The Aging of Alex Ovechkin – Looking at The Back-Half of The Great 8’s Career

SLUG: sp_caps5 DATE: May, 4, 2009  CREDIT: Toni L. Sandys / TWP LOCATION: Washington, DC CAPTION: Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin celebrates after scoring his third goal during the game at the Verizon Center on Monday, May 5, 2009.  The Capitals won 4-3.  StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on  Mon May  4 21:56:01 2009

(Photo: Toni L. Sandys/Washington Post)

Now before anyone panics completely or utters a curse in my direction……. I’m not here to tell you Alex Ovechkin is done.  No, I’m more interested in looking at the inevitable decline that will come at some point in the future, and figuring out what we might expect when the time does come.

At 30 years old when the new season begins and with 10 seasons under his belt, Ovechkin is still at the top of his game.  It seems a perfect time to examine what makes him great, and what parts of his game father time will attack in the future.  Perhaps the most visible aspect of his game to the casual observer is his dagger of a shot on the one timer!  A lightning fast release and deadly accurate when he’s at his best, it’s simply unstoppable.  Teams plan for it, goalies know it’s coming, and yet he gets it off and scores almost at will.  The other thing most casual observers notice is the physical aspect of his game.  The guy hits like a Mac truck!  Often on the edge, Ovechkin doesn’t pass up the big hit when offered the chance, nor is he afraid to go find contact when his team needs a lift!

Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, reacts after scoring a goal against New York Rangers goalie Stephen Valiquette during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)   Original Filename: Rangers_Capitals_Hockey_VZN112.jpg

(AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

To the casual observer, that’s Ovechkin’s game in a nutshell.  Capitals fans however know how much more there is to our all world forward!  His passing is seriously underrated and has improved every year he’s been in the league.  The last few seasons in particular, the number of passes I’d term “pretty” not coming to Ovechkin, but from him, have risen steadily.  Ovechkin also has the ability to split gaps between defensemen both with quickness and brute force.  More importantly he can consistently score even as he’s being dragged to the ice.  He has a laser focus on the net anytime the puck is on his stick and never gives up on a play.  His defense, so often maligned by outside observers, has quietly improved over the years and continues to get better.

I could go on with the superlatives but that’s not really the point of this piece.  We all know how great Alex Ovechkin is, and how lucky we are as Capitals fans to see such a generational talent.  Perhaps the best pure goal scorer of all time and certainly the greatest we’ve yet seen in a Washington Capitals uniform.  Given his unique skills, what should we expect when the inevitable decline begins?  What will it look like?

alexander_ovechkin_by_chadbovey-d4yvvg1

(Art by Chad Bovey)

Lets look back at what makes him great and start with the shot.  What effect will age have on his shot?  I expect, very little.  Given the wide open one timers on the power play that we’re used to seeing, I expect a 40-year-old Ovechkin buries those as well as ever.  Until the accuracy fails or the ability to get open is lost, there is no reason to expect any reduction in the potency of the shot.  Likewise, there is nothing to say a 40-year-old player can’t play physical.  Much of Ovechkin’s space is created by the knowledge he’s willing and able to run over a defender and hit anything that moves.  We might be concerned with the toll those accumulated hits take on the player over time, but age alone shouldn’t effect that aspect of his game.  We can expect his passing and defensive skills will continue to improve as he ages.  In those aspects, he’s more likely to improve rather than decline.

The one part of his game where an age related decline seems likely is the ability to split a gap.  There is no getting around the legs slowing down at some point.  Luckily, given his ability to use speed and brute force, he won’t completely lose that aspect of his game, though it will likely be reduced.

By now it should be obvious that I don’t see age having a massive and obvious impact on Alex Ovechkin’s skills.  That is true, but then that is only a part of the story.  The accumulated hits over many seasons do concern me.  At some point those have to catch up to anyone.  I’ve been glad to see the Ovechkin of the last few years choosing his moments to be physical more carefully.  He still lays opponents out enough that opposing teams have to respect that he will, but by avoiding the constant contact of the younger Ovechkin, he likely extends his career on the backend.  It’s also to be expected that as he ages he will lose a step at some point.  While his game hasn’t been predicated on speed, the loss of a bit will impact how often he’s open.  Luckily he’s had multiple defenders draped on him so often that he’s learned better than most how to create space without speed as his only option.

Capitals_Alex_Ovechkin_2013

(Photo: NBC Sports)

So what does our aging superstar look like?  First, as deadly as ever on the power play.  Given the 25 goals he scored this past season with the man advantage, a 40-year-old Ovechkin is still probably among the top goal scorers in the league.  Any decline will be more visible at 5 on 5 and in games missed.  If we assume a decline of a full third at 5 on 5, we’re still talking about 16-17 goals a year there.  Combined with 20-25 goals on the power play, it’s hard to see Ovechkin dropping below 35-40 goals a year as he declines.  It’s just as likely that his overall points rise as his goals decline slightly.  The curveball of course will be games missed.  I think it’s much more likely that we see the physical toll catch up as Ovechkin ages, than any dramatic decline in his skills.

Before we get too caught up in the future demise, lets come back to the present.  Previous reports of the decline of one Alexander Ovechkin have been greatly exaggerated.  In the here and now, we’re lucky enough to see one the greatest who’s ever played the game, every single night.  Whenever the decline and eventual demise might be, they’re still at some point in the future.  Today he’s just the best goal scorer in the game and the captain of our Washington Capitals!  What a great time to be a fan!

By Ernie Mudd

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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1 Response to The Aging of Alex Ovechkin – Looking at The Back-Half of The Great 8’s Career

  1. Trent says:

    Thanks for finally talking about >The Aging of Alex Ovechkin – Looking at The Back-Half
    of The Great 8s Career | NoVa Caps – A Washington Capitals Community <Loved it!

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