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Ovechkin not worth the cash, stats show: Deeper look at the numbers reveals flaws in only judging sniper based on goal totals.
31.01.2014. IJay Palansky. Toronto Star

Alex Ovechkin scored his 400th career goal on Dec. 19. NHL.com ran a story proclaiming his "statistical dominance." My not-very-sensitive gag reflex was triggered.

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

One might reasonably ask: Isn't scoring goals a pretty important ingredient to winning hockey games? Well, sure. But there are lots of other necessary ingredients 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 Ovechkin under the microscope.

We'll start by looking at a few of the old-time stats. First off, Ovechkin has 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. Wayne Gretzky registered 2.2 assists/goal; Mario 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.

A disproportionate number of Ovechkin's points are scored on the power play. According to the very good websites extraskater.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com, Ovechkin has played a mind-boggling 92.4 per cent of his team's power-play minutes (compare Sidney Crosby at 78.9 per cent, Phil Kessel at 60.3 per cent and Alexander Steen at just 48.4 per cent). While Ovechkin leads the league in power-play goals, he's actually only 20th in points per 60 power-play minutes, at 6.10 - nine spots behind Nazem Kadri, who's running at 6.59 points/60.

I can already hear Ovechkin fans saying "hey, PP goals count just the same as five-on-five." 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 per cent of Washington's cap space (compare Crosby at 13.5 per cent or Kessel at 9.5 per cent). Maybe if he contributed significantly five-on-five, he'd be worth the money.

He doesn't. In five-on-five situations, Ovechkin ranks No. 139 in the league in points per 60 minutes of ice time.

The Capitals actually do 5.3 per cent worse with Ovechkin on the ice five-on-five than when he's not on the ice. Of all the goals scored while five-on-five, 58 per cent are scored by the opposing team when Ovechkin is on the ice, with only 42 per cent scored by the Capitals, good for 347th in the league. Compare his 42 per cent with 56.3 per cent for Crosby, 65.2 per cent for Martin St. Louis and 71.2 per cent for Ryan Getzlaf.

Only eight 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.

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

The Department of Hockey Analytics employs advanced statistical methods and innovative approaches to better understand the game of hockey. Its three founders are Ian Cooper, a lawyer, former player agent and Wharton Business School graduate; Dr. Phil Curry, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo; and IJay Palansky, a litigator in Washington, D.C., former high-stakes professional poker player and Harvard Law School graduate. 

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