Sunday, September 27, 2009

2009-2010 Previews -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

Theme: “Well, then, I guess there's only one thing to do… win the whole %$#&in' thing.”

Jake Taylor, the fictional catcher for the Cleveland Indians from the movie "Major League," might have said that as an inspiration to his teammates to get back at an evil club owner, but it’s really all that’s left for Alex Ovechkin to do in the NHL. Calder Trophy?... check. Ross Trophy?... check. Hart Trophy?... check, check. Pearson Award… check, check. Richard Trophy?... check, check.

Ovechkin’s goal scoring achievements are common knowledge among hockey fans. But here is a more complete list of the categories in which he has ranked first in the league in each of the past two years…

Goals created
Goals created-per-game
Goals on-ice for
Even strength goals

However, here is one you don’t hear much about – he was second among wingers last year (10th in the league) in assists-per-game. Only teammate Alexander Semin ranked higher among wingers. Last year, he tied for the league lead among all wingers in assists (54, with Jarome Iginla). This from a guy who fans (ok, Penguin fans) see as something of a puck hog. And, he is the only skater in the history of the league to be named a first team all-star in each of his first four seasons. In every place outside of the 412 area code, he is the consensus pick as the best player in the sport.

What he doesn’t have is a Stanley Cup.

And the clock is ticking. An odd thing to say of one who just turned 24, but that’s the sad fact of life in the NHL. We wrote back in June, after the season ended…
"Next year will be a telling year in the career of Alex Ovechkin. He will be 24 years old when the season ends. That’s barely getting started in most walks of life, but looking at the greats – Gretzky won his first Cup at age 23, Mario Lemieux at 25, Maurice Richard at 22, Bobby Orr at 21, Gordie Howe at 21. The window is open for Ovechkin to join those greats, and to be mentioned in the same breath as them, he will have to have his name engraved on the same piece of hardware."

Fearless: Ovechkin has 219 goals in four seasons. Even if he doesn’t average more than 50 goals a season in his career, certainly he should average more than 40. So if he plays 15 seasons, he’s a 600-goal scorer. Know how many of the 17 600-goal scorers in NHL history have not won a Stanley Cup? Three – Marcel Dionne, Mike Gartner, and Dino Ciccarelli.

Cheerless: Hey, cuz… what do two of those three have in common with Ovechkin? Think, “red jersey.”

In the end:

Alex Ovechkin has posted an average per 82 games in his four-year career of 55-51-106, +5, 20 PPG, and nine game winners. Since expansion in the 1967-1968 season only one left winger has had a better single season than that average (Luc Robitaille was 63-62, 125, plus-18, 24 PPG, and eight game winners in 1992-1993). In a sense, his universe of comparables isn’t his present-day opposition (outside of those two guys in Pittsburgh), but the history of the league.

But here is another fact. Of the six wingers, regardless of what side they play on, who posted seasons of at least 55 goals, 51 assists, and the rest of those average numbers since expansion (Alexander Mogilny, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Luc Robitaille, Jaromir Jagr, and Guy Lafleur), every one of them has a Stanley Cup ring. Some of them won those Cups when they had their big seasons (Bossy, Kurri, Lafleur), some didn’t (Mogilny, Jagr, Robitaille). But they all did, sooner or later.

And that will be the standard against Ovechkin will be judged for the rest of his career, especially now that his arch-rival Sidney Crosby and countryman Evgeni Malkin have their rings.

It’s hard to say what it is Ovechkin needs to do to give himself – and the Caps – a better chance to take a turn around the ice with the Cup. Well, actually, it isn’t… but how it happens might be complicated. There is a feeling that Ovechkin is not the most robust player in his own end of the ice. For a guy with more than 400 points on his resume in four years, to be plus-19 for his career seems a bit light. Yeah, he played on a couple of rather grim teams, but he was a plus-2 on one of them (his rookie year, one of only three forwards playing more than 50 games to do so).

But on the other hand, he takes long shifts, both at even strength and on the power play, where he often skates the entire man-advantage (no small factor in his being on the ice for 10 of the 11 shorthanded goals that the Caps allowed last year). He led all forwards in average ice time last year after finishing third the year before. What is odd is that in the last two seasons, Ovechkin averaged more than 60 seconds per shift (Ilya Kovalchuk being the only other forward to do so in each of the last two seasons) while averaging less than a minute in each of his first two years on vastly inferior teams. Does he need to play 23 minutes a night on a team with as many offensive weapons as the Caps have? Clearly, he can, but should he?

Ovechkin doesn’t have to establish his bona fides as a generational talent. He compares more than favorably to any player currently playing in the NHL and certainly is in the conversation about all-time greats, even after only four years in the league. But there is that matter of the fancy spittoon. It is the difference between a Babe Ruth and a Barry Bonds, a Michael Jordan and an Elgin Baylor, a Joe Montana and a Dan Marino.


82 games, 56-57-113, +19


Jimmy Jazz said...

Stellar write-up, Peerless. To be spoken in the same breath as Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux, Richard, Howe, or MJ (the only one outside of college ball that I ever cared about), Ovie has to get a ring.

Not even Gretzky could do it alone. We're looking at you, management. Right. At. You.

rakeback said...

He may be great, but without a ring he will never be considered in the same league as Gretzky or Howe. Look at the other athletes like Dan Marino or Charles Barkley that were elite but never won a title, they dont have the respect of the others.