Alex Ovechkin's "Statistical Dominance" In The NHL? Hardly

Alex Ovechkin scored his 400th career goal on December 19. ran a story proclaiming his “statistical dominance.” My not-very-sensitive gag reflex was triggered.

Don’t get me wrong, Alex Ovechkin is fantastic to watch and he’s exceptionally good at what he does. Unfortunately, he only does one thing: score goals.

Now, one might reasonably, yet sarcastically, ask: Isn’t scoring goals a pretty important ingredient to winning hockey games? Well . . . sure. But there are lots of other ingredients that are necessary as well.

Over the past few years a slew of new statistics have been developed to help better quantify a player’s contribution to his team’s success (or lack thereof). We no longer need to sit in a bar arguing in circles over a pitcher of Molson’s about whether a player’s offensive prowess is worth his defensive haplessness – as fun as that may be. To turn a phrase from a popular marketing campaign, now “there’s a stat for that.” So let’s put Ovi under the microscope.

Let’s start by looking at a few of the old-time stats. First off, Ovi’s never been accused of “making the players around him better.” Of the 89 players in NHL history who’ve scored 400 goals almost all have way more assists than goals. Gretzky registered 2.2 assists/goal; Lemieux, 1.5/goal, Gordie Howe 1.3/goal. Only 15 of those 89 have more goals than assists, with Ovechkin coming in at the ninth lowest ratio: 0.94 assists/goal. Even uglier, at even strength this year Ovechkin is recording a microscopic 0.17 assists/goal.

Not only that, but a disproportionate number of Ovechkin’s points are scored on the powerplay. According to the very good websites and, so far this year Ovi has played a mind-boggling 92.4% of his team’s powerplay minutes (compare Crosby at 78.9%, Phil Kessel at 60.3%, and Alexander Steen at just 48.4%). And while Ovechkin leads the league in PP goals, he’s actually only 20th in points per 60 powerplay minutes, at 6.10 – nine spots behind Nazem Kadri, who’s running at 6.59 points/60.

Yeah, yeah, I can already hear you Ovechkin fans saying “hey, PP goals count just the same as 5v5.” And, once again, you’re right. I just don’t think that gets you particularly far – especially when you’re talking about the guy with by far the highest cap hit in the league, with Ovechkin’s salary taking up 14.8% of Washington’s cap space (compare Crosby at 13.5% or Kessel at 9.5%). Maybe if he contributed significantly 5 on 5 he’d be worth the money. . .

He doesn’t. In five-on-five situations, Ovechkin isn’t even average. He ranks #139 in the league in 5v5 points per 60 minutes of ice time. And try this one on for size -- the Capitals actually do 5.3% worse with Ovi on the ice 5v5 than when he’s not on the ice. That’s right, the Caps would be better off not playing Ovi at all 5v5. 58% of the goals scored when Ovechkin is on the ice 5v5 are scored by the opposition, with only 42% scored by the Capitals, which is good for 347th in the league. Compare Ovi’s 42% with 56.3% for Crosby, 65.2% for Martin St. Louis, and a seriously impressive 71.2% for Ryan Getzlaf. Only 8 players in the top 50 in goals scored are negative in this stat, with Ovechkin ranking dead last among them, just slightly behind New York Islanders juggernaut Frans Nielsen.

To make matters yet worse, Ovechkin plays a very high proportion of his minutes in “protected” situations. Not only does he rarely play against his opponents’ best offensive players, but 59.5% of his shifts this season have started in the offensive zone versus the defensive zone. That number is much higher than just about anybody else even approaching his tax bracket. For example, Getzlaf (45.8%), Joe Thornton (47.7%), and even Kessel (45.2%) start the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone, and Crosby is close to even at 50.9%. Imagine how bad Ovechkin’s stats would look if he wasn’t playing protected minutes.

“Statistical dominance”? Well, maybe. But not the kind I think had in mind.

I’ll close with a prediction I made when Ovechkin scored his 400th goal. At that point his shooting percentage was higher than ever: 16.9%. My prediction was that, assuming he keeps shooting at the 5.24 shots/game he’s done so far, at his lifetime shooting percentage of 12.4%, he’d score an additional 31 goals this season. As the season goes on and teams start playing tighter defense (and maybe even actually covering him on the PP?) I’m guessing Ovechkin cools off and winds up with a total of 55. Not too shabby, but nowhere near worth 14.8% of the Capitals’ salary cap, especially when he’s a liability in pretty much every other facet of the game.


  1. Jim Carey's Gravatar Jim Carey
    January 31, 2014    

    Stats are stats are stats you can take any great player and pick them apart with enough stats. Ovi is a great player assists lacking or not he plays offense and defense hard he had buried some of the best nhl players in hard checks and smooth picks. Your opinion backed by stats or otherwise is your opinion. Like a great person said opinions are like a holes everyone has one for the most part they stink yours especially!

  2. Blergh's Gravatar Blergh
    January 31, 2014    

    This all seems a bit goofy to me. Seems like you could have called your site "Why We Think Ovechkin Stinks".

    Ovi's 5v5 on ice SH% is only at 6.3% so far this season. Historically he sits north of 8%. This indicates that there is some randomness suppressing his on ice SH%, and the ratio of 5v5 goals for/against will likely tip back in his favour. Ovechkin is an extremely effective player at 5v5 and on the power play. He generates a huge number of shots in both situations and is an elite level sniper. Your assertion that his stats would plummet if he weren't sheltered is erroneous. Like any player, he would suffer a bit, but his skills are singular and I don't think there are many if any players who could replace him.

  3. Eden's Gravatar Eden
    February 1, 2014    

    "...especially when he’s a liability in pretty much every other facet of the game". This is a funny sentence with which to end your article, considering you spent the entirety of it expounding upon Ovechkin's offensive production.

  4. February 6, 2014    

    why is this faux-advanced statistical analysis so bad?

  5. Chris's Gravatar Chris
    February 7, 2014    

    Interesting analysis, where did you get these stats? I always thought PowerPlay minutes would be a good stat to keep and a compare on 5on5 is always healthy.

  6. SJF's Gravatar SJF
    February 8, 2014    

    This was some weak analysis, really, IMO.

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