Here is a story that I’ve put off as long as I could. The short version is that Alex Ovechkin has been unfairly deprived of almost 100 goals. The long version is longer, and it has graphs in it.
Alex Ovechkin has scored 706 goals in his NHL career. That’s better than everyone except seven dudes who are named Mike, Phil, Marcel, Brett, Jaromir, Gordie, and Wayne. That last fellow is Wayne Gretzky, who scored 894 goals in his NHL career. He’s the uprights at the end of Alex Ovechkin’s football field, and he’s just 188 yards or whatever away.
Here’s where Ovechkin’s 706 goals came from. Or more so, when they came from. Or I guess from when they came:
That’s a thrilling story, but an incomplete one: dynamic young player explodes into the league and dominates, then he hits a slump, and then re-tools and comes back with newfound conviction.
Except that story started too late. What should have been Ovechkin’s rookie season was canceled due to the 2004-05 lockout. The owners refused to have a season until labor agreed to a salary cap. Instead, 19-year-old Alex Ovechkin played for Dynamo in Russia. Had he played in the NHL, he might have scored 51 goals. (More on methodology below.)
And Ovechkin’s post-age-30 comeback started late due to the second lockout of his career. The NHL lost about 40 percent of its season so that the owners could reduce the percentage of revenue-sharing allocated to the players. That lockout prevented Ovechkin from playing in 30 games, which would have yielded 20 goals.
And by the middle of March of 2020, the novel coronavirus had reached pandemic levels, interrupting Ovechkin’s ninth Richard-trophy-winning season twelve games early, or eight Ovechkin goals. That same pandemic caused the NHL to shorten the 2020-21 season (or just the 2021 season if you want to be pedantic about it) by 26 games (so far). That short season may deprive Ovechkin of another 17 goals.
Excluded from these counts are games lost to suspension, which happens a lot when Ovechkin commits a grave infraction like breaking someone’s collarbone or skipping an all-star game. For partial seasons, these counts simply extend Ovechkin’s goal-scoring pace for however many games he would have played, barring injury. For unplayed seasons, the projection is a weighted average of the neighboring seasons.
With those new numbers, he’s an alternate history:
We can see Ovechkin’s march to Gretzky in the blue line below. My imaginary universe is the red line, a good deal closer to Gretzky’s record, represented by the orange dash at top.
With a sum loss of 96 goals by my reckoning, Alex Ovechkin has effectively lost two full seasons of his peak productivity. Now at age 35, Ovechkin would need to keep scoring around a 50-goal pace for four more full seasons to catch Gretzky. Whereas, in my imaginary world with climate justice, public health, and labor peace, he would be just two years away.
And now for the blame. Here’s how I render judgment.
At first I blamed bats for COVID-19, but my partner Aileen (who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology and more than ten years of experience with infectious diseases) pointed out that this is a) incorrect, and b) not actually funny. She blames human civilization, which is even less funny than bats, but it is also less incorrect. No edgy pandemic humor here.
Put me down for breaking Gretzky’s record in his age-42 season, probably off an assist from some kid who doesn’t have facial hair right now.
Headline image: Mingle MediaTV (cc-by-sa-2.0) / Illustration
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.