Hey, NHL fans, Sidney Crosby ain’t no Wayne Gretzky

These days, it’s fun for you youthful hockey fans to believe Sidney Crosby is the greatest player in NHL history – mere games from becoming the on-ice equal of Number 99.

Sidney Crosby

With two goals v. Toronto on Wednesday, Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to 17 games, and reached 50 points on the season

You will excuse me for a moment, won’t you, while I lose my lunch. The only way “Crosby” and “Gretzky” should be used in the same sentence is if you follow “Crosby” with “is not even close to both the skill and leadership level of.” We’re not going to dissect the stats to death (because Gretzky wins that battle hands-down against, well, everyone). It’s about the players and how they work on the ice.

Sidney Crosby (in 2005) entered the NHL with far more fanfare than Wayne Gretzky did (in 1979). Gretzky had many, many skeptics when he entered the pro game with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association. Crosby had no skeptics at all. He was the consensus number one pick when the Pittsburgh Penguins got s**t lucky and won the post-lockout lottery. The Oilers got s**t lucky when they got to keep Gretzky as they entered the NHL.

Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky hoisted four Cups in Edmonton and forced the opposition to structure entire game plans around him

Sidney Crosby had a far brighter rookie spotlight on him than Gretzky did (I know, Gretzky was never a true NHL rookie). Crosby dominates shifts. Wayne Gretzky dominated games. Sidney Crosby is noticeable a handful of times per period. Wayne Gretzky was noticeable every single time he stepped on the ice. And the reason for that is very simple.

Gretzky was so extraordinary as a player, teams’ entire on-ice strategies changed and evolved when Wayne came over the boards. No opponent ever figured out a way to shut Wayne down. The closest any team ever came was when the Boston Bruins used to employ Steve Kasper as a Gretzky shadow. Teams don’t shadow Sidney Crosby. They don’t need to. He cannot control the play like Wayne Gretzky did. Not even close.

I probably watched Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers play about 600 games in person. When our production crew televised Oilers’ games in the 1980s, we were sometimes entrusted with choosing the game’s Molson Cup Three Stars. More times than I can count we excluded Gretzky because he only had three points. We figured that wasn’t up to his usual standard. The only player we compared Gretzky to…was Gretzky! Don’t tell me Crosby wouldn’t be chosen as a star if he only had two goals and an assist. Crosby’s great…but he ain’t no Gretzky.

A couple caveats. The netminders of Wayne’s era were infinitely inferior to today’s goalies. They were inferior athetically. They were inferior technically. Their equipment was substantially smaller. I firmly believe that, if he played today, Wayne would not score as much because the players are bigger and there would simply be less ice available on which to work his magic. Crosby is much stronger physically than Wayne ever was. Wayne didn’t need to be. For Wayne, it was all about outworking and outthinking the opposition. Gretzky worked harder in practice than most guys today work in games.

Sidney Crosby

When Sidney Crosby stops complaining to the officials, like Gretzky did, he'll ascend to another level

Crosby makes his linemates better. Gretzky made his linemates Hall-of-Famers (ref. Jari Kurri). There’s a similarity between Wayne and Sidney. In the early stages of their careers, they both whined and complained to the referees. In Calgary, Flames’ fans chanted “Whiner, Whiner” whenever Wayne started yapping. Unimpressive…so Gretzky stopped doing it, and he became a winner.

Crosby’s next step is to simply play his a** off every shift, and stop the bitch and moan. Crosby may win many more Stanley Cups. He may end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But he’s never, ever going to be the player Wayne Gretzky was.

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5 Responses to “Hey, NHL fans, Sidney Crosby ain’t no Wayne Gretzky”

  1. David says:

    A couple of things, Bigmouth. First of all, you are a confessed Oilers apologist and one of their greatest fans, so objectivity–not so much. Secondly, it’s tough to compare eras–Gretzky played in one of the most offensive times ever and was perhaps the most gifted offensive player ever. You note and you are quite correct that Gretzky would not be as proficient today. As Mike Rogers who played at that time noted on a recent Flames broadcast there was also the “no hit Gretzky” rule that was a reality. Crosby, first of all, is much more skilled defensively than Gretzky was, and much more physical which may make him one of the greatest all-round players the game has ever seen. As for the ‘Gretzky made his linemates Hall of Famers’ line excuse me while I lose my lunch. Chris Kunitz vs Jari Kurri. Gee, I wonder if those skill sets are equal at all. Bottom line, it’s silly to compare the game then vs now. They are very different games. Would Crosby have been great then? Probably. Would Gretzky be great now? Probably. Bigmouth, it’s OK to revere one of your all time sports heroes without denigrating another. The truth is I loved watching Gretzky play because the magic could happen at any moment. I love watching Crosby for the same reason.

