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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    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

    TORTS REFORM

    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

    PLAYOFF ROTATION

    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

    LAMBERT ISLAND

    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

    MORE NEW VOICES

    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.