When a then 22-year-old Alex Ovechkin signed a $124 million, 13-year contract extension in 2008 — the first $100 million deal in NHL history — many, including myself, didn’t think it would be a good deal for the Washington Capitals franchise due to how forwards age in the NHL.

study released by the University of British Columbia business school found an NHL forward hits his scoring peak at 28. Rob Vollman, in his book Stat Shot: The Ultimate Guide to Hockey Analytics, provided research that showed most players “hit their peak age by age 24 or 25 then decline gradually until age 30, at which point their performance can begin to tumble more noticeably with the risk of absolute collapse by age 34 or 35.” Others, like the number crunchers at Hockey-Graphs.com, felt it was better to say “the average NHL skater plateaus from age 22 to 25” rather than peak, but the gist is the same: As players gets older, they become less effective.

The problem with this reasoning is it is based on the aging curve of an average forward. And Ovechkin, even at 32 years old, is showing he is anything but average.

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Let’s start with the fact that Ovechkin leads the league in goals (23 in 34 games, a 56-goal pace) and shots (156, 4.6 shots per game) this season. Only four players in NHL history — John Bucyk (1970-71), Bobby Hull (1971-72), Phil Esposito (1974-75) and Jaromir Jagr (2005-06) — have scored 50 or more goals in their age-32 campaign or later, defined by Hockey-Reference as their age as of Feb. 1 in that season. Only 10 players in NHL history, 32 years old or older, have managed to put at least four shots on net per game while playing at least 70 games in a season. Only Esposito, Hull and Jagr have managed to do both.

No one at this age has ever scored 50 goals while averaging over 4.5 shots per game, a feat Ovechkin will accomplish if he maintains his health, scoring and shot volume rate this season.

The biggest improvement for Ovechkin this year has been his play at even strength. Scoring a career-low 15 goals at even strength last season — his 14 in 2012-13 was during a strike-shortened season — he already has 15 in 2017-18. In fact, his 1.8 goals scored per 60 minutes is his highest since 2007-08, the first year advanced stats are available for the entire league, and projects to 36 even-strength goals scored over an 82-game season. Since the lockout ended in 2005-06, only three other players, regardless of age, besides Ovechkin have scored that many goals at even strength in a season — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos. Ovechkin is the only one to hit that mark more than once.

Ovechkin’s individual power-play numbers have declined — he scores 2.7 goals per 60 minutes of ice with the man advantage in 2017-18 compared to 3.4 and 3.2 the two seasons prior. That should improve with him generating more and slightly higher-quality shots on net this season. After taking into account the shot type, distance and angle, Ovechkin is expected to score over two goals more per 60 minutes of power-play time, higher than his expected goal rate of 1.9 per 60 last season. It’s a small difference, but when you consider he is also putting over five more shots on net per 60 minutes with the man advantage in 2017-18 than he did during 2016-17, it is easy to see why his power-play totals could start to take off at any moment.

In fact, no forward skating at least 100 minutes with the power-play unit this season has generated more shots per 60 minutes than Ovechkin has this season.

In this light, it is hard to overstate the Great Eight’s value to the franchise, even as he matures into his thirties. Take away his goals scored and the team’s goal differential drops from plus-10, the 10th best mark in the NHL, to minus-13, the eighth-worst in the league this season. Washington’s power-play efficiency also drops, from 20.8 to 15.1 percent, and perhaps lower after you subtract Ovechkin’s six power-play assists. And who knows what the franchise would be if not for Ovechkin’s 581 goals scored, good for 20th all time. Adjust those to account for different schedule lengths, roster sizes and scoring environments and he moves up to No. 7.

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Eventually, Ovechkin will succumb to the effects of aging just like the rest of us. Just don’t ask me when that will be, because it doesn’t look like it will be any time soon.

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