  2. Big Mouth says:

    Oh, I would never, ever want to denigrate Sidney. He is absolutely the most athletically and mentally gifted player in the game today. If I am starting a team, he is my first player chosen.

    I stand by several of my statements. Blair MacDonald scored 47 times on 18-year old Gretzky’s right side. Two years later, B.J. was out of the game. Mike Krushelnyski scored over 40 goals playing with Wayne. He always looked like he was skating in oatmeal. Those two guys are, in a word, stiffs. Wayne could make anybody great. He just made Kurri greater.

    More guys tried to hit Gretzky than I can count. The “No hit Gretzky” rule is a figment of your breathing too much fresh, Alberta mountain air. Bill McCreary levelled him on the blueline in his first year. Gary Suter plowed him so hard in the Canada Cup that Gretzky missed the championship game. In his second game with the St. Louis Blues, Oilers’ forward Kelly Buchberger hit Gretz so hard it bloodied his nose and he left the game. Anyone could hit Wayne. They weren’t ABLE to hit Wayne. Very different things. Hey, that makes my point even stronger. He was so great, no one could hit him!

    And, if I skated like Mike Rogers did, I wouldn’t have had any chance of hitting The Great One either.

    Gretzky at age 23 or Crosby at age 23. I’ll take Number 99 every single time.

  3. Blosby says:

    I think you need to realize that the younger generation of hockey fans only know Gretzky by name. Few have had the chance to see him play live, all most younger fans these days know is that he, arguably is the best hockey player of all time.
    Because Crosby is the best player in the NHL right now, I think people automatically make the comparison to Gretzky, simply because they have never seen the great one play.
    I think you’re undermining Crosby’s talent. He really is an excellent hockey player and he brings a lot of attention to the league and his team. People need to stop comparing him to Wayne (including you!), because he isn’t Wayne and never will be. Sidney will only be Sidney, and Sidney is AN EXCELLENT HOCKEY PLAYER.
    Is Gretzky the greatest player of all time? Who knows. Crosby may very well take that title from him. I think he just needs a little more time to get into the game.
    Also: I think people make a big deal over Crosby because he actually HAS talent. Companies and people know they can make a big deal over him because he SHOULD be made a big deal over. Crosby is a player that brands and franchises can be based around. He is a true commodity because he will be in the league for a long time.

  4. David says:

    One final word and then, honest, I’ll let it go. I can’t dispute that Gretzky made the guys around him better, much better, Blair MacDonald and Mike Krush among them. They were, as you point out, stiffs. However, that was an era when a lot of stiffs scored a lot of goals, sometimes only for a season or two. Can you say Gary Leeman?
    And on that subject what is Big mouth’s worst trade of all time…OK I know the answer–how about your second worst?

  5. Big Mouth says:

    Well, before I answer, I have to qualify two things. First, I always try to remember that in every “worst” trade, their is a “best” trade on the other end. It’s like sudden death. It’s also sudden life, right?

    Second, I only ever look at trades that lead to a Stanley Cup (or more). Thus, the Doug-Gilmour-to-Toronto deal doesn’t qualify because all he did in Toronto was lead them to two Conference Final series and gain a reputation as the most-overrated Leafs’ player of all time.

    That said, I think the biggest trade fleece-job in NHL history would be when Montreal GM Sam Pollock traded first round picks (and players) with Charlie O. Finley’s California Golden Seals in order to secure the right to draft first in 1971 and choose Guy Lafleur. Frankly, it may have been the most brilliant hockey move ever.

    Second on my list would probably be the deal that sent Phil Esposito from the Black Hawks to the Bruins. Resulted in two Cups for Bruins.

    Vancouver trading away Cam Neely was bad, although it only led to two Bruins’ appearances in the Final. And the Oilers dealing away Mark Messier to the Rangers looks bad in hindsight…but, frankly, Mark looked finished at that point in Edmonton so, at the time, I think that deal made sense. Any time you can get much younger player for older guys it’s probably a deal worth looking at.

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