Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Honoring Ovie and Debunking Myths, All In One Article!

The March 24th issue of Sports Illustrated contains a (prophetic?) feature article on Alex Ovechkin and his now-completed quest for 60 goals. It’s a fine piece of sports journalism, one rife with complimentary superlatives from foe and friend. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this article, however, was the complete absence of any reference to Sidney Crosby. Finally, perhaps, Alex has shed nearly three years of his name never being more than a breath away from Sid’s. Even at the All Star Game, Ovechkin’s potential solo-ness was overshadowed by the fresh grief of NHL writers everywhere over Sidney’s tender little ankle.

Brilliant article penner Michael Farber caught the attention of DCO Hall of Fame ballot-casters with his masterful tribute to the quest for 60. This work does indeed make a strong case for his induction, though the DCO HOF ultimately decided to exercise prudent restraint, knowing that the hallowed halls honoring DC names such as Stevenson and Lannan must be carefully guarded. While Farber is on a short list of potential future inductees, we must always be wary of a backslide into robotic Crosby worship, which would clearly be an embarrassment to the DCO HOF (and make for some awkward situations in the Deshawn Stevenson Accurate Player Assessment Wing). For the moment, however, well done Mr. Farber.

We at DCO also appreciate a small, easily overlooked portion late in the article that helps to debunk some Ovechkin myths. First, the silly notion that Ovie’s stats are padded by playing in the Southeast Division. Farber statistically annihilates this nonsense. Second, Alex’s growth as a “playmaker” are acknowledged, in that he “passes smartly and uses his teammates more effectively than he once did.”

This last part especially is important, since it contradicts the top knocks on Alex by Crosby apologists who positively bristle at any perceived threat to their Anointed One’s status of Greatest Hockey Player Forever mantle. These knocks include the notions that Ovechkin is “selfish”, “not a playmaker”, does not possess “good vision” (i.e., the ability to consistently blindly and randomly throw the puck into the crease, occasionally resulting in a good-looking goal) or “not good at defense”.

Last week’s game against the Predators contained concrete examples to debunk such absurd detractions. Selfish? Not a playmaker? See the beautiful, hockey-vision-aided set-up of Nicklas Backstrom in the first period for a 2-0 lead (a similar but more beautiful set-up was seen in the win against the Thrashers). Selfish? Not good at defense? See the heart-stopping, potentially foot-breaking, body-bruising shot blocking, particularly towards the end of the game with the Predators’ net empty and Nashville pushing hard for the tying goal. See also the lack of an attempt to wildly fire the puck towards the empty net. See the calm, time-killing easy chip out of the defensive zone that just happened to result in an empty net goal. Unselfish, team-centric play rewarded. Unselfish, team-centric style of play also confirmed by his +23 this season.
More on “not a playmaker”: this derision likely stems from some sort of misguided mathematical notion that one must have a certain proportion of goals to assists (that is, more assists than goals) to qualify as a truly well-rounded player. So a player like Crosby or non-MVP Evgeni Malkin might more readily qualify as a “playmaker” because they score fewer goals and rack up a few more secondary assists, comfortably “balancing” their stat lines towards the assists column.

Ovechkin makes plenty of plays, too, they just happen to be goal-scoring plays. Lots of them. Ironically, perhaps too many of them for the “playmaking” crowd’s liking. If he were sitting at 45 goals and 46 assists instead of 60 goals and 46 assists, he might more readily be called a well-rounded player, and not a “selfish” one. And what’s that all about, “selfish” being the go-to derisive label for prolific goal-scorers (at least those without the aforementioned cozy goal-to-assist ratio)? Is a league-leading total of ten game winning goals selfish? Those helped the team quite a bit.

It is perhaps ridiculous to sit here and complain about the detractors when Alex is rightly piling up accolades as he churns towards multiple trophies and the Caps churn towards the playoffs, but it’s always good to brush up on counter-arguments to ridiculous statements made by ridiculous people who blindly accept ridiculous proclamations on who is supposed to be the NHL’s best player.

Thus the NHL's non-anointed-from-birth best player leads his team against the Hurricanes tonight; those pesky Hurricanes who just will not give up their division leading perch. They're 11-2 in their past 13 games. Pretty hot, you could say. But we know what happens when the play hot teams, don't we?

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