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Alex Ovechkin and Those Around Him

<em>Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images</em>
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

"One thing that hasn't changed is that Crosby has always made those around him better and Ovechkin doesn't have that ability[.]" - Sun Media's Eric Francis on Hockey Night in Canada, 11/27/10

Among many bizarre points raised during last night's Hotstove on Hockey Night in Canada was the assertion above. Ignoring the first portion of it - on which reasonable minds can most certainly differ, as our friends in Western Pennsylvania continue to cycle through wingers for their top center as they have since his rookie season - let's take a quick look at the forwards who have been AO's primary linemates over his five-plus seasons in the League and compare what they've done in their careers with and without the Great Eight (note: Nicklas Backstrom isn't included, as there is no "without" point of reference for him):

GP w/ AO
GP w/o AO G/GP w/ AO
G/GP w/o AO
Pts/GP w/ AO
Pts/GP w/o AO
Dainius Zubrus 131 797 0.33 0.17
0.83 0.46
Chris Clark 152 421
0.33 0.13 0.61 0.29
Viktor Kozlov
148 749 0.20 0.22
0.64 0.55
Mike Knuble
90 820 0.28 0.24 0.57 0.48

It should be noted that the above numbers simply take the totals from the seasons or portions thereof that the respective players played primarily with Ovechkin - it is an admittedly crude and imprecise approach. Further, there are a lot of "moving parts" here, including power-play ice time, etc. But the underlying point is pretty clear - playing with Ovechkin has rejuvenated older players and sparked younger ones. And while guys like Backstrom and Mike Green have contributed to the D.C.-found successes of Kozlov and Knuble, AO was unquestionably the primary reason Zubrus and Clark were able to put together the career years they had (and no one would blame Ovechkin if he asked for a cut of Zubrus's mega-deal paycheck).

Back to the here-and-now, Ovechkin - who hasn't even hit his typical "hot" months yet - is on pace for 71 assists this season, a total only reached by one left wing. Ever. [Update: And Mark Messier wasn't even a left wing then, for what it's worth.]

There's a lot more to being "better" than point totals, of course, but to claim that Alex Ovechkin doesn't make those around him better is patently absurd (if we accept the assumption that a player can make others better in the first place). But don't take my word for it - when Mike Milbury (who, during the same segment, trashed AO) won't even go along with it and makes sure to distance himself from the comment, that says all you need to know.

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