Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin. For seven years, these three names have been mentioned in the same sentence. Today, however, when you see those three names you start humming that old Sesame Street song. You know the one I'm talking about:
“One of these things is not like the other…”
Ovechkin, the Washington superstar. Ovechkin, the guy who was drafted one spot ahead of last year's league MVP. Ovechkin, a two-time Hart Trophy winner. Ovechkin, a player who was touted by thousands of fantasy owners to be the No. 1 player to own in fantasy hockey as recently as two years ago. Ovechkin, a bust?
The 27-year-old is off to a horrible start with five points in 10 games and a minus-4 rating. His points-per-game average of 0.50 is lower than last season's 0.83, which was lower than his 2010-11 mark of 1.08. We can go back another year too - in 2009-10 his points-per-game average was 1.51. Those are big drops year over year, quickly falling from "untouchable superstar" to "Jason Chimera-like."
From a macro perspective, Ovechkin has changed his game - probably due to coaching philosophy. When the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs by Montreal in 2010, the entire organization panicked from ownership on down. They played a style that was too loosey-goosey. Too run-and-gun. Rather than accept that they just ran into an insanely hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak (and even then they hung in for seven games), the team turned everything on its ear. The new defensive system didn't fit with Ovechkin's style. Or Mike Green's style. Or Alexander Semin's style. Or coach Bruce Boudreau's style, for that matter. But they wanted the team built for the playoffs.
That new system didn't work. The Caps were out of the playoffs in the second round in 2011, as well as in 2012. Enter new coach Adam Oates, a fellow whom poolies expected to set things right and employ a system that works for this team's skill set. But Oates' system isn't working either. At least, not yet.
From a micro perspective, Ovechkin isn't shooting like he used to. He's not hitting like he used to. Perhaps his suspensions have made him pull back on his exciting, at times kamikaze-like, hits. And perhaps the confusing coaching systems have him second-guessing himself when normally he would just wind up and shoot. Whatever the reason, the hard data is right here:
Shots on goal/game
I took a quick peek at some of his advanced stats, but nothing there points to a source for this change. Of course his Corsi number is going to be lower - that's directly his fault. He's not shooting nearly as much as he used to. And his PDO stat is low due to the goalie's save percentage when he is on the ice, not because of his team's shot percentage.
(Those unfamiliar with advanced stats, go to behindthenet.ca and look around - to explain it here would take an entire column on its own.)
Nope. No need to get complicated. Ovechkin isn't shooting enough and he isn't hitting enough. He's barely half the aggressive player that he once was. That much is obvious just from watching him play.
POSSIBLE OUTCOME, SHORT-TERM
Adam Oates is probably not going anywhere in the short term. GM George McPhee is another matter, but a new GM won't have an early impact on the ice. So the points will continue to trickle in slowly for Ovechkin. Although, him finishing with 24 points in 48 games (his current pace) is absurd. Look for 35 points this season, which means 30 in the next 38 games.
POSSIBLE OUTCOME, LONG-TERM
Whether it's a new coach in March, or the team finally catches on to the new system, something has to change before Ovechkin does. But he's obviously capable of turning things around quickly. On paper, it looks easy. Just shoot more and hit more, right?
HOW TO PLAY IT
Let's look at four scenarios:
In one-year league, if you own Ovechkin: it's time to move him to the highest bidder. Depending on how the organization structure shifts, Ovechkin could finish anywhere from between the low-30s to high-40s in points. Don't sell him cheap and don't sell him at all if all you're getting are silly offers. But move him if you can.
In one-year leagues if you don't own Ovechkin: keep it that way.
In keeper leagues, if you own Ovechkin: hang tight. He is too entrenched in a "buy low" situation that you will not improve your team any by trading him. His production won't hinder your team by the end of the year. He's still a 30-goal, 65-point player under the current circumstances.
In keeper leagues, if you don't own Ovechkin: aggressively try to acquire him. His value is at an all-time low. Get him on your team. The downside isn't that bad and it won't get worse than it is now. The upside, however, is astronomical.
THE TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT
Mike Green and John Carlson will continue to struggle. The good news is that Green is finally healthy and Carlson is still very young. If Green can establish himself as a point-every-two-games player who can stay healthy for most of the season, then he can recover from this and is another "buy low" candidate for future seasons.
Carlson is a highly skilled youngster who is getting his signals crossed in a lot of situations right now. Experience will fix this. He just needs time. Probably two years, not two weeks.
Meanwhile, center Nicklas Backstrom is going through his own struggles. He's not playing with Ovechkin this season, so it's not a matter of one player dragging the other down. Each superstar is independently stumbling. The difference is that Backstrom could still be feeling the effects of a neck injury suffered in Europe during the lockout. An injury like that probably didn't help his chronic migraine problem any. But by and large, in keeper leagues, Backstrom is a solid "buy low" player for future years.
I wish it were as simple to predict the final 38 games as it is for the long term. But so much depends on the system and whether the team buys in…or the coach is replaced.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.