The Regression of Alex Ovechkin

While I appreciate the comments on my previous post regarding Alex Ovechkin, I think some of the comments were caught up in the details and not the overarching point I was making.  It was the proverbial circumstance of not seeing the forest through the trees.  I don’t intend to go point counter point with the comments, as this is a blog and not a message board argument.  I would note that the notion that the players in Europe are helping the unions cause in these negotiations ignores the business realities of the situation.  At no time has Gary Bettman, Ted Leonsis, or any of the other owners looked at the players in Europe and felt threatened by the opportunities players are getting over there.  Most of those players are making a fraction of what they can in the NHL and they are most assuredly returning to the NHL the day an agreement is reached.  The players in Europe are playing because they love the game and they are supplementing some earnings.  Of course, a majority of the players from the NHL can’t find jobs in Europe and are left behind in North America, which in all likelihood is causing some resentment by some of those players.  Just listen to Barry Melrose on the FAN 980 this week, who makes that exact point.  Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports on the FAN 590 in Toronto also posits the notion that if the league shuts down for the year don’t be surprised if the owners open the new league year with new work rules forcing the players to strike.  He has argued that one-third to half the players would cross the picket line on day one.  Whether that is accurate or not I have no real opinion on.  The point of raising this is that jobs in Europe aren’t truly an alternative for most players in the NHL, even if there were less favorable work rules with the NHL.   
 
Now onto Alex Ovechkin.  My last discussion of him was not intended as a complete recitation of his career.  It was a straw that broke the camels back discussion.  Perhaps my fault for not setting that out more completely.  Alex Ovechkin entered the league in 2005-2006 season as something that has rarely if ever been seen in the NHL.  He was a dynamic man-child who was a combination of the immovable force and the irresistable object.  However, there is a clear delineation in his career, January 5, 2010, the day Alex Ovechkin became the captain of the Washington Capitals.  Prior to that day he had won a Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, he had two Hart Trophies, an Art Ross Trophy, 2 Pearson/Lindsay Awards, and two Richard Trophies.  After that day he has earned 1 Pearson/Lindsay Award and that was during the 2009-2010 season, the season he became the teams captain.  That’s it.  Let’s look at his numbers from the 2009-2010 season.  He played in 33 games before he became captain and scored 26 goals and 24 assists, or .78 goals per game and .72 assists per game.  After becoming captain he played 39 games and scored 24 goals and had 35 assists, or .61 goals per game and .89 assists.  The downward spiral of Alex Ovechkin had begun. 
 
If you look at his entire career with January 5, 2010 as the dividing line and you see that before that date he played 357 games scoring 245 goals and 225 assists, or .686 goals per game and .630 assists per game.  After January 5, 2010 he has played 196 games with 94 goals and 115 assists, or .479 goals and .586 assists per game.  Those are the hard numbers regarding Alex Ovechkin’s performance on the ice. 
 
And for those that watch the game your eyes tell you he isn’t the same player.  Alex Ovechkin recently turned 27 years old.  A player who should be entering his prime performance years and what we have seen over the past two and a half seasons of NHL hockey is the regression of the player.  He is no longer the most dominant player in the league.  In fact,he has become predictable with other teams having figured out what he likes to do and doing admirable jobs of shutting that down.  He he has failed to adjust. In the last two seasons we have seen a 25 and 26 year old player go from being league MVP and the most dynamic player on the ice to going through a season of watching an overweight Ovechkin and then a season where he essentially openly revolted/celebrated the departure of two coaches.  Now we have Alex Ovechkin in Russia threatening to not return to the NHL. 
 
This is the leader of the Washington Capitals.  A Washington Capitals franchise mind you that is part of the illustrious grouping of the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets as being one of the five Eastern Conference teams to not advance to the Eastern Conference Final since the last lockout in 2004-2005.  Of those four other teams only the Panthers and Thrashers/Jets have made the playoffs since the lockout, and those teams did it once each.  These are the Capitals playoff success comparisons since the lockout.   
 
This isn’t to say that Alex Ovechkin is to be blamed solely for that failure, because hockey is the ultimate team sport.  There are many that share in the responsibility.  That failure rests equally on the shoulders of the teams general manager George McPhee for waiting years to address the issue with the defense and now waiting to address the center position.  It rests in part on Bruce Boudreau’s inability to adapt during the playoffs, the unjustified suspensions Alex Ovechkin received from the league, and Bruce Boudreau throwing him under the bus and calling him reckless played a role.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, because there are any number of factors that have played into the failures of the Washington Capitals during the playoffs.  However, when you are the star you get the glory and the blame and statistically and in the eye test Alex Ovechkin has regressed since he became captain of the Washington Capitals just when he should be entering his prime. 
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