The “no championships” narrative was never fair to Ovechkin but nonetheless existed. Now that it’s dead, where does he rank among the best players of all-time?
How good must Alex Ovechkin feel right now? And it’s not just because he’s hoisted his first career Stanley Cup after 13 seasons of trying. He also probably feels as light as a 235-pound man can. The tired, lazy, xenophobic hot takes about “Ovechkin never winning the big game and thus not being a true all-time great” are gone. Forever. And that means something to him. As Nicklas Backstrom told me earlier this season, Ovechkin “gets a little mad and refocuses” when the media publish their doubts about him. So, yeah, the legacy thing probably matters, too.
And even though many of us sane folk would’ve ranked Ovie as an all-time great whether he won a Cup or not, now even his fiercest detractors have to unlock the pantheon door. With the debate on his greatness really no longer a debate, how high does he climb on the legends list?
Ovechkin is undoubtedly one of the best two or three goal scorers ever to walk the Earth, and there’s a case he’s No. 1. He’s won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal-scorer seven times. The only other player to do so is Bobby Hull. He accomplished the feat five times in six-team pools and twice in 12-team pools, whereas Ovechkin won six goal crowns in a 30-team league and one in this season’s 31-team setup. With 49 goals this past season, he missed an eighth 50-goal campaign by one. The only players ever with eight or more 50-goal campaigns: Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy, who’ve done it nine times apiece. Adjusted for era, however, Gretzky becomes a four-time 50-goal man and Bossy a two-timer, while Ovie adjusts upward to nine 50-goal campaigns, using hockey-reference.com’s formula. That’s the closest we can do to comparing them as goal-scorers relative to era. Ovechkin makes a strong case as the greatest goal-scorer of all-time.
He’s also a three-time MVP and one-time scoring champion. Add in a Calder Trophy, seven first-team all-star selections, the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy and Ovechkin is truly one of the most decorated players in history. Is it time to start nudging him up toward the all-timer tier of skaters that includes Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Maurice Richard and (yep, I’m sayin’ it) Sidney Crosby?
For fun, let’s award one point for every goal-scoring title, points crown, Hart Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy. Add them together and Ovechkin’s number is 12. Gretzky’s is 26, so that gives you an idea of just how special The Great One is. He belongs on a cloud floating above any other player who ever lived. Howe’s is 17 and he’d have several more points if the Conn Smythe existed during his heyday. Same goes for Richard, who’s a 6. If we equate goal crowns and Norris Trophies to make the mock criteria fair to defensemen, Orr’s number is 15 and Nicklas Lidstrom’s is 8. Lemieux’s is 14. Crosby’s is 8. Jaromir Jagr’s is 6. Phil Esposito’s is 13. Bobby Hull’s is 12. Guy Lafleur’s is 7.
Keep in mind, of course, Crosby is the only active NHLer among that group (in case you’re wondering, Connor McDavid is already a 3 by age 21). Ovechkin now ranks among the top five or six most accomplished skaters ever to play the sport…and he’s not finished. Considering he’s the reigning Richard and Conn Smythe winner, he’s at the very least a contender to add more hardware before his career is over.
Is this discussion an exact science? Of course not. It never is when we’re comparing players across eras. But it’s nevertheless fun to think about. And now that Ovie has married the sport’s biggest team accolade with his individual ones, he’s knocking on the door of all-time top-10 status.