Alexander Ovechkin reached the 800 goal mark last night, becoming just the third player to do so after Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe. Ovechkin is one of my favorite players, but a lot of that has to do with who Ovehckin previously was as a player, which he has not been in a long time. He used to crush everybody and had a full offensive game. Could change games in a number of ways. But for quite a while, Ovechkin has been a one-dimensional player. He's a specialist. He scores goals and a kind of goal. He's a shooter, from a similar place, taking the same kind of shot each time.
People won't like to hear this, but Ovechkin has been a hockey version of Dave Kingman for a lot of his career. I like Dave Kingman. He's one of my favorite ballplayers. But Kingman did one thing--he hit homers. He gave you nothing else most years, save the RBI that came along with the homers. Ovechkin is a -8 on the season so far, and that's gotten better from where it had been recently at -14.
I do not think he's one of the thirty best players in hockey history. He will break Gretzky's goal mark, but this isn't going to be some amazing record to me. He's a guy who has done one thing and not much else, and that's how I'll look back at the bulk of his career. For a few years, he was a unique force. He could fly. He could creatively dispense the puck. He deked.
I can't put him in that top thirty, though. Crosby won't have any splashy records when he's done, but I think he's the much better player with the much better career. He's the possible top ten guy, and Ovechkin isn't close to that.
Is he the best goal scorer of all-time? I don't know. If Gretzky wanted to be Dave Kingman, I think he could have scored 1500 goals and had way less assists. I think you have to consider how it was done and what it looked like.
People want to disparage Gretzky's goal-scoring numbers because of 1980s goalies, their equipment, size, style. Okay. How about the sticks? Ever held a 1980s Titan, which is what Gretzky used? Ever held a composite stick? You could assault someone on the ice in the 1980s and it wasn't a penalty. Guys sawed and hooked each other all game. You can't even tap someone with your stick now. You can't even knock their stick out of their hands. I'm going to call a lot of it a wash.
Here's a useful way of thinking about Ovechkin: If a Capitals game was on national TV in Ovechkin's first few seasons, you had to watch that. The same way you'd watch a Jordan-Bulls game or that you watched a Brady game, at least up until this year. The opponent didn't matter. I can't say this about too many other athletes in my lifetime. Roger Clemens at points of his Red Sox career. Other people will say Pedro Martinez, but I didn't often feel that way about him, because you sensed going in that he'd be coming out after seven innings anyway. The magic came pre-curtailed. I know there were complete games--the big strikeout game against the Yankees, for instance.
There's more to understanding history in sports than looking at a total and having that be an end-all-be-all. What would have been the better career? Ovechkin with this goal-scoring record, or a shorter career, with him being a more dynamic, complete offensive player?
Both would be cool. Personally, the latter would interest me much more, and you would have been talking about a guy who might have been one of the fifteen best players ever. You're not now because that's not who Alex Ovechkin is as a hockey player, who he became with the shift in his game to the one-dimensional style, which has also added years to his career. This record will be what is talked about and mostly just that.