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Make no mistake: Sidney Crosby is no Wayne Gretzky

06.08.13 at 9:43 pm ET
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The next time someone shouts that Sidney Crosby is today’€™s Wayne Gretzky, give a quick reminder that such an argument is a waste of breath.

The 25-year-old Crosby, who just finished his eighth year in the NHL, is an immensely talented hockey player. He forms one half of the ‘€œMega Powers’€ with teammate Evgeni Malkin for good reason, but the alleged modern-day Gretzky falls short in one area: While Crosby may be great, he is far from The Great One.

Crosby did not register one point in the Bruins’€™ four game sweep of the Penguins.

‘€œIf you look back, the chances were there,’€ Crosby said. ‘€œYou try to fight, you try to get through to the net and get rebounds, and sometimes they come to you, sometimes they don’€™t. But obviously, you score two goals as a team in four games and virtually we go without any points. That doesn’€™t sit very well.’€

There are definitely similarities between the two superstars. Both players hail from Canada and entered the league soon after their 18th birthdays. Crosby became the first teenager to lead the NHL in scoring since Gretzky achieved the feat in 1980. Just like Wayne, Sid the Kid has captured the Hart Trophy. Both players have hoisted the Stanley Cup, and there is no denying that both are wonderful ambassadors for the game of hockey. The similarities, at least up to this point in Crosby’€™s career, do not extend much further.

‘€œWhen you’re the best player in the league and you’re the face of the NHL, you are always judged by a tougher standard,’€ said ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose. ‘€œSidney’€™s judged by a very tough standard. If he doesn’€™t go out and get a goal every night, or get two or three assists every night, people say he’€™s in a slump.’€

Slump or no slump, Crosby was unable to create any offense against the Bruins. Unlike Gretzky, The Kid could not find a way to lead his team. The Great One spent a decade of pure dominance in Edmonton, putting such a fork in the Islanders dynasty that it is rarely ever discussed. He won the Stanley Cup on four occasions with the Oilers before resuscitating professional hockey in Los Angeles. As incredible as Gretzky’€™s numbers were in the regular season, his work in the playoffs was simply on another level. Gretzky holds the record for most points in one playoff year with 47 in 1985, which was accomplished in only 19 games (the Bruins, by comparison, have already played 16 games this postseason). He dished out 31 assists during the 1988 playoffs, with 10 of those coming at the expense of the Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals. Gretzky was always judged by an incredibly high standard: the one that he set for himself.

Crosby is also judged by a higher standard, but he came up short this postseason. Crosby’€™s performance likely spells the end for Pens coach Dan Bylsma. Earlier this season, Bylsma became the fastest coach ever to win 200 games. He likely will soon be known as the former coach of the Penguins, joining John Tortorella as the second coach to be dismissed after an embarrassing playoff loss to Claude Julien‘€™s big, bad Bruins.

Overall, Crosby has handled the pressure of being the best player in the NHL very well. He is a great ambassador for the sport. He almost always says the right thing and is someone the league is proud of at the end of the night. The NHL is very lucky that Sidney came around after “Gretz” left to be the face of the league. But as this series reminded us, Crosby’€™s no Gretzky.

‘€œWhen you were around Gretzky, you’€™d see greatness all the time,’€ said Melrose, who coached Gretzky’€™s Kings for three seasons. ‘€œThat’€™s what the greatest players do.’€

Gretzky’€™s greatness was never more apparent than during the 1993 playoffs, culminating in his Game 7 performance against the Maple Leafs with a trip to the Stanley Cup finals on the line. Behind shoddy goaltending from Kelly Hrudey, the Kings struggled mightily throughout that season. Gretzky suffered from a herniated thoracic disk that caused him to miss the first 39 games. The injury seriously threatened his career, and there was an internal belief among the Kings organization that No. 99 was finished at the age of 32. Gretzky, however, found a way to extend his reign as The Great One.

‘€œHe did it in a Game 7, on the road, in one of the toughest buildings to play, in one of the most famous buildings in NHL history in Toronto Maple Leaf Garden,’€ said Melrose. ‘€œTo be able to go into a game like that and score a hat trick, very few guys have the ability to do that. And Gretzky was doing that all the time.’€

Gretzky scored three goals and added an assist for four points in a 5-4 win that brought the Kings their first-ever Stanley Cup finals appearance. When Pittsburgh trailed Boston by three games and needed a Herculean effort from its own star and captain, Sidney Crosby delivered four — yes, four — shots on net. He did not have a shot in the third period.

You don’€™t have to be a former Gretzky teammate to recognize that the man has no peer, but it still doesn’€™t hurt to ask.

‘€œCrosby is definitely a great player, and the NHL needs players of his kind,’€ said former Gretzky teammate Esa Tikkanen. ‘€œBut comparing him to Gretzky or any other player from a different era is really difficult. Every era is so different, and the game has changed so much from Gretzky’€™s years.’€

Tikkanen understands what’€™s at stake for Crosby and the Penguins, and he knows the territory very well. ‘€œBoston is a hockey city. I’ll never forget those Stanley Cup finals against Bruins. Great memories,’€ said Tikkanen, and it’s hard to argue from his point of view, considering he hoisted two Cups at Boston’€™s expense.

‘€œThe style of NHL is a bit different than what it was,’€ said Tikkanen, a five-time Stanley Cup winner. ‘€œThe game is not that physical anymore and players can avoid bad injuries. But for sure, Crosby with his versatility is one of the greats of all time. At his best, an unrivaled player in today’€™s league.’€

Entering the conference finals, Crosby had scored seven goals and dished out eight assists in the first 10 playoff games.  He did not record a point against the Bruins. He ended the first game of the series with a minus-2 and was manhandled by Patrice Bergeron on the faceoff circle, winning only six of the 17 draws. After the Game 1 loss, Crosby stated that the Penguins ‘€œjust need to focus on playing.’€ He described his team’€™s play as ‘€œpretty bad’€ after the second game of the series, and went onto say, ‘€œThere is no easy way to describe it. It was just a bad hockey game.’€ After the Game 3 defeat in double overtime, Crosby remarked, ‘€œThat’€™s the playoffs. That’€™s how it works sometimes.’€ The similarities behind all these quotes share one undeniable fact: Crosby uttered each of them following another Penguins loss.

‘€œIf you look back, the chances [were] there,’€ Crosby said after the Bruins’€™ sweep was complete. ‘€œYou try to fight, you try to get through to the net and get rebounds, and sometimes they come to you, sometimes they don’€™t. But obviously, you score two goals as a team in four games and virtually we go without any points. That doesn’€™t sit very well.’€

Gretzky earned admiration and awe from his teammates, but Crosby has a long way to go before he should ever again be compared to the greatest hockey player who ever lived.

Read More: Barry Melrose, Esa Tikkanen, Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky
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