An Answer to the Ovi Question

Last week, this little question was asked:

Will Alex Ovechkin score 50 goals again?

Last summer, it wasn’t much of a question. Coming off a string of seasons with goal totals of 52, 46, 65, 56 and 50 (in only 72 games), it was a foregone conclusion that Ovechkin would hit 50 if he stayed healthy. Then, with a rather pedestrian 32 goal season in 2010-11, questions about Ovi’s goal scoring future popped up like Alex Semin trade rumors. Was 50 Goal Ovi a thing of the past?

Several writers have presented statistics to show that odds are Ovechkin will have trouble ever hitting the magical 50 goal mark again. Others have presented different scenarios in which it can be done, which often include changes to the power play and curtailing Ovechkin’s physical presence. They’re all well researched, well thought-out ideas with convincing numbers to prove the point. As an engineer, I love numbers. Bring them on.

But when it comes to hockey, I’m a bit of a purist; I almost never look at the numbers. Sure, most of the time a 50 goal guy or a 100 point guy is obviously a well above average hockey player. But when I’m watching a game, I’m not using spreadsheets to figure out who the good players will be. I’m doing something much more simple, something that seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

I’m using my eyes.

If my eyes tell me Alex Semin is an elite talent, why don’t his stats back that up? Because stats don’t count on intangibles, such as drive and desire. They don’t show how close a player’s 30 goal season was to a 40 goal season, they merely say ’10 goals’. Sure, there are dozens of nifty stats out there that attempt to identify these things, but none of them are as good as a set of eyes.

My eyes told me that something was wrong with Alex Ovechkin last season. My eyes said he wasn’t taking slapshots. My eyes said he was missing his spots and hitting the goalie and defensemen more often. Sure, the stats backed up what I (and all of us) witnessed. What the stats didn’t explain was why it happened; why Ovi wasn’t finding the back of the net.

My eyes also told me that passes weren’t making it to him when he was open. On the powerplay, my eyes told me Ovi didn’t want to (or couldn’t) take one-timers. What my eyes never told me was that this was the best Ovechkin had to offer. My eyes said he was in good position, had good speed and still looked the part of a dangerous goal scorer. He was simply missing by inches.

Yes, I’ve heard that goal scoring is down in the NHL. I’ve heard that Ovechkin is older and his body is getting beat up. I’ve seen the stats about how players Ovechkin’s age start to drop off in their production. But my eyes tell me last season was an anomaly. They tell me that a healthy Ovechkin will indeed finish in the neighborhood of 50 goals.

My eyes tell me numbers aren’t everything.