Thursday, September 23, 2021

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
-- Voltaire


Are there really any adjectives or accolades left to apply to Alex Ovechkin?  If you can find them, good on you, but it won’t be an easy task.  He is the ne plus ultra goal scorer of this generation.  Since coming into the league, he has 730 career goals.  No other player in the 16 seasons Ovechkin has been in the league has as many as 500.  Only six other players have as many as 400.  To put this in perspective, Ovechkin could have sat out the last five seasons and still have a 39-goal lead on his closest pursuer (525 goals to 486 for Sidney Crosby.

Goal scoring is not the only dimension to his game, though.  Over those same 16 seasons, Ovechkin ranks ninth in assists (590) and is one of only two non-centers (Patrick Kane being the other with 684 assists) among the top 13-assist producers in that period.  As a result, Ovechkin ranks fifth in points-per-game recorded over those 16 seasons (1.10) and is tops among non-centers.

Odd Ovechkin Fact… Alex Ovechkin had three shorthanded goals in his rookie season in 2005-2006. He had another in 2008-2009.  Since then, he has none in his last 914 games.

Odd Ovechkin Fact II… Since 2005-2006, Alex Ovechkin has 27 hat tricks.  That is more than the combined total of hat tricks for the other 12 Capitals to record at least one in that period (21).

Fearless’ Take… One could be tempted to say that Ovechkin had an off-year in 2020-2021.  These things are relative, though.  Despite the 24 goals being the lowest for a season for his career, his 1.30 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, sixth best of his career, still ranked 12th in the league among 607 players appearing in at least 25 games.  His 0.53 goals per game ranked eighth in that same group.  Perhaps it is a signal of diminished production, by his standards, but last season was unusual in its abbreviated schedule and Ovechkin’s missing time to COVID protocol early on and injuries late in the season.

Cheerless’ Take… The 2020-2021 season was sort of a lost one for Ovechkin, who played in the fewest games of his career (45), recorded his lowest goal total (24), posted his lowest assist total (18), finished with his lowest point total (42), had his second-lowest power play goal total (nine), had his lowest shot total (182), had his second-lowest ice time per game (19:30), and did not have a game-winning goal in his last 16 contests. Yes, it was an abbreviated schedule, but despite advancing up the ranks in a number of career scoring categories, it was not among the most memorable of years for Ovechkin.  Is a comeback season coming?  One would like to think so, but then again, he is 36 years old, and perhaps cracks are starting to appear in his game.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 1,200 career games played (currently 1,197)
  • 600 career assists (590)
  • 1,400 career points (1,320)
  • 6,000 career shots on goal (5,727)
  • 500 career power play points (499)
  • 30 career hat tricks (27)
  • 400 career multi-point games (373)

The Big Question… Will the “Gretzky Chase” contract serve as inspiration for a big season from Alex Ovechkin?

In late July, Alex Ovechkin signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract that all but ensures he will finish his NHL career where he started, in Washington.  The cap hit of $9.5 million is a slight reduction from his expiring contract ($9.538 million), but what matters in a broader career sense is the term.  Ovechkin, with 730 career goals, is 165 goals away from overtaking Wayne Gretzky as the league’s all-time leading goal scorer.  A five-year term means he needs to average 33 goals per season to reach that goal.  Only once in 14 seasons with a full schedule of games did he post fewer – 32 goals in the 2010-2011 season.  The effects of age on players and expectations of diminished production, even for a player as uniquely durable and productive as Ovechkin has been over time, a big 2021-2022 season would go a long way toward improving the odds he overtakes Gretzky down the road.  In this respect, a 40-plus goal season will be something to look for in his chase for hockey immortality.

In the end…

Although Alex Ovechkin did not have an impressive year in 2020-2021, by his standards, let us not forget his is only one season removed from winning his third consecutive Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer.  Perhaps last season was a crossroads, perhaps it was just a speed bump in his progress up the rankings in a number of statistical categories.  But on a purely individual level, it is all about chasing Wayne Gretzky.  One hopes that the pursuit doesn’t distract the team from its pursuit of a Stanley Cup, but with Nicklas Backstrom on the shelf while undergoing hip injury rehabilitation, Ovechkin’s goal scoring is not a selfish pursuit.  It will take on more importance in the context of team goals, especially early in the season.  But when all is said and done, he is owed a large measure of appreciation for his relentless consistency and elite production in more than a decade and a half playing at the pinnacle of his sport.  Something of which all of Capitals Nation can take some ownership.

Projection: 81 games, 46-32-78, minus-3