Thursday, March 06, 2008

Will Ovechkin Be The Best Left Winger Ever?

I wrote this summer about lack of elite left wingers throughout the NHL history. All other positions have more elite players that have played them then does left wing. Most people consider the best left wingers of all time to be Bobby Hull, Ted Lindsay and Frank Mahovlich. They all played in older eras where scoring was less frequent. The highest scoring left wingers of all time are Luc Robitaille (his 1398 career points place him 19th all time) and Dave Andreychuk (who has 1338 points and sits 24th all time). The other forward positions have better career scorers than any of the left wingers and all other positions on the ice have more big name talent that once played that position then does left wing.

Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals looks like a good possibility to join the list of elite left wingers and to possibly become the best one ever. He is in his third NHL season and currently leads the NHL in both points and goals. He is a good candidate for MVP (though at this point I support Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings). Through his first 231 NHL games played, Ovechkin has a remarkable 290 points. As a comparison, Bobby Hull had 178 points in his first three seasons (which made up 210 games played). Ovechkin is currently on pace to become the best left winger of all time if he can keep up this pace.

If Ovechkin can keep up this pace for the better part of ten more years, there will be little question that he will be the considered the best left winger ever by then. If Ovechkin continues to improve and has seasons where he truly dominates the NHL and is a clear MVP (is that a tough task with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as contemporaries?), he could get to that level even sooner.

What could derail Alexander Ovechkin? The most obvious reason that Ovechkin will not keep up this pace would be a major injury. It is always a possibility that injuries may shorten his career or significantly lessen his effectiveness. It's also possible that he won't score at this rate forever. There have been a few players over the years who have peaked in the early seasons of their career and had offensive numbers decline from then on. Although this is an unlikely career pattern, it is always possible. Perhaps the biggest reason that Alexander Ovechkin may not go down in history as the best left winger of all time might be that a coach decides to move him to another forward position such as centre. It is quite believable that a coach may wish to try Ovechkin at centre sometime. He might do well there. It is something that has happened before. Mark Messier began his career at left wing and was converted to centre.

Historically, left wing is a weak position. It has had some good players - Bobby Hull being the best in history - but this is a weaker group than the other positions. Alexander Ovechkin is a left winger who is currently having his third NHL season and has been dominant in all of them. He was the first team all star left winger in both of his completed seasons and should be again this year. A projection of his career will give numbers that will likely have him become the best left winger in NHL history. This assumes his career is not derailed by injury or other problems and he keeps up his scoring rate. Most importantly, it assumes he continues to play left wing.

1) Speaking of MVP, quietly(for him) Marty Brodeur has to be among the select few who should be considered for The Hart
2) In previous seasons it could be argued that he had a very good if not great defense in front of him. This year, they may be underrated, but none whom could said are All stars, yet Marty's numbers are among the league leaders propelling his team to near the top of the East.
3) IF Ovechkin gets the Caps into the playoffs its a slam dunk he's the MVP he's scored an inordinate % of their goals. Else its a wide open race for certain.
I still argue that the MVP is the player who has produced the most "win shares" for his team this season and that is Nicklas Lidstrom.
In a word, no. It seems you are caught up in the media frenzy surrounding AO. I believe you need to step back and look at this with some perspective. Yes, AO is a very exciting player and a very good winger. It is of course possible that someday he could be considered one of the best LWs ever. But he is only in his third season. I mean, come on. A lot of things could happen - let's not forget that early in his career, Eric Lindros was touted as the "next Gretzky" and Brad Park was going to be the "next Bobby Orr". Both were good players, but hardly the best at their positions. It requires a great deal of luck and timing for a player to be the best at his position of his generation, let alone the best at his position in history. So take a deep breath and come down off the Ovechkin kool-aid. He is putting up attention-grabbing numbers so far, and doing so with style. But to suggest that he is already in a league with Hull, Robitaille, Andreychuk, Lindsay, Mahovlich, etc. is a disgrace to those players and shows little respect for the history of the game.
It's also easy to give the MVP to Lidstrom who is on a team with players like Zetterberg, Datsuk, Rafalski, and others who all help the team get as far as they have come. Lidstrom is awesome, he's the best defensemen in the league, but MVP has to go to Ovechkin, as he's alone in the type of talent he has on his team. He's brought Washington far, but he needs more to get them into the playoff hurdle. If somehow he does make it to the playoffs it won't matter, their team isn't built to win the cup. But i think that a most valuable player award should go to a player who the team could not have won without. Detroit could win without Lidstrom, but Washington is all but nothing without Ovechkin's superb attitude, and talent.
Luc Robitaille averaged 49 goals per season over his 1st eight seasons and had 293 points in his first 239 games. Let us see what Ovechkin will do in the same time frame, and then I will join the parade. Let it be said however that he does remind me of another great winger albeit, right winger, Mike Bossy. In an era where Pittsburgh has two great players, somebody find this guy a great center to compliment and demonstrate his talents like Trottier did Bossy.
Bobby Hull, in this league, would dominate the NHL. Ovechkin? Please, don't insult our intelligence.
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