured. He is polite and gracious with the media in the face of gargantuan demands on his time and almost always remains within his comfort zone.
To his credit, he appeared at the All-Star Game despite being injured and the crowd gave him a genteel, pleasant response when he was introduced.
Really, though, this should have been his show. It’s no secret Crosby idolized the Habs as a kid and hoped to play for them one day. Two years ago, his appearance would have brought the house down.
On the ice, Crosby remains an elite player, capable of wizardry and special moments. But it feels as though he has hit a plateau, particularly in terms of goal-scoring, and has ground to make up to catch Ovechkin’s rising star.
I wouldn’t rule it out. This could turn out to be a compelling Larry Bird/Magic Johnson type rivalry for years to come. Crosby undoubtedly has the ability to lead his team to repeated championships.
It’s doubtful he’ll ever match Ovechkin when it comes to charisma and playing to the crowd. That’s not Sid and that’s fine. But NHL marketers should take note if they haven’t already. Ovie is ‘The Guy’ and they should leverage his appeal and goodwill for all it’s worth.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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