Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Golf has Rory and Tiger. The NBA has LeBron and Durant. Even football has Brady versus Peyton.
For years, Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby and Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin constituted the NHL's best one-on-one rivalry. But now with the Capitals struggling to stay afloat in the Southeast Division (3-8-1 to start the season) and Ovechkin underachieving (four goals, four assists in 12 games) the rivalry has lost a bit of its luster.
But don't worry, hockey fans. Steven Stamkos is here to fix that.
Stamkos and Crosby are neck-and-neck in the points race (both have produced 17 points this season) and two of the league's leading MVP candidates as the NHL reaches its quarter season mark.
So which one would you rather have on your fantasy team?
Of course, there's still more than 30 games left in the season but at this particular moment in time, Stamkos has slightly outperformed Crosby. If you expand their current totals over a full 48-game schedule, Stamkos is on pace for 30.5 goals and 43.6 assists (74.2 points) while Crosby is a tier below Stamkos at 18.5 goals and 44.3 assists (62.8 points).
Those numbers probably look a bit odd to the casual hockey observer. Indeed, 74 points (as Stamkos is projected for this season) would have tied for just 18th in the NHL in 2011-12. So to make things easier, I stretched Stamkos' and Crosby's 2012-13 numbers out to mimic a full 82-game workload. Here are the results:
Stamkos: 52.2 goals, 74.5 assists, 126.7 points
Crosby: 31.5 goals, 75.7 assists, 107.2 points
The 126.7 points for Stamkos would represent the highest point total by a player since Jaromir Jagr racked up 127 points for Pittsburgh during the 1998-99 campaign. Though not as flashy as Stamkos' numbers, Crosby's 107 points would represent just the seventh 100-point season in the NHL since 2009-10.
Stamkos wins the battle for this season (so far) but when it comes to career accomplishments, the winner isn't as clear-cut.
Through 336 games, Stamkos has found the net 186 times. He has 160 assists and 225 penalty minutes in that same span.
Crosby, who turns 26 this summer (Stamkos celebrated his 23rd birthday last week), sits at 228 career goals and 398 assists, though he's competed in 111 more games than Stamkos has.
That's a lot to process obviously, so let's it break it down one stat at a time. If we're looking only at goals, the edge has to go to Stamkos, who led the league with 60 goals a season ago. He's netted 45 goals or more in each of his last three seasons.
Crosby, on the other hand, has only reached that threshold once in his eight NHL seasons (though he was on pace for a career-high 64 goals before a concussion halted his 2010-11 campaign after just 41 games).
Assists are a different story. Crosby dominates Stamkos in this statistic, averaging .89 assists per game for his career compared to just .48 per game for Stamkos. Crosby, who has a career-high of 84 assists (he set that during the 2006-07 season), has gone over the 60-assist plateau three times in his career. Stamkos has never handed out more than 46 assists in a single season.
Crosby's advantage in assists is much more significant than the edge Stamkos holds over Crosby in the goal department. Crosby's penchant for setting up goals has led to four seasons of 100 or more points. Stamkos' career-high in points is just 97.
What really boosts Crosby's resume in my mind is his incredible plus/minus rating. Since entering the league in 2005-06, Crosby has finished with a positive plus/minus rating six times with his only negative season coming in his rookie year (-1). Those six seasons include a +20 rating in 2010-11 (in only half a season), a +18 season in 2007-08 and a pair of +15 campaigns in 2009-10 and 2011-12. That adds up to a stunning +87 for his career.
Stamkos hasn't done anything close to that in terms of plus/minus. In fact, in 336 career games, he holds a -4 rating. His +7 rating last season was a personal best.
It's no mystery why Crosby has excelled in plus/minus during his eight years in Pittsburgh. His teammates, including 2011-12 Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, have given him a ton of help. The Penguins have been to the postseason every year but once since Crosby arrived in 2005-06. Stamkos' lone postseason appearance came in 2011 when he led the Bolts to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would eventually lose to Boston.
It still amazes me that penalties are actually rewarded in fantasy but since they are, Crosby has been more valuable in that area as well. Stamkos (eight minutes in the box this season) has averaged .67 penalty minutes per game in his five seasons, far below the .91 per game Crosby has averaged. Crosby's 110 minutes in the sin bin in 2005-06 are far more than the 74 penalty minutes Stamkos logged during his most penalized season (2010-11).
All of this would lead you to believe that Crosby is the far superior fantasy asset, at least from a career stand-point. But that ignores the most glaring weakness in Crosby's game, which is his lack of durability. In eight seasons, Sid the Kid has missed 140 out of a possible 587 career games. Recently, concussion issues have limited No. 87 to just 76 appearances in Pittsburgh's last 177 games.
Stamkos' health hasn't been an issue in his five seasons in the league. He's been active for 336 of a possible 339 regular season games during his tenure with the Lightning and hasn't sat out since his rookie season in 2008-09.
Stamkos might be the safer bet because of Crosby's injury history but Crosby's body of work speaks for itself. Both are incredible talents still in the prime of their careers and either one can lead a fantasy squad to the championship.