As the 2011-12 season has come to a close, the time has come to evaluate what it meant for the Capitals, both as a team and as individuals. As such, as the summer progresses, I will be writing a report card, or individual evaluation, for each player who played in 9 (~10%) of the team's games, or 4 playoff games. The final player to be evaluated is winger Alex Ovechkin, who finished his 7th NHL season, all with the Capitals, on this past campaign.
Season Summary: Coming off the worst statistical season of his career on 2010-11, Ovechkin only got worse in 2011-12. In 78 games played, Ovechkin complied 38 goals (2nd lowest of his career), 65 points (lowest of career), a minus-eight rating (2nd lowest of career) and took 303 shots (lowest of his career). In addition, unlike past years, Ovechkin struggled to find any sort of consistency in his game, and his scoring totals were boosted by two big hot streaks at the turn of the New Year and in late March, respectively. His 65 points still led the team, but if Nicklas Backstrom had been healthy the whole season, they would not have, and it took Ovechkin about a month to catch Backstrom in points after Nicky went down. Even more concerning was Ovechkin's dropoff in corsi rating, especially because in 2010-11 his corsi was still high despite career low offensive output. This year, the Russian winger's puck possession level plummeted to -4.78 (from +11) - which was 8th on the team among 13 forwards that played 40 or more games. Ovechkin also did all of this against relatively weak competition - not only relative to that of his fellow forwards (3rd easiest minutes) but compared to last season. Yikes. Grade: C
Role Play: Following his down year two seasons ago, I was in a majority of people who expected Ovechkin to return to form this past year. Boy, was I wrong. Ovechkin never got in to a consistent scoring rhythm, did not even come close to a point per game for the first time in his career, and was awful defensively basically the entire season. Sure, he had those "oh wow" moments - Chicago comes to mind - and he likely always will, but that is not enough. For a player with the captaincy of a franchise and the highest annual salary cap hit in the National Hockey League (for another nine years), I expect a lot more than 65 points, little defense, and bad positional play. Ovechkin's leadership was again called into question by some, as well - and fair or not, I don't think a great captain's leadership would be as questioned as often as Ovechkin's is. In short: much was expected from "The Great Eight" this year; he failed to deliver on most fronts. Grade: C-
Playoffs: On paper, Ovechkin's playoffs do not look that bad: 14 games, five goals, four assists, and a minus-two rating in 14 games. But deeper analysis reveals the same trends as the regular season. Ovechkin had a terrible corsi (-22.92, fourth worst among Capitals forwards), though the toughness of Ovechkin's minutes did increase significantly. Ovechin's defense was also so bad during the playoffs that his coach stapled him to the bench in close games, and his ice time plummeted because of it. Alex also hit the post against the Rangers in game three during the first overtime, a goal that almost certainly would have helped the Capitals somehow make the Conference Finals for the first time in 14 years. It wasn't terrible, and certainly more tangible than the regular season, but Ovechkin has yet to have the signature playoff moment that superstars have. Grade: C+
Future Potential: Some will tell you that this year was just a terrible aberration and Ovechkin will bounce back to his old ways. In my opinion, they are wrong, because Alex was not unlucky this year and saw favorable minutes to try and score. Ovechkin relies on power plays and shot volume to fuel his offensive totals, and both of those are decreasing for him. In addition, only two wingers since the lockout, Jarome Igina and Jaromir Jagr, have scored 50 goals in a season at age 26 or above (Ovechkin will be 27 in September). Moreover, goal scoring prime is before the age of 26 in the modern era, which make it almost a lock that we have seen the Captain's best season - and, as mentioned before, he has a mammoth contract for the next decade. As the pressure on Ovechkin continues to mount, how he responds to it will be key. He can either work to be better all around, like Ilya Kovalchuk, or wallow and burn out, like Pavel Bure. It is his decision, and his alone. How bad does he want it? Grade: C+
The next evaluations, which will be published after the draft, will feature management and coaches. For now, enjoy our Entry Draft coverage, which will be live from Pittsburgh on both Friday and Saturday.
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For what it's worth, here are my thoughts on Ovechkin. Everyone talks about his offensive output (or lack thereof), his lack of defense, power plays, etc. but I have never heard anyone talk about one thing: is his job to be an elite scorer, or a bruiser? Bear with me. Look at how he likes to play his game. He is hands down more physical than any other elite scorer in league. He hits, and he hits, and he likes it. It seems to be his style. But I challenge anyone to call out any other elite scorer in the league who is also an elite hitter. There isn't one. And in my opinion, this is precisely why we've seen a deterioration in Alex's offensive prowess - you can't continue to dish out (and take) that kind of beating night after night, and expect to also put out big offensive numbers. At some point it's got to take its toll on you, and that's what I think we saw this season. Early in his career his focus was shooting and scoring, but he has become much more of a checking forward the past few years. And it's my belief that if this doesn't change, we won't see anything different in the coming years. If he's to return to being an elite scorer, someone else on the Caps is going to have to start dishing out the punishment to free Alex to do what we know he is capable of doing.
Dave....I agree wholeheartedly. Ovie needs to concentrate more on getting to the areas where he can score more easily. You don't see Crosby seeking to hit everything in sight. He's camped to the side of the net or in front to get the easy and greasy goals. That's what we need from Ovie. Don't take yourself out of the play by smashing someone. Get in position to score....bottom line for success.