It’s one of the worst nicknames in all of sports. “The Great One.”
Sure, it says all that it needs to in just three simple words but it leaves nothing to the imagination and no room for debate.
Let’s get this straight: Wayne Gretzky is one of the greatest hockey players of all time. His statistics look more like raffle ticket numbers and his four Stanley Cup championships make him a remarkable winner as well.
But why are hockey experts and fans so set in their ways that Gretzky is the end-all/be-all—The…Great …One?
By comparison NBA pundits never labeled Michael Jordan “The Best One,” he’s just regarded by many as being the ultimate basketball player. Every high-flying and talented scorer the league has seen since Jordan’s 1998 retirement has had to deal with comparisons to “his airness.”
LeBron James? The stats are there and he has all the talent but so far zero titles put him miles away.
Kobe Bryant? Statistics across the board aren’t as close as many think, but 4 titles to Jordan’s 6 have started to make this interesting. Kobe is more like a great MJ tribute band than anything else.
Similar comparisons never get fired in Gretzky’s direction. It’s as though he’s secretly the leader of the Canadian mob and ready to put a hit out on anyone speaking such blasphemy. Editor’s note: I’d better watch my back if this is true.
The entire NHL is different than when Gretzky broke in as a teenager three decades ago—nobody is going to score 92 or 87 goals in a season. Heck, we may never see a player fire 70 pucks to the back of the net again.
For the most part, Gretzky’s numbers are safe and since nobody can hop into “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean and see the future only an intense imagination would lead someone to project such outrageous numbers be eclipsed.
Conventional wisdom makes you believe that Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby could give Gretzky a run for his money. At age 22, Crosby already has one championship and over 400 career points. If he plays nearly 1,500 games like Gretzky, then their numbers (at least in assists and total points) will be close.
Crosby isn’t great at any one element; he’s just great overall which makes him a nightmare to defend every time he’s on the ice. He’s not the fastest skater—though he is fast. He doesn’t have the greatest stick-handling ability—though he’s good with the puck. Crosby has a unique combination of skills that set him apart from everyone else. Great vision, soft hands, smooth skating and a wide body—when you combine it all it’s easy to see why he’s so special.
Yet it’s not Crosby that really poses a significant threat to the one who is so great, it’s actually Crosby’s nemesis in Washington. Yes, Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin needs to start being discussed, if not in the same sentence as Gretzky, at least in the same paragraph.
Ovechkin still hasn’t won the Stanley Cup, so this projection is slightly premature. He also doesn’t care about being the set-up artist, thus accumulating nearly 2,000 career assists is out of the question. However, barring injury Ovechkin will make a serious run at Gretzky’s career goals mark of 894 in 1,487 games (.60 per game).
The new “Russian Rocket”—sorry Pavel Bure—has played just four full seasons with his worst scoring output of 46 goals in 2006-07. In his other three seasons, Ovechkin’s tallied 52, 65 and 56 goals. Through 7 games at time of publish, he has 7 goals already this season. In 331 games that’s a ridiculous total of 226 goals or .68 per contest.
Ovechkin also brings the “WOW” factor like no player since Gretzky. He’s become a fan favorite on Youtube and his highlights are a must-watch regardless of how deep into SportsCenter they might be buried.
The scary thing about Ovechkin is he’s still developing and has plenty of young snipers around him just like Gretzky did as a youngster with the Edmonton Oilers. Ovechkin counters Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey with Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Teams can’t afford to simply focus all their attention on Ovechkin and his numbers aren’t in line for a drop anytime soon.
Most importantly, Ovechkin looks to score each and every time the puck touches his stick. If hockey is considered too boring by the masses, Ovechkin didn’t get the memo. He plays each shift as though it’s his last and with that kind of mentality and intensity there’s no doubt the goals will continue to come in bunches.
“The Great One” started becoming ordinary at age 34, who knows what Ovechkin’s career curve will look like. It would be wrong not to at least consider the fact that the greatest player is currently in uniform and flying down the ice in the nation’s capital. All Ovechkin has to do is quickly join Crosby by winning a Cup and the discussion can truly begin.
Ovechkin even has the nickname to rival Gretzky’s. “Alex the Great” has a nice ring to it.