Photo credit: Bruce Bennett
Last season I got some flak for projecting Ovechkin would score on average 42 goals, plus or minus 8 goals over the 82-game season. The former two-time Hart winner ended up setting career lows in goals (32) and points (85), while once again suffering an early exit in the postseason.
Before anyone accuses me of being
right a jinx, consider that in each of the two seasons before that he saw most of his offensive numbers decline:
So, despite this downturn, what can we realistically expect from one of the NHL’s best players this upcoming season?
“I fully expect Alex Ovechkin to come back into [training] camp mean as a bear,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I’m sure — and it’s well documented — that individually for him, he took more criticism at the end of last year for his totals in goals and points, and not being up for the Hart, and not being up for other awards.”
Personally, I am still tinkering with my #fancystats for quantifying bear-meanness; however, my recent inklings that Ovechkin may light the lamp only 30-35 times in 2011-12 might have been a little low. Consider this a revision of my expectations.
The Capitals added depth at forward and on defense by trading for Troy Brouwer plus signing free agents Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Halpern. Washington also brought in veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun on a $1.5 million, one-year bargain-basement deal.
The defense is better than it has been in recent years. The arrival of Roman Hamrlik gives them another offensive defenseman while Tomas Vokoun’s save percentage since the lockout has been a lofty .92168, second only to current Vezina winner Tim Thomas’ .92170.
Boudreau also seems to be looking for some middle ground after his system switched from “fun-n-gun” to a more defensive style.
“I’m hoping that we can be a hybrid,” explained Boudreau. “There’s some parts we changed [last season] that I really loved. But when you’re playing like that, you have score a lot of goals [on] dump-ins and you have to score a lot of goals off the forecheck because the quick-break isn’t there. I’d like to get back to being more of a quick-break team.”
The reduction in scoring last year was also caused in part by the team seeing less “puck luck” — at both even strength and on the power play — than they had in years past. The Caps did manage to generate the same amount of shots when Ovechkin was on the ice at even strength and increase the shot volume on the power play, so if the shooting percentages progress to the mean, that alone should help give him an uptick in the boxcar stats.
Usually I run projections using similar seasons (normalized to the current season) from players at the same age and position, but Ovechkin has so few peers I decided to tackle it another way, so bear with me as we crunch some numbers.
First, at 26-years-old, Ovechkin is in his prime. Goal scorers tend to peak between ages 24 and 27 and then the goals began to fade.
Second, Ovechkin has become more of a playmaker these past few years, registering points on over 83 percent of the goals scored when he was on the ice at even strength last season, compared to less than 80 percent the three seasons prior to that. He also scored just a third of the goals himself last season, a ratio which should drift back up to his historical average of 40 percent. Add in the 5v5 shooting percentage should also rebound and the Russian Bear will score 28 even strength goals and have 34 assists.
Third, the power play should bounce back. The NHL’s 16th best unit converted on less than 10 percent of its shots on goal with Ovechkin on the ice, down from 15 percent the three years prior. That should progress to around 16 percent, and with more shots being generated on net during the man advantage Ovechkin should add another 11 goals while on the power play plus 20 assists.
That’s 39 goals total without the benefit of more starts in the offensive zone, a better off-season training regimen and plain ole good fortune.
Does this mean Ovechkin has a shot at an Ovechkin-like season? It looks like he does.
He has roughly a 46 percent chance at 40 goals or more and almost an 11 percent chance to exceed 45 goals for the year.
My conservative projection for Ovechkin in 2011-12: