Decision time on Ovechkin?

Goal-scoring belies underlying decline; What should the Caps do?

Updated: April 17, 2014, 12:46 PM ET
By Tom Awad | Hockey Prospectus

CapitalsGeoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsNicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have been successful, but the tide is turning.

Alex Ovechkin is without a doubt one of the top 10 goal scorers the NHL has ever seen. Since entering the league in 2005-06, he has been its most consistent scorer, leading it in goals four times, in total points once, and winning three well-deserved Hart Trophies