Toews surges ahead of Crosby, for now

Paul Chiasson/CP

Sidney Crosby is out on the charity golf circuit, Jonathan Toews moves on to another Conference final, and the debate rages on: Which player would you build your team around, if you could choose one to be your captain today?

Is it true that Toews has passed Crosby as the best player in the game today?

“I don’t know whether its true or not,” one scout told us on Wednesday. “But right now, I’m taking Toews ahead of Crosby.”

That answer may seem a little “Flavour of the Week,” considering that Crosby led the National Hockey League scoring race from wire to wire this season, was the game’s only 100-point player, and is a sure bet for the Hart Trophy.

It’s also a bit convenient to ask the question on a Wednesday, when on Tuesday Toews’ Chicago Blackhawks moved past Minnesota and on to the Western Conference final, while Crosby went pointless in a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers.

But this isn’t a conversation that began only yesterday.

Back in 2008-09, when Crosby’s Penguins played in back to back Stanley Cups, we all thought the Penguins would be a fixture in the Final Four for years to come. Instead, the Penguins have won just four playoff series since their Cup in ’09, making just one Conference final — where they were swept by Boston last spring. Crosby didn’t get a point in that series.

Toews, meanwhile, has captained his Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups, won them both, and in a few days will take his club into their fourth Conference final in the past six seasons. All of that in the tougher Western Conference, we might add.

“As a leader and as a two-way player, I have to say he could be the best player in the game right now,” an Eastern Conference scout told us. “At his age (26), he’s already won two Cups, two (Olympic) gold medals, you name it. And he’s been a leader on all those teams.”

“You have to start comparing him to the Messier of old time, the way he’s getting things done right now. What Jonathan has done leadership-wise, by winning, brings him maybe above Sid right now in his total, all-around game.”

Let’s do a few rudimentary comparisons:

• Crosby’s career point per game average is 1.40. In the playoffs it’s 1.20. Meanwhile, Toews scores at a 0.91-point per game clip in the regular season and 0.85 in the playoffs.

• Crosby has one Hart Trophy, with another likely another on the way, and will take home his second Art Ross Trophy at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas this June. Toews is the reigning Frank J. Selke winner as the game’s best defensive forward, and is a finalist again this June.

• In Olympic play, Toews has only marginally out-produced Crosby. In 2010 Toews had 1-7-8 to Crosby’s 4-3-7 in seven games, while Toews went 1-3-4 to Crosby’s 1-2-3 in six games at Sochi. Toews had the game-winner in the gold medal game at Sochi, while Crosby potted the memorable OT winner in Vancouver.

But all of that is about yesterday. Today, five scouts polled were asked this question: “You are the GM of an expansion team, and you can choose either Crosby or Toews to build your team around. Who would you choose?”

Four of five chose Toews.

“Crosby is a special player. But he still has to put the work in,” said another scout. “He’s got to do more than one goal in (18) games, going back a couple of years. That kind of money means pressure to produce.”

The one Crosby vote added this: “I would still take 87 all day long. Toews has a better supporting cast.”

As the Rangers came back from a 3-1 series deficit however, Crosby sprinkled just six shots on goal over the final three games of the series — and more importantly not a single point.

Crosby had 1-8-9 in 13 playoff games this spring. In four potential series-clinching games, he had one assist and seven shots on goal combined.

Toews had a horrendous dry spell last spring, with only one goal in the Blackhawks first 20 playoff games. But in the final three games of the Cup final against Boston, Toews took the series over. He had two goals, three assists, and his ‘Hawks teammates slipped into his jet stream to win the final three games of the series.

Try as he did, Crosby was unable to get the same result against the Bruins last spring, or against the Rangers this.

“A lot of it is team,” said another scout. “Letang wasn’t nearly as good a he usually is. With Chicago, you’ve got to watch (Marian) Hossa, you’ve got to watch (Patrick) Sharp, there’s Kane, (Bryan) Bickell plays great in the playoffs…”

“Chicago is a faster team, and more talented from top to bottom,” said another scout. “They’re more balanced, more skilled than Pittsburgh is, through and through.”

The feeling is, teams are able to focus solely on Crosby in Pittsburgh, while the supporting cast in Chicago spreads out the defence more. Pittsburgh has Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal up front, but we would agree that Chicago is a better team. That means Toews may sometimes get less attention than Crosby.

“As the captain of that team, Crosby should have found the way to win games for his team, based on his talent level and who he is for that team in that city,” assessed a Western conference scout. “He is definitely not beyond scrutiny. Whereas Toews, when they need him he seems to find a way to score a goal, set up a goal, or stop a goal.”

“The way he’s playing, it’s hard to say Toews isn’t the better player right now.”

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