STATISTICAL ANALYSIS | Alex Ovechkin is struggling. He has just one goal at even-strength this season and is coming off two years in a row where he failed to break the 40-goal plateau. His declining production has been an ever-present topic of discussion, and in a recent Sports Illustrated column, Stu Hackel wondered if “Old Ovi” is gone forever:
“He’s only 27, supposedly entering the peak of a professional athlete’s career,” he wrote, “but — jeez, I hate writing this — it seems as if he’s already peaked.”
But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. NHL scorers, especially those who rely on goals for a majority of their points, tend to peak much earlier than people expect.
Take the best scorer the league has ever seen, Wayne Gretzky. His goal-scoring peak was from ages 21-23, and then The Great One had a noticeable decline thereafter.
What about the group of scorers like Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux, the Hulls and Steve Yzerman, among others, who have tallied more than 50 goals in four different seasons?
Collectively, they reach their goal-scoring peak around the age of 23 and see a downturn after age 27. Ovechkin turned 27 this past September. So you see, this scoring performance drop is well within the confines of what we have seen from the NHL’s elite in years past. But does this mean Ovechkin is washed up?
Let’s get past the fact that he is adjusting to a new position on the right wing and is playing for his third coach in more than two years. This season he is more engaged in the Capitals’ offense than he has been in a while. His 64 shots on goal are fourth most in the league and reverse his three-year trend of declining shots per game. Even with the lone even-strength goal he is still on a 27-goal pace over an 82-game season. Yes, that is low by Ovechkin standards, considering how he lit up the league upon his arrival, but 27 goals with almost no contribution during even-strength is not chump change either.
Has Ovechkin become too predictable? Probably. Is his contract high for the on-ice production he is providing? Absolutely. Is he washed up? Not even close.
Follow Neil on Twitter: @ngreenberg