From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading the 2008-09 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2009-10. Next up, Alexander Ovechkin.
#8 / Left Wing / Washington Capitals
Sep 17, 1985
$9,538,461.54 cap hit in 2009-10; UFA after 2020-21 season
Interesting Stat: Ovechkin has been credited with more shots on goal in his first four years in the League than anyone in NHL history had in his first five seasons.
The Good: Ovechkin led the League in goals and even strength goals, was one off the lead in power-play goals and overtime goals and two off the lead in game-winners, and blasted a whopping 528 shots on goal (the second-highest single-season total of all-time) and still managed a higher shooting percentage than Henrik Zetterberg, Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Smyth, among others. Alex Ovechkin isn't simply scoring goals at a better clip than everyone else, he's dominating goal-scoring in a way the League has seldom, if ever, seen before - since entering the League in 2005, the Russian Machine has scored 15.9% more goals than his closest competitor, comrade Ilya Kovalchuk. Oh, and Ovechkin increased his assists by 14.9% over his 2007-08 total along the way.
Seeking to become the first player to win back-to-back Hart Trophies as the NHL's Most Valuable Player since Dominik Hasek did it more than a decade ago (and the first skater to pull off the feat since Wayne Gretzky won eight in a row more than two decades ago), AO had eight more points than any other player in the League after the All-Star break (53) and has already claimed a handful of post-season awards. He was fifth in the League in adjusted hits (ninth if you'd rather not adjust 'em), wasn't held off the scoresheet for three consecutive games all season,and was the single most clutch skater in the NHL during the regular season (a conclusion drawn by multiple sources).
And then there was the post-season.
Ovechkin scored at a higher per-game goal and point pace in the playoffs than he did in the regular season, racked up plusses at a rate that would see him at plus-58 over an 82-game season, and, regardless of how tomorrow night's Game 7 plays out, AO is almost assuredly going to end up the fifth-highest scorer in the playoffs, despite playing two fewer rounds than anyone ahead of him. Throw in the fact that he was playing hurt nearly the entire time, and still managed eight goals and six assists in the Penguins series and, well, I think he's shed any lingering questions about his ability to turn it up come crunch time.
But, at this point, it hardly makes sense to compare Alex Ovechkin to his teammates or even the rest of the League; perhaps the most appropriate point of reference is AO himself. Coming off one of the truly great seasons in recent memory, the bar was set pretty high, and, in many ways, Ovechkin cleared it in 2008-09 - he actually increased his points-per-game (and probably would have again won the scoring title had he not taken a two-game leave of absence to be with his ailing grandfather in late-October). He had a much better Corsi rating (19.0 to 13.0), far more points-per-sixty minutes of five-on-four ice time (6.09 to 4.55), more adjusted hits (228 to 210), fewer adjusted giveaways (60 to 65) and even decreased his average shift length (from a League-leading 65 seconds to a second place 64 seconds... ahem).
Simply put, Alexander Ovechkin's 2008-09 season was a worthy encore to his previous campaign, and leaves just one question in mind - what will he do next?
The Bad: Ovechkin's penalty minutes per game increased by a whopping 85.7% (and not all of that is the result of opposition whining), and his penalty plus/minus per sixty minutes at five-aside was down 79% (from 1.4 to 0.3) over 2007-08 as a result of the increased penalties taken and 21% fewer minors drawn in those situations. His plus-minus rating dropped by 20 (though given the increased Corsi and a drop-off in five-on-five GFON/60 of just .07 and an increase in GAON/60 of .35, one wonders how much the difference in the last line of defense between the two seasons impacted this stat), his shifts are probably still too long, and he seemed, at times, either bored or preoccupied with on- and off-ice shenanigans (reminder: he's still just 23 years old). Finally, he apparently wasn't good enough to be an All-Star starter, so maybe he's not so great after all.
The Vote: Rate Ovechkin below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
How friggin' unbelievable is this guy, anyway? What would you like to see Ovechkin improve on in 2009-10? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?