Photo: Sporting News
After a 33-goal showing in 2016-17, pundits claimed Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin had begun the struggle against Father Time that many athletes experience once they reach the wrong side of 30-years old. In what has become a seeming trait in his career, the future Hall of Famer responded with a 49-goal, 87-point season in a 2017-18 season that ended with the former first overall pick lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time. However, with his 33rd birthday just over a month away (September 17), the debate over whether Ovechkin will be able to fend off the proverbial decline for another season will no doubt begin again.
After his down 2016-17 season, the vast speculation and talk outside the DMV was that the Capitals’ offensive dynamo had started to decline in production, this despite solid numbers the preceding seasons and outstanding playoff performances, albeit no deep playoff runs. Ovechkin’s resurgence in the team’s Stanley Cup season in 2017-18 was a welcome one to a team that had lost a number of key contributors from their veteran core of 2015-16 and 2016-17. Not only did he put up fantastic regular season totals, his playoff efforts earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs Most Valuable Player.
But because he is entering his age 33 season, and because the NHL continues to evolve into a young player, more finesse and skill game, the question of whether Ovechkin will be able to stave off the eventual enemy of all aging athletes: Father Time. But to determine whether he will or not, one needs to look deeper into Ovechkin’s performance last season and the seasons prior. In his down 2016-17 season, Ovechkin averaged just 0.40 goals per game, 0.44 assists per game, and 0.84 points per game. In comparison, this past season he averaged 0.60, 0.46, and 1.06 in those statistical categories, respectively, and the previous two season prior to 2016-17, he averaged 0.63 and 0.65 goals per game, 0.27 and 0.35 assists per game, and 0.90 and 1.00 points per game, respectively. In his 13-season career as a whole, he has averaged 0.61 goals, 0.51 assists, and 1.12 points per game. Prior to 2016-17, his lowest per game averages came in 2011-12, when he averaged just 0.49 goals and 0.83 points per game.
Ovechkin’s performance at 5-on-5 in 2017-18 was also a far improvement from his down season in 2016-17, as he scored 29 goals compared to a meager 14 at 5-on-5, and exceeded his career average of 25 goals at 5-on-5. Ovechkin’s possession numbers also did not dip as often happens with players as they begin to decline, while it did not meet his career average of 53.0, Ovechkin’s Corsi For % at 5-on-5 was 50.6 in 2017-18 in contrast to 50.3, 53.2, and 53.7 the three previous seasons, respectively. The Capitals’ on-ice shooting percentage also increased dramatically this past season compared to the previous FIVE seasons; since the team’s shooting percentage finished at 6.1 in 2013-14 when Ovechkin was on the ice, it has increased by an average of 8.82% a season.
While this is just a handful of the numerous statistics used to evaluate players in today’s metrics-driven sports world, it indicates that while Ovechkin may be aging, his performance has not only stayed relatively on par with his career norm, but it seems to be improving and proving that the 2016-17 season was more an anomaly and abnormality than a sign of decline. Ovechkin has continued to expand and maintain a solid offseason conditioning and training regimen and if he can continue to remain healthy as he has throughout his NHL career, there is no reason to doubt his ability to continue being an offensive force for the defending Stanley Cup champions. With a new head coach and a largely unchanged core around him, Ovechkin has all the support to succeed and vice versa.
By Michael Fleetwood