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2020-21 Rink Wrap: Alex Ovechkin

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From Backstrom to Wilson, we’re taking a look at and grading the 2020-21 season for every player who laced ‘em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2021-22. Next up, Alex Ovechkin.

Boston Bruins v Washington Capitals - Game Five Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

The Stats:

Regular Season

Playoffs

The Charts:

via Evolving-Hockey
via HockeyViz

The Key Stat: For the sixteenth-consecutive season, Ovechkin was the Caps’ leading goal-scorer, but failed to reach 30 tallies for the first time in his career (though it is of course worth mentioning that his 24 in 56 team games pro-rates to 35 over a full season). Or maybe The Key Stat is that his 730 career regular-season goals now ranks sixth all-time, 164 behind Wayne Gretzky at the top of the list.

The Good: The Caps’ captain scored some goals (albeit at the fourth-lowest rate of his career), added some assists, won some games for the good guys, and continued his ascent up the ladder of the game’s all-time leading goal-scorers, passing Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito along the way. Ovechkin scored 1.3 goals per sixty at five-on-five (12th in the League among skaters with 300 minutes played) and 1.6 overall (9th-best on the circuit), and his shot, attempt, and scoring chance rates at five-on-five were both top-20 - not bad for a 35-year-old - and with a little shooting and health luck, he’d have hit that 30-goal mark once again. Despite age and injury, Alex Ovechkin was still an offensive force to be reckoned with in 2021.

The Bad: So there’s “The Bad” (Ovechkin’s defense) and the it-is-what-it-is (Ovechkin’s offense in Peter Laviolette’s system). Let’s tackle the former first. Ovechkin’s on-ice expected goals-against rate at fives was the worst on the team and his even-strength defensive impact ranked near the bottom among all forwards League-wide. Thanks to his even-strength and power-play offense, Ovechkin is still a net positive player, but that positive isn’t as big as it could be because of his woeful defense:

via Evolving-Hockey

Put another way, Ovechkin’s defensive play (versus replacement-level defense) contributed more negatively to the Caps’ expected goal differential than Tom Wilson’s and Garnet Hathaway’s penalties taken and Daniel Sprong’s defensive contributions combined.

Now, quantifying the defensive impact of a left wing like this puts a lot of faith in the models’ ability to measure such things, but there aren’t many hockey fans that would argue the underlying point: Alex Ovechkin isn’t going to be garnering Selke votes any time soon.

On the plus side, playing in Peter Laviolette’s system mitigates that poor defense quite a bit - as bad as Ovechkin’s on-ice defense is relative to his teammates’, the Caps are still a better-than-average team, defensively, with him on the ice:

via HockeyViz

Huzzah.

As you might have guessed, the trade-off for that kind of team defense shows up at the other end of the ice, where the Caps were rather pedestrian with Ovechkin on the ice. To wit, among 389 forwards with 300 minutes played at five-on-five, Ovechkin ranked 217th in expected goals-for per sixty rate, 251st in scoring chance rate, and 242nd in high-danger chance rate - with Ovechkin on the ice at fives, the Caps were expected to score at the same rate that the Sabres were with Tage Thompson or the Senators with Auston Watson on the ice.

But Alex Ovechkin cares not about your “expected” scoring rates, and the Caps, as usual, significantly exceeded that metric with actual goals, clocking the 32nd best goals-for/60 rate in the League with Ovechkin on the ice at five aside. All-in-all, Ovechkin had the third-lowest xGF/60 of his career at fives (ahead of only 2011-12 and 2013-14) and a middling xGA/60, giving him his third-worst xGF% (ahead of 2018-19 and 2013-14), but managed the fourth-highest GF/60 and seventh-best GF%, thanks in large part to a high on-ice shooting percentage... and maybe some things the models keep missing. It’s worth keeping an eye on, because the pursuit of Gretzky’s record is made all the tougher with a depressed offense... unless that offense isn’t really as depressed as the numbers make it out to be.

One last note for this section: Ovechkin missed 11 (really 12) games this season (seven plus all but 39 seconds of an eighth due to a late-season leg injury, and four due to violations of the League’s COVID protocols), far and away the most he’s ever missed in a campaign. There are an awful lot of miles on those tires - 28,004 minutes played, 3,727 hits thrown, 6,345 shots (on goal) taken, etc. since he entered the League - and the ten million (plus) dollar-per-year dollar question is whether this was an aberration for a remarkably healthy player or Father Time finally starting to catch up in a race he always wins.

The Video:

The Discussion: So... what’s it worth to the Caps (in dollars and years) to keep Ovechkin - currently an unrestricted free agent - in D.C.? Is there a price at which the demand is just too much for the team, or does the greatest player in franchise history have a blank check? What will it take for Ovechkin to catch Gretzky? And here’s one for you - would you rather Ovechkin (as a Capital) surpass Gretzky for the all-time goal-scoring title or bring another Cup to Washington? Finally, what would it take for you to give Ovechkin a 10 next season?

The Vote: Rate Alex 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.

Poll

How do you rate Alex Ovechkin’s 2020-21 season?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    10
    (8 votes)
  • 6%
    9
    (12 votes)
  • 18%
    8
    (36 votes)
  • 22%
    7
    (43 votes)
  • 28%
    6
    (55 votes)
  • 7%
    5
    (14 votes)
  • 8%
    4
    (16 votes)
  • 1%
    3
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    2
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    1
    (0 votes)
190 votes total Vote Now