NHL on NBC: Crosby and Ovechkin – in the present, and future

NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Boiling down the Penguins – Capitals rivalry to Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin has always been a little unfair.

It’s always been a bit unfair to Crosby and Ovechkin. Most importantly, the Crosby – Ovechkin fixation dims the spotlight on other brilliant Capitals and Penguins, particularly Evgeni Malkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Part of what makes Penguins – Capitals so fun is that both teams boast more than just those two superstars.

That said, there’s a reason that the two dominate headlines, including for this post.

Crosby and Ovechkin have justified the hype

For all the eye-rolling about how much attention they receive, Crosby and Ovechkin have justified the hype during their 16 seasons in the NHL. Consider their dominance:

  • Since Ovechkin and Crosby entered the league, they’ve scored more points than any other players. Ovechkin tops them all with 1,290; Crosby’s second with 1,273. Considering Crosby’s 1.28 points-per-game, it’s fair to wonder where he’d be if Crosby (996 games played) could match Ovechkin’s incredible durability (1,160 GP).
  • Of course, Ovechkin tops all goal-scorers during that span with a ridiculous 711. Considering Crosby’s preference toward playmaking, some might be surprised that his 466 goals rank second since 2005-06.
  • Both Crosby and Ovechkin have been fixtures when the games matter the most, too. Each sit comfortably over 100 playoff points for their careers (Crosby: 189 playoff points; Ovechkin: 131). Crosby’s won three Stanley Cups, while Ovechkin and the Capitals nabbed that memorable one.

Those bullet points drive home what should be obvious: these two earned their attention. As you can see from these via NBC’s research team, Crosby and Ovechkin don’t let the spotlight of head-to-head matchups bother them, either.

Crosby Ovechkin head-to-head statsvia NBC Sports

Us hockey and sports fans are greedy, though. Even with Ovechkin at age 35 and Crosby at 33, we want more. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we can expect from these two in the near future, and ponder what else might be ahead as their careers wind down.

A look at how Crosby and Ovechkin are performing this season

Heading into Sunday’s game, there’s no denying that Crosby’s Penguins are in a less stable situation that Ovechkin’s Capitals.

After Ron Hextall and Brian Burke surprisingly replaced Jim Rutherford as top Penguins executives, it’s fair to wonder about the team’s future. Whether you look at Hextall’s potential impact or the waves Burke could make, the team around number 87 could change. Maybe even drastically.

[COVERAGE OF PENGUINS – CAPITALS BEGINS AT 3 P.M. ET – NBC]

Yet, as the Penguins struggle around him, Crosby’s been great, as usual. Actually, if anything, he stabilized his game. According to underlying stats like RAPM at Evolving Hockey, Crosby’s defensive impact sagged a bit in 2019-20.

Crosby RAPM 2019-20via Evolving Hockey

So far this season, Crosby’s back to being the all-around gem he’s become as his game matured.

Crosby RAPM 2020-21via Evolving Hockey

With 10 points in 12 games, the simpler stats argue the same points that the fancier ones imply. For all of the ups and downs of the Penguins (6-5-1 for 12 points in 13 games), Crosby keeps giving them a chance to win.

[2020-21 NHL on NBC TV SCHEDULE]

Through his time with the Capitals, Ovechkin’s experienced more turmoil behind the bench than in the front office (just two GMs during Ovechkin’s career, and just two Capitals GMs since 1997).

Early on in the Peter Laviolette era, the Capitals are mixed bag. They survived COVID disruptions for Ovechkin and others, thus maintaining a hot start. Even so, they’ve dropped three straight games to slip to 6-3-3, just two points ahead of the Penguins (15 to 13) with both teams at 12 games played.

Like Crosby, Ovechkin’s delivered more or less what people expect. Sure, Ovechkin’s not going to land on many Selke ballots, but he’s off to a hot offensive start with five goals and 12 points in eight games.

He even turned back the clock with these vintage moves in setting up Tom Wilson:

So, don’t be surprised if we see some magic from both Crosby and Ovechkin on Sunday. Clearly, the two can still conjure it.

But for how long, and with both as Stanley Cup champions, what goals lie ahead?

Milestones, and key decisions

One way or another, we’re going to find out the direction of the Penguins soon enough.

Really, though, both Crosby and Ovechkin face situations to watch, whether key decisions are in their hands or not.

For Ovechkin, a big decision hinges on what he wants. After this season, Ovechkin’s $9.538 million cap hit expires, ending a whopping 13-year pact. What kind of money and term might Ovechkin want next? The Capitals kept much of the band together with extensions to the likes of Backstrom and John Carlson, so might that be enough to make that process smooth?

Beyond team and monetary goals, Ovechkin continues to eye Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals. Here’s where he currently stands:

• Gretzky: 894 goals
• Gordie Howe: 801
• Jaromir Jagr: 766
• Brett Hull: 741
• Marcel Dionne: 731
• Phil Esposito: 717
• Alex Ovechkin: 711

(Crosby’s at 56th with his 466, two behind Pat LaFontaine’s 468.)

On the other hand, Crosby’s own contract situation is set. He’ll carry his trademark $8.7M cap hit through the 2024-25 season.

But supporting cast questions abound. Evgeni Malkin’s $9.5M cap hit expires after 2021-22. Kris Letang also only has two more years on his $7.25M, and his name pops up in plenty of trade rumors these days.

What kind of stomach might Crosby and others have for a possible rebuild?

That question bubbled up in a big way amid these recent changes, and they’re not going away.

Luckily for hockey fans, Crosby and Ovechkin haven’t shown many signs of going away yet, either.

NBC Sports will premiere Doc Emrick – The Voice of Hockey, Presented by Discover – detailing the illustrious career of U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member and eight-time Sports Emmy Award winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick – on Sunday, February 21 at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, leading into coverage of the NHL outdoor game at Lake Tahoe featuring the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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