Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Can Ovechkin Beat Gretzky? What about, Batman?

I’ve always considered myself a rational sports fan. I make no bones about being a lifelong Canucks and Penguins fan, and I would let Peyton Manning do terrible things to me in a stall at the airport, but overall I watch most games with an objective eye.
That’s why I’ve never steered into the world of sports statistics. I think for the most part, to the fan, they’re meaningless. Sure, for the player and his agent, they may mean something at contract time, but I think you can gauge how good a player is or isn’t’ by just watching him.
I don’t need to know Alex Semin’s time on the power play or his shooting percentage to know that he’s an immensely talented player who disappears for large chunks of the game, and then when you’re about to write him off, he lazes through the offensive zone and puts the puck in the back of the net like no one else can.
The same goes for hockey arguments based on numbers. You can project, calculate, and massage the data all you want, but I can pretty much tell you that there are certain records that will never be broken; case in point, Wayne Gretzky’s career record of 894 regular season goals.
The NHL as it stands now has allowed for rule changes to increase more open ice, and as a side effect, more offensive chances. But, is it enough to get a current player to 894 goals?
Wait; let’s narrow down our argument a little bit. This is better; Alex Ovechkin won’t beat Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals.
Yes, he’s electric. Yes, he may be the most talented player in the NHL. Yes, he brings fans, players (on both teams) and media to their feet every time he touches the puck, but he’s still not beating Gretzky’s record.
As of today, Alex is sitting on 307 goals lifetime, and he’s only 26 years old. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he plays until he’s 40.
Sidenote… Of Sergei Fedorov, Alex Mogilny & Pavel Bure, all noted Russian goal scorers, only Fedorov, played until he was 40 in the NHL. Fedorov has the most goals by a Russian born player at 473.
That means that Ovechkin will have to score an average of 42 goals a season in order to beat Gretzky by one goal. Currently, he’s on pace for 37 goals this season, a small increase from last year’s 32 goals in 79 games. Here’s why it’s not happening…

1.      Ovechkin’s focus has switched in the last two seasons from “put puck in net” to “What, there’s a defensive zone too?” While not an early frontrunner for the Selke, Ovechkin has been more responsible in his own end, and been more than fine to distribute the puck rather than take it from end to end.

2.      Ovechkin’s time on the ice has gone down. Ovechkin has taken the criticism of him being on the ice too long as one of the factors of the Caps not being able to finish in the playoffs. As a result, Ovechkin has spent less time on the ice. And when you’re on the bench, you’re not scoring.

3.      Physical play, good!  Injuries bad! – At this point, Ovechkin has escaped any significant injuries, but it’s only a matter of time until he’s out for a prolonged period of play, because he plays the game with a lot of physicality. He’s willing to hit, and be hit. A lot of people talk about Ovechkin’s elusiveness, but I see him taking as much contact as any other star player on any other team. Eventually, the rhythm is going to get you. And by rhythm, I mean Raffi Torres.

4.      You can’t take it with you. Ovechkin’s still in his prime, but will he be able to score over 40 per season as he hits 35 plus years? Gretzky’s last 40 goal season was at age 30. As he gets older Ovechkin will have to adjust his game to play more on the perimeter, and with more finesse. Is that something he can do?

5.      Lean on me. Currently, the Caps are one of the top contenders in the NHL, and have done well with drafting and free agents. The problem is, they’ve done well with drafting and free agents. With the NHL cap the way it is, some of those players will eventually leave for more money. Will the Caps always be able to ice a contending team around Ovechkin? I doubt it. You’re asking for a team to be very good for the next 14 years. Who do they think they are, Detroit?

6.      “Everyone needs money. That’s why they call it money.” A less important point, but a point nonetheless, Of the 3 Russian snipers mentioned previously, not one of them finished with the team they started with, and left their teams disgruntled. Will this be Ovechkin’s fate? Will it affect his goal output? 
OK, I’m going to need a shower after this. And not a regular kind, this has “Silkwood” written all over it. I hate stats; they’re the crutch of the non creative. But I’m not going to lie, I’m not a fan of Ovechkin either. and I’m tired of listening to the cronies out there (You know who you are, Pierre Mcguire, and Joe Beniati) talk about how we’re watching the greatest player in hockey. I would offer that Ovechkin is barely in the top five.  Oh, who’s my top five?
1.      Sidney Crosby
2.      Pavel Datsyuk
3.      Henrik Sedin
4.      Alex Ovechkin
5.      Corey Perry
Alright, have at it… I’m sure you have opinions.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveintheKT I’ll be tweeting well past my prime.

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