The Washington Capitals will open the 2022-23 season on Wednesday, October 12. Before then, it’s critical that you prepare yourself for all the incoming narratives. The only way to be safe is to read my season preview series. You’re almost done; hang in there.
Today’s episode of Uncle Good Tweet Pete’s Preseason Season Preview is about Alex Ovechkin’s chase for the all-time goal-scoring title.
The problem with using aging curves to project Alex Ovechkin’s offense is that he has no comparables. He’s a one-of-a-kind player. Now, sometimes this is the blustery way sportswriters talk about not-actually-very-special athletes. I’m sure somewhere there’s a guy who was, like, Brady Anderson’s 1996 season is just the start for this new slugging titan. So I get if you’re skeptical about this idea in general, but I swear for him it’s true: Alex Ovechkin is unique. He’s sui generis, which is a cool Latin thing. We don’t have to look far for evidence: Last season he became the only player ever to score 50 goals after the age of 35.
Ovechkin’s career low 82-game scoring pace is 33, which he hit twice, six years apart: 2011 and 2017. Each time pundits supposed we were hearing the death knell for a goal-scorer who was only very special. But each time it was just one more obstacle in his path to becoming the greatest goal-scorer the sport has ever seen.
Which is all a long preamble to me saying that I’m still worried that Ovi’s about to ride off a cliff. I’m always worried about it, I’m a worrier, and at least some of the data is on my side.
I’ve been doing that bit for like six years and I’m not stopping now.
But for real, one crude method of projecting a player’s output is to take weighted averages of his prior three seasons. Assuming Ovechkin can play 75 games this season, the back-of-napkin says he’d come up with 49 goals. Dom Luszczyszyn says his own projection (far more sophisticated) outputs the same number. That’s absurd. That’s an absurd projection for a 37-year-old hockey player. But Ovechkin is an absurd 37-year-old hockey player.
wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.
“ovi’s goals are hella absurd, now pass me the hot cheetos”
On the side of whoa-pump-the-brakes-a-bit is how and when Ovechkin actually produced last season.
After a hot start, Ovechkin hit significant lulls in the midseason, specifically January into March. Was that the busy schedule beating up a frail old body, or was it an accident of shooting percentages, or was it that nagging shoulder injury, or was it some other confluence of system-wide stuff? The answer to that question is elusive, but it would suggest how much Ovechkin could score as he grows another year older.
Ovechkin’s play style has changed a lot over the – jesus – over the decades, like plural decades now. He’s not a solo guerilla carrying the puck across both blue lines and then firing off a lightning-fast shot anymore. He’s still that last part though. He still shoots a lot, and that’s very encouraging. As long as he’s near twenty attempts per hour, I’m feeling confident.
Okay. Last thing. The Gretzky thing. Ovechkin is 114 goals behind Wayne Gretzky for the all-time goal-scoring record.
(Ovechkin is already more than 100 adjusted goals ahead, but we’re not allowed to consider that.) Ovechkin would have to average 28.5 goals per season over the remainder of his contract to tie the Great One. That seems eminently doable – unless the thinkable happens. Not the unthinkable. The thinkable. Unless it turns out that Ovechkin is not totally invincible to the ravages of age.
Not yet, I think. I think he scores 40 goals this season and catches Gretzky in January 2025. Take it to the bank.
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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