Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Miles to Go Before They Sleep

Years ago, when I was a high school kid avidly following my hometown teams in The Washington Post, I grew to dislike the writing of Michael Wilbon. But, as both of us matured and he became more of a national personality, my opinion changed and I often wondered what about him had irritated me so. Then, about 3-1/2 weeks ago, it all came rushing back.

I've been waiting for the right moment to reply to Wilbon's post Olympic comments that Sidney Crosby is "miles ahead" of Alex Ovechkin. With the next pending epic showdown between the two on the horizon in a few short hours, I figured now is as good a time as any. What bothered me about Wilbon back then was that he wrote as if he was the foremost expert about whatever topic he was dissecting - that only his opinion counted and that he was knowledgeable enough about whatever topic he was covering to be considered an expert. However, when it comes to hockey, he's not smarter than a fifth grader.

I can stomach the opinions of beat writers, columnists and radio hosts - even fans - who follow specific teams on a daily basis. Often I don't agree with them - and I have been known to call one or two an idiot on occasion - but at least they usually present enough evidence or have seen enough games or actually watch the sport they are talking about enough to have a somewhat educated opinion. Back in my high school days Wilbon would show up to cover the Caps in April, usually during some sort of complete postseason collapse, and pretend to be a hockey expert. He'd keep referring to all the Blackhawks games he had watched as a kid growing up in Chicago and make some ridiculously bold - and usually incorrect judgment - based on the four or five Caps games he had watched in the previous 10 days or so. Then, it would be another year before he'd write about anything hockey-related.

This year Wilbon decided to jump on the hockey bandwagon when all the non-fans tuned in to see the scintillating U.S. - Canada Olympic matchups, and after the stacked Canadian team - clearly one of the most talented rosters ever assembled - struggled mightily to overcome the youthful, inexperienced Americans for the Gold medal. It was after that game that Wilbon decided that he was once again a hockey expert.

There are two ways to look at the Ovechkin - Crosby rivalry. From a team perspective, clearly Crosby has the advantage with two Finals appearances and a Cup to his credit, although the argument could be made that until this season he had a better supporting cast. On the other hand, from and individual perspective, there's no argument that Ovechkin has accomplished more - scoring titles, Hart trophies, Calder Trophy, etc.

If you want to say that Crosby is the better player because of the Cup, I can deal with that. I happen to think that Ovechkin plays harder night in and night out and has a bigger overall impact on the game than Crosby, but that's my biased opinion. No matter what, you are going to have those who favor Joe Montana over Dan Marino because of the rings. That's understandable and defendable. The bottom line is, however, that every athlete mentioned in this paragraph is a first-ballot Hall of Fame talent and one of the greatest players their respective sports have ever seen.

The absurdity of Wilbon's opinion is that he made it based on Crosby's having also achieved an Olympic gold medal, while Ovechkin's undermanned, questionably coached Russian team was sent packing in the quarterfinals. What? You are going to say that a player is "miles ahead" of another player because his supremely talented team won a championship in two week, a one-and-done format in a sport that usually takes 2-1/2 months of pressure-packed playoff series to figure out which team is the best?

Seriously Mr. PTI, how do you think Canada would have done if you plugged Ovechkin into that lineup instead of him having to play on a team that has been known to give less that its best effort consistently over the past 20 or so years and that had nine players on its roster who aren't even in the the NHL?

Ovechkin vs. Crosby or Crosby vs. Ovechkin. As hockey fans we are fortunate and should be thankful that we will be treated to many more years of their amazing individual performances and head-to-head battles. It's Bird vs. Magic. LeBron vs. Kobe. Ali vs. Frazier. Whether you love Ovie or cheer for Sid, you tune in just to watch them. Those who say that Ovechkin is the best in the world have plenty of evidence in their favor, as do those who say Crosby is the greatest.

But once again Michael Wilbon, in trying to portray himself as hockey expert at a time when less knowledgeable fans had jumped on the sport's bandwagon, has shown how little he truly knows about the game. Hey Mike, stick to arguing with Kornheiser and leave our sport alone. And by the way, Tony is miles ahead of you as a columnist.

As for the rest of you, enjoy tonight's game!

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