Rivalry in sports is what engages fans and gets them to tune into games night after night. Of course there is the great Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens and the newest rivalry of them all Buffalo Sabres vs. Boston Bruins. Fans tune in to watch their teams battle their hated rivals both on the scoreboard and with the fisticuffs- but it begs the question what is the biggest player rivalry in the NHL today?
It's pretty much a universal known fact that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL and by being the best player all the NHL "greats" of today are measured up to his standard. The Crosby standard virtually hockey perfection is difficult to match and only a truly skilled player can match all the talent that is flowing through Sidney Crosby- so who is Crosby's biggest rival?
It's pretty much a given that the Sidney Crosby- Alex Ovechkin rivalry is dying a slow and painful death and unless the Capitals captain goes through a major career shift will not become a factor again. So who will take the torch from Ovechkin and challenge the face of the NHL?
How about Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos who reached the 60 goal plateau last season a feat not even Crosby has accomplished. Stamkos is becoming the old Ovechkin who dominates the NHL scoring race but has yet to achieve playoff success or lift the Stanley Cup. Stamkos needs a few more NHL seasons under his belt and some playoff success before he can challenge Crosby. You also have to mention captain serious Jonathan Toews the only other captain in this article that has won the Stanley Cup for his team. But Toews and Crosby have only faced off twice in their NHL careers and don't see each other nearly enough to be rivals. Finally you have to bring up new Flyers captain Claude Giroux who made a fool of Crosby during a shift in the playoffs. But Giroux is still fairly young and is yet to hit the prime of his career just being named captain this season. Like Stamkos, Giroux also needs a few more years under his belt before he's on Crosby's level.
So when looking for Sidney Crosby's biggest rival you need to find someone that has the same skill level and plays against/with him regularly- the obvious choice- Sidney Crosby's teammate Evgeni Malkin. What better rivalry could there be than 2 teammates who battle it out to see who the top dog is? The rivalry over who is the better Penguins star has been so intense it's even caused a rift in the Penguins fan base.
Malkin earned a lot of respect around the NHL when he stepped up during Crosby's absence last season and carried the team into the playoffs. Malkin played 75 games and racked up 5o goals and 59 assists giving him the league lead in points with 109 all without his partner in crime Sidney Crosby and his play opened the door for the Crosby- Malkin comparison. There were even arguments made last season that Malkin should have been named captain in Crosby's absence. Last season was finally Malkin's time to shine, after being riddled with injuries during the last couple of seasons the skilled Russian was healthy and ready to deliver proving Crosby isn't the only superstar in Pittsburgh.
But what makes Malkin so dangerous is the fact he is playing with Sidney Crosby not against him and doesn't want to fall into the his shadow forcing him to elevate his game and giving the Penguins arguably 2 of the best elite players in the game. Crosby and Malkin motivate each other to be better and when they're both on their game the Penguins are unstoppable.
With every great rivalry comes the argument over who's better, sure the Penguins don't care who's better as long as both Malkin and Crosby are doing their job they could care less who's better. But it's an argument that fans will never let go and an argument that will likely go on as long as the two are playing. In Malkin's 6 years in the NHL he's won almost all awards- Stanley Cup, Calder, Hart, 2 Art Ross' and a Conn Smythe- but what really separates Malkin from his teammate is his physical play. Malkin likes to throw the body around and run over opponents and at 6 foot 3 is simply a physical force that Crosby can not match. But Crosby holds the slight advantage where it counts- on the scoreboard. In 434 career games (not including this year) Crosby has 609 points which rounds out to roughly 1.40 points per game where as Malkin has 527 points in 427 games rounding out to 1.23 points per game but when the game is on the line stats prove you want Malkin taking that lost shot having scored 34 game winning goals to Crosby's 28.
The stats are close, and slightly altered due to injuries to both players so you can't judge solely based on stats. When looking at who the better player is between Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin it comes down to a matter of personal opinion- Some prefer the hard hitting Russian while others prefer the skill and finesse of Crosby. Both players are fantastic in their own right and make the Penguins one of the best teams in the East but will forever be competing against each other for the NHL's best player.
Next time you're looking for the best player rivalry in the NHL don't forget to look at teammates. So who would you take on your team Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?