NHL is McDavid's league now but Crosby's winning resume stands above

Gene Principe sits down with Connor McDavid to discuss matching up against fellow superstar Sidney Crosby. The two square-off on Wednesday as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Edmonton Oilers.

EDMONTON -- There was a time when it was still a debate: Who is the best hockey player in the world?

When Sidney Crosby’s accomplishments, subtle proficiencies and regal legacy were not yet overwhelmed by Connor McDavid's sheer numbers and feats of brilliance.

But over the past three seasons, where McDavid has outscored Crosby 81 goals to 42 while producing points at the same ratio (238-116), it’s a question the hockey world has, out of deference to Crosby, allowed to fall silent.

Today, the fair question would be this: If you could have one player for one game, who would it be?

It’s not a question you would ask these men, though they are comfortable in describing each other’s brilliance.

“Sid, he’s probably a little stronger than I am. A little more powerful,” McDavid said this week in an interview with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe. “He creates a lot of plays from below the goal line. He’s so strong on the puck, where I might (create) a little more off the rush.”

“When someone is playing at the level he’s at,” countered Crosby in a media session on Tuesday, the day before the Oilers and Penguins meet in the House that McDavid built, “it’s hard to think that they can again find another level. I think he’s done that -- that’s the most impressive part of it.”

One is Tim Hortons. The other, Rogers Communications.

One is 87, the other 97.

Both are first-name Canadians. Sid and Connor -- surnames not required.

One has scored The Golden Goal, won two Olympic golds and three Stanley Cups. The other, well, he has ground to make up after the NHL skipped the last Winter Games and his own team has stumbled through the rebuild process.

But at just 24, McDavid has skated away with the torch in the here and now of the National Hockey League schedule, as the 34-year-old Crosby plays less games per season, Father Time closing in like another of these lightning-fast kids he faces every night.

Crosby has only played 10 games this season and has seven points. McDavid has played 20 and has 36.

McDavid tears through the league today the way Sid did back in 2008 and 2009, that unstoppable force of nature that yelled “Iggy!” that afternoon in Vancouver, scoring the goal that McDavid can’t wait to one day have a chance to duplicate.

“We had a game in the morning and went back to a teammate’s house,” McDavid recalls of that day, Feb. 28, 2010, when he was only 13 years old. “There were a lot of people there, and (I remember) feeling the tension before, and the joy when Sid scored was big. I think every Canadian will remember where they were in that moment.”

They have become symbiotic, these two, as Mario Lemieux did with Wayne Gretzky.

“He’s 10 years older than I am, so I would have been seven, eight years old when he was going through the whole draft process,” McDavid said. “Seeing him go No. 1, play his rookie year… I was a young kid, and I wanted to be the first overall pick and do all the things he was doing. Now he’s got Cups, gold medals -- everything you’d want to do a player.”

Of course, McDavid wants those things as well. He needs them, the team-based accoutrements to go with the raft of individual awards that dot McDavid’s past and future.

Who knows what opportunity this Edmonton team will afford its captain come spring, whether they are ready to take McDavid to those games where Sid staked a claim to hockey greatness. But before any of that happens, Beijing calls. It will be McDavid’s first best on best international tournament since the 2015 World Juniors.

“Every Canadian kid, they want to play in the NHL and right behind that is the Olympics, and representing your country,” he said. “To represent my country and play with those great other Canadian players, it’s gonna be good.”

Crosby played on that Canadian World Junior team in North Dakota during an NHL lockout that most would agree was the best roster ever to compete in a U-20 World Championship. Then he played in two Olympics and a World Cup, all bricks in the wall that is the Crosby legend.

“You learn a lot. You’re with a lot of great players — a lot of guys who have had success and found it different ways. Different personalities,” Crosby said. “It’s exciting to be surrounded by guys who are that good. It brings out the best in everybody.

“The combination of that, and just embracing the whole experience of playing for your country… Doing what you love to do, but not only as a hockey team but as a Team Canada. That’s what’s so unique.”

McDavid is still the junior partner here, have no doubt. We suspect he will wear an ‘A’ in Beijing, while Hockey Canada sews the ‘C’ on Crosby’s jersey for one last memorable tournament.

But in the short term, Wednesday night brings us another special evening, TNT’s rare appearance in Edmonton a sign of what this meeting means to the hockey world.

His last time in Edmonton, Sid danced out of the corner and won the game in overtime. It was brilliant, and he had the last laugh on a night where McDavid also had a goal and an assist.

Edmonton has won just two of 10 meetings with the Penguins since McDavid arrived in 2015, and the memories are mostly self-deprecating for the young grasshopper. Like the first game they ever played against each other.

“I remember being ready for that opening draw, all excited,” McDavid smiled. “He snapped it back, yeah. I didn’t even have a chance. Kind of funny looking back.”

He won’t be looking back at Sidney Crosby for long, will Connor McDavid.

Maybe for a night, here or there, maybe. But big picture, this is McDavid’s league now.

He just needs a few more important at-bats to settle any final arguments.

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