Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby both debuted in the NHL during the 2005-06 season. From that point on, they would be forever linked as the dominant players of their generation. At least that’s what many thought would happen.
As the years wore on injuries took their toll on Crosby, but whenever he did play he was always one of the two best players on the ice; depending on whether or not teammate Evgeni Malkin was in the lineup. The same cannot be said of Ovechkin.
From 2006 through 2010 Ovechkin put up gaudy numbers. His point totals over that span were 106, 92, 112, 110, and 109. He took home the Hart Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award and Rocket Richard Trophy in 2008 and 2009, as well as the Art Ross Trophy in 2008. Ovechkin looked like he was destined to be one of the all-time greats.
Then he began to look mortal.
In 2011 Ovechkin’s production dropped to 85 points. In 2012, that number fell to 65. That drop in production left tongues wagging. Had the game caught up with the player that looked like a juggernaut just a short time earlier?
Maybe it was teams catching up. Maybe it was a little bit of Ovechkin trying to do too much by himself. Maybe it was his coaches trying to rein in Ovechkin’s freewheeling style. Maybe it was the fact that Ovechkin only played the game one way, all out. Maybe it was a little bit of all of the above. Whatever the reason for the steep decline, there were rumblings that the Capitals should look to find a taker for the remainder of Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124 million contract.
Those rumblings increased when Ovechkin started the lockout shortened 2013 NHL season by scoring just 10 points in his first 16 games. One of the reasons for those pedestrian numbers was the fact that Ovechkin had, at the behest of his new coach Adam Oates, switched from the left wing to the right.
Even though he struggled, the Capitals showed faith in their captain, and for that they were rewarded. Ovechkin finished the shortened campaign with 56 points (32 G, 24 A) and his fair share of hardware.
Ovechkin’s bounce back season garnered him his third Hart Trophy, third Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay and his third Rocket Richard Trophy. He was also named to the First Team All-Star squad at right wing and as a Second Team All-Star at left wing.
Now what? That’s the question that many that follow the league are wondering.
Ovechkin has reclaimed his spot near the top of the NHL pecking order, but can he keep it? One of the big tests for Ovechkin and the Capitals will be that they are no longer in the relatively soft Southeast Division. With realignment, Washington will be in the Metropolitan Division with the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers, Islanders, Devils, Blue Jackets and the single Southeast carry over, the Hurricanes.
The other big question is will teams have had time to adjust to Ovechkin playing on the right side of the ice? The shortened season of 2013 didn’t give any NHL club that much time to prepare, and once the season began; there was precious little time to adjust any system. With a full camp, a full preseason, and a full 82 game schedule, adjustment and preparation won’t be an issue.
I’m not taking anything away from what Ovechkin accomplished in 2013, he deserves all the accolades he’s received for his bounce back performance. However, I am curious to see what the 2014 season holds for the rejuvenated MVP.