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Japers' Rink Mailbag: Backstrom, Ovechkin and... FrankenCap

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Projections for a couple of big guns, a monster mash-up and more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images

Earlier in the week, NHL.com ran its list of the top-14 centers in hockey. Notably (to Caps fans) missing was Nicklas Backstrom, which we thought was an oversight (especially in light of some of the part-time pivots on the list and some of the names on it). This question naturally followed:

We've discussed it for, like, thirty seconds and more or less came up with the following list:

  1. Sidney Crosby
  2. Steven Stamkos
  3. Evgeni Malkin
  4. Anze Kopitar
  5. Jonathan Toews

We can quibble some about the order of those top-five, but Crosby is the clear number one and the next four are in a tier.

  1. Joe Thornton
  2. John Tavares
  3. Nicklas Backstrom
  4. Ryan Getzlaf
  5. Patrice Bergeron
  6. Claude Giroux

That's probably another tier, the ordering of which we wouldn't debate too strongly. (Also, there's your answer on where we'd have Backstrom.)

Rounding out our top 14 would be three of Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene, David Krejci, Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, Ryan Johansen and Paul Stastny.

Point being, Backstrom - who, in a "down" 2013-14 still managed to put up more points than Toews ever has, for example - continues to be criminally underrated. (Secondary point being that the Internet loves it some debatable lists...)

Muneeb: To get to 802 goals and move into second on the all-time goals leaderboard, Alex Ovechkin needs 380 more tallies. In league history, only four players have scored 380 or more goals from age 29 until the end of their careers: Gordie Howe (who currently ranks second with 801 in his NHL career), Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, and Brett Hull. All four of them played in higher-scoring eras than Ovechkin.

That said, Teemu Selanne just missed joining that group (371 such goals) playing through the heart of clutch-and-grab, and Jaromir Jagr might have gotten close had he not spent three seasons in Russia and lost another one-and-a-half to lockouts, so it's not completely out of the question for Ovechkin - one of the greatest scorers in league history through this point in his career - to keep on scoring at historic levels despite low league scoring. But he'd probably both have to play into his 40s and go from top-10 through age 28 to top-5 from age 29 on in terms of raw numbers, which is difficult to do - the best players at 25 aren't always the best at 35.

742 goals is slightly easier to hit. Ovechkin needs 320 more. Thirteen players have hit that mark after age 28, including Selanne, Brendan Shanahan and Daniel Alfredsson. Additionally, Mark Recchi, Joe Sakic, Bill Guerin, Jarome Iginla, Peter Bondra, Martin St. Louis, Jagr, and Mike Modano cleared 250.

The key for Ovechkin here will be longevity. If he plays until he's 37 (and does so in the NHL), he'll need 40 goals per season. But if he plays until he's 40, he'd only need 29. That's certainly doable, especially considering his volume mentality and proficiency on the power play.

This could be a real close call. If Ovechkin and Backstrom put up assists at the same per-game rate they did last year, Backstrom will reach 419 assists in Game 70... and Ovechkin will have 417 helpers at that point. If we use their respective rates over the last two seasons, Ovechkin gets to 419 first (in Game 66), and Backstrom will have 418 apples. If we use their three-year averages, Backstrom again comes out on top, hitting 419 in Game 69, one game before Ovechkin does. (And if we go back any further - and why would we? - Ovechkin reaches 419 much quicker and Backstrom doesn't catch him this season.)

Two quick notes: First, Backstrom's one-year, five-year and career assist-per-game rates are 0.74, his two-year rate is 0.78 and his three-year rate is 0.78. How's that for consistency? Second, Ovechkin has fallen off a cliff in terms of assist production, averaging 52 per season over his first six campaigns and only 33 (pro-rating 2013) over the last three and actually failing to reach the 30-assist plateau in any of the three. Ouch.

But here's the thing. Ovechkin only had nine five-on-five assists in 2013-14, far and away a career low. Why? In large part because his teammates weren't scoring at fives, shooting an almost literally unbelievable 3.8% and lighting the lamp just 13 times with Ovechkin on the ice. As a point of reference, the Caps averaged 42 non-Ovechkin five-on-five goals with the captain on the ice per season from 2007-08 through 2010-11, shooting between 8.4 and 11.1 percent in each season. That's an awful lot of assists left on the table for the Great Eight.

Now, no one's expecting a return to the high-flying Bruce Boudreau Caps going forward, but good coaching and good luck will bring Ovechkin more helpers (and hopefully they'll bring Backstrom more as well). So while I'd like to guess that Ovechkin and Backstrom hit 419 on the same goal, assisting on the same goal some time in mid-March and necessitating another split puck between the two (pictured), I think Ovechkin gets there first but that Backstrom ends 2014-15 as the team's all-time assist leader.

Rob: Marcus Johansson and Eric Fehr has some appeal - the combination has size, speed, puck skills. But it's the second-best combination of those traits. Give me Jason Chimera and Evgeny Kuznetsov. In addition to the straight-away speed, Chimera has more power to his game than Fehr or MoJo, and Kuznetsov has the best puck skills in the forward ranks after Ovechkin and Backstrom. So give me the most talented player, add the strongest skating player, and you have a perennial all-star.

Adam: I would go with Kuznetsov and Chimera. Chimera's explosive first step and size combined with the youth and skill level of Kuznetsov would (in my mind) result in a Joe Thornton-esque player.

J.P.: You guys are both half-right. The answer is you combine Kuznetsov's skill with Tom Wilson's frame and temperament and, to paraphrase Dr. Frankenstein, you've created a monster.

I'm not sure coaching would've impacted that Caps team (which we discussed earlier in the week) one way or another, but Adam Oates was only 12 years old when that season started and probably too busy separating his crushes into lefties and righties to have concerned himself with coaching an NHL team anyway.

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Agree? Disagree?

If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. As always, there are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.