Last year: 65-47, 112, +28, 22 PPG, 11 GWG, 220 hits
Career average (per-82 games): 55-49-104, +4, 20 PPG, 8 GWG
Fearless’ Take: If you were going to build a hockey player for the 21st century from the ground up, it would probably be Alex Ovechkin. He is not only the most dynamic talent on ice in the league, he has fast established himself as the most dynamic personality off it, as well. There isn’t much to say about him, his 2007-2008 season, or his potential that hasn’t already been said. He is the first player in half a century to be named the best at his position (first team NHL all star) in his first three years and is the only skater in the history of the league to be so named. His domination of the league’s scoring rankings last year was the stuff of legend. His 65 goals eclipsed second place Ilya Kovalchuk’s total by 13 goals, a full 25 percent margin. It was the first time since the 2000-2001 season that the goal-scoring champion led his nearest competitor in total goals scored and percent margin (Jarome Iginla bested three other players, 52-41, in that year). It was the first time since 1995-1996 that a player scored that many goals to lead the league (Mario Lenieux, 69).
His consistency as a pro has been amazing, and it was on display last year. Only once did he go consecutive games without a point, a three-game stretch from February 15-20. He had only one stretch when he went more than two games without a goal, a seven-game drought from February 15-29. And when it came to take the club and carry it on its final run, from March 1 – April 5 (the last 17 games of the season), he was 17-12-29, +19. No player in the post-lockout era dominated the season or the stretch run as did Ovechkin in 2007-2008. It sets a very high bar to try and raise in 2008-2009.
Cheerless’ Take: OK, let’s look at that February 15 – 29 stretch for a minute, cuz. Seven games, 0-5-5, -4. What happened?...distractions, perhaps? Ovechkin is the closest thing to a rock star the NHL has to offer, and it arguably its most important global marketing commodity (with apologies to the suits in the NHL front offices that are trying so very hard to make Sidney Crosby the face of the NHL). And he did appear in a lot of places and magazine covers this summer. Ovechkin’s summer was also as newsworthy for the latest girlfriend news or appearance on variety shows as it was for anything to do with hockey. Ovechkin might have as single-minded an attitude when it comes to hockey as anyone who plays the sport, but distractions do intervene from time to time. If one is looking for a reason to think he will have a drop off this season (and I’ll admit, cuz, it’s an exercise in picking nits), it is the distractions and demands on his time off the ice that could serve to undermine the season.
The Peerless’ Take: Players who score more than 60 goals don’t win Stanley Cups, not since Wayne Gretzky’s hey-day with the Edmonton Oilers, at least, and those clubs were loaded in ways the Capitals can only, for the moment, dream of. Ovechkin could score 70 goals this year. He could score 50-in-50. He could consign Joe Malone to the dustbin of history with an eight-goal game. All of that is nice, but for the Caps to be successful, they might have to see a little bit of Steve Yzerman in Alex Ovechkin. Yzerman was a scoring whiz on bad Red Wings teams in the 1980’s. When he forsake a bit of his scoring game for a more rounded game, his teams won. We do not want to argue for an Ovechkin becoming a 35-55-80 point player. The Caps won’t win with that player, either. And what we’re looking for is not necessarily Ovechkin suspending his aggressiveness in the offensive zone. We think it is a case of more people getting more opportunities. Instead of Ovechkin having to carry the offense with 422 shots (his career 82-game average), it might be an Alexander Semin, a Nicklas Backstrom, or someone else and taking more advantage of the opportunities presented to them.
Ovechkin is, and will continue to be, the straw that stirs the Capitals’ drink (or he might be the seltzer). He will begin – and in fact already has begun – to dominate the game in other ways. He got a taste of penalty killing this pre-season and showed an ability to use even those situations as an opportunity to put pressure on opposing defenses. That probably isn’t going to be a feature of the regular season, at least as a standard deployment, but it is another weapon in the Capitals’ arsenal. Ovechkin also has the look of someone who is taking it upon himself to exercise more leadership on and off the ice. He leads by performance and example, be it scoring hat tricks, being the first on and last off the ice in practice, or in driving to Philadelphia on a night he wasn’t playing to be with his teammates for a preseason game.
Ovechkin is the hockey player – the athlete, for that matter – that you would order from Central Casting for his performance, his personality, for the buzz he seems to create wherever he goes. You'd have to look long and hard to find someone who has more fun being himself. He might not scale the same goal-scoring heights he did last year, but he – and the Caps – will be better this year.
Projected: 55-51-106, +22