Enjoy Ovechkin While He's Still Alexander the Great
The Capitals' overly criticized superstar will inevitably slip into mediocrity like all the greats before him. Soak him in before it's too late.
Youth, that last slice of pizza you chose to leave in the box and Alex Ovechkin's prime; sometimes we don't appreciate the great things in our lives until they are gone forever.
We can't do anything about our increasingly creaky bodies or the cheese-covered delight that's sitting in a landfill, but there is still fleeting time to enjoy the Washington Capitals' overly criticized bundle of talent and joy before it is too late.
Thirty years old is young by most societal standards but it marks the beginning of the end for most NHL players. Ovechkin turned 30 in September, and, two months later, he scored his 485th career goal, making him the all-time leader among Russian-born players. In a refreshing change, the hockey world spent the past week lauding Ovechkin instead of questioning his "enigmatic" whatever like they had for a better part of a decade.
Between the birthday that scares people in their 20s more than student loan debt and the career milestone, all the signs are there—Ovechkin is getting old. Well, maybe not old. Older.
And even at his advanced age—30 in hockey is the real-world equivalent of the age when you begin having a conversation with your siblings about putting your parents in a retirement home—he's still one of the few players worth the price of admission, so soak him in while you still can.
As of Wednesday, Ovechkin's 10 goals and 19 points don't place him among the top ten leaders in those categories; the last time that happened during his career was... never. He's six goals behind the league leader with more than 60 games to play, so it's not exactly the time to eulogize Ovechkin, but it would behoove you to get out to see him before things inevitably fall apart in the coming years, whether it's two, five or seven.
But before you do, consider all you missed while listening to gripes about his plus/minus and back-checking effort.
- With 485 goals, Ovechkin ranks eighth all-time among players through their age-30 season. If he scores 33 more goals during the 2015-16 campaign, only Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux will have scored more than Ovechkin through their age-30 season.
- If you're looking for how Ovechkin compares to his contemporaries, he doesn't. No one has scored more goals than Ovechkin since his rookie season in 2005-06, and the next-closest player, Jarome Iginla, is 139 goals behind.
- Ovechkin's first postseason occurred in 2007-08; since then, he's tied for 10th in goals with 36. The leader in that category is Chicago's Patrick Kane with 48, a number he achieved while playing 44 more games than Ovechkin.
Just about all of that, however, was accomplished by a young man who scored goals while lying on his back and celebrated by pretending his stick was on fire. We are entering a new era, one where Ovechkin is noticeable from high above the ice just as much for his skill, power and speed as for his more and more pronounced salt-and-pepper look during warmups.
With graying hair comes all the other trappings of aging—a greater tendency for muscles to strain, for reflexes to slow, for strength to wane. We are at a crossroads, a transition period of indeterminate length in which we will watch Ovechkin slowly slip into mediocrity like all the greats before him. The question that remains is how will he age?
Will Ovechkin age like Jaromir Jagr, with grace and beauty? Or will Ovechkin decline in overwhelmingly depressing fashion like Jeremy Roenick, who cracked 20 goals only twice between the ages of 32 and 39 after scoring at least 40 goals four times and 50 twice in his prime?
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, as Ovechkin will never find himself skating in a weighted vest after games in his late-30s or completely out of shape after a season-long lockout in his mid-30s. How Ovechkin takes care of himself over the next decade will determine whether he challenges the 800-goal mark or has to "settle" for something closer to 700 goals.
After the NHL returned from the 2004-05 lockout, we were flooded with regular propaganda about a nonexistent rivalry between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby that ironically became a true rivalry thanks to incessant questions from fans and media about said rivalry. That narrative missed the point, for the most part, as instead of enjoying two wonderful players in their primes during a time when scoring remains down, we were inundated with idiotic comparisons between two players that could not be more different.
Ovechkin's game was, and still is, more appealing to the eye. He skates like the wind, has a shot that can shatter adamantium and possesses a willingness to steamroll anyone that stands in his way. Crosby brought more subtle abilities, like an unmatched penchant for anticipating everything on the ice two steps faster than everyone else and a knack for passing a puck through the smallest openings and onto the tape of teammates.
Yet when the one guy who brings flair and passion to everything he does struggles, the North American media can't wait to question his heart, his effort, his will to win. Now that Crosby is in the midst of his least productive season at the age of 28, the Canadian saviour of hockey seems to be avoiding those same questions.
That's all in the past. Let's put those petty issues behind us and start anew.
We, as a nation, as a continent, still have time to relish the Ovechkin years. We can admit our wrongdoings and cherish the time we have left with vintage Ovechkin. We can apologize for giggling at every Ovechkin GIF featuring an unplugged remote control and bask in the glow of one of the all-time greats—Russian, Canadian or any other nationality.
If we don't, and continue to be ungrateful wretches, 20 years from now Ovechkin's career will become nothing more than a reflection of our wasted youths and discarded pizza.