Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is the NHL’s version of Dan Marino. And that’s not a bad thing.
In today’s society, sports fans obsess over winning championships. To be fair, that’s why most athletes play professionally – to win and to be the best. The worst thing about this line of thinking is it causes players who don’t win to get overlooked. There can only be one champion. No NHL player suffers more from this than Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
At worst, his legacy will be as the Dan Marino of the NHL. People act like it’s a bad thing when it’s not. Marino was one heck of a quarterback. You can’t talk about the all-time greats without bringing him up. Why? Because Marino took some Miami Dolphins teams that would have been simply terrible without him and made them much better.
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Likewise, Ovechkin has done the same with the Capitals. Much like Marino, The Great Eight, barring getting traded to a contender in his last years a la Raymond Bourque, could retire without winning a Stanley Cup.
Ovechkin and Marino have a lot of similarities. But their greatest one has nothing to do with championships. It has to do with sustained excellence, to the point where fans are numb to it.
From 1983 to 1999, there wasn’t a better quarterback than Marino if you look at the numbers. When number 13 retired, he had a 10,000 yard lead over John Elway in career passing yards. Marino led the NFL in passing yards four times in a five-year span from 1984 to 1988.
In an era when running backs ruled, he was about as consistent as a quarterback could get. You could pencil Marino in for 3,000+ passing yards a season. Back then, that was far more significant than it is now. In fact, Marino had at least 3,000 passing yards in 13 of his 17 seasons. The only four seasons he didn’t reach the milestone, he was injured or didn’t play the full season.
Ovechkin’s greatness is so consistent, his feats have lost meaning a little bit. Imagine if a player scored over 20 percent of his team’s goals, had double the goals of the guy in second on his team, played a role in 36 percent of his team’s goals, and took 15 percent of his team’s shot. He would absolutely be in the Hart Trophy conversation, right?
Wrong. That player is Ovechkin this season (as of March 13). Ovi has been so darn good for so long, fans are numb to his excellence. Ovechkin has nine seasons with at least 40 goals. Keep in mind he was likely robbed of two more of such seasons by lockouts (2004-05 and 2012-13). Only Wayne Gretzky (12), Marcel Dione (10), and Mario Lemieux (10) have more.
Unlike Gretzky, Dionne, and Lemieux, Ovechkin didn’t have the luxury of playing in a league where everyone scored. He’s scoring like it’s the 1980’s in a league where scoring is very hard to do. Ovechkin has 600 goals since entering the NHL.
He has led the league in goal scoring six times, not including the 2017-18 season, which isn’t over yet. By comparison, the best non-Ovechkin scorer each season has 613 goals during the same span.
The Great Eight gets a lot of attention for his goals (and rightfully so). But Ovechkin’s dominance is even more evident when you look at shots on goal. While this stat only started being tracked in 1967, Ovi has the highest shots per game rate of any player with at least 500 games played. That’s a huge reason why Ovechkin is such a great goal scorer and why he rarely slumps.
Also, he has led the NHL in shots on goal in 10 seasons (and is on pace to do so once again in 2017-18). No other player has led the league in shots more than five times. That kind of dominance is rarely seen in sports.
Unfortunately, like Marino, Ovechkin will get red marks because he has yet to win a championship. He probably shouldn’t because he’s been dominant in the postseason, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Ovechkin is a terrific case study for why championships should never determine individual greatness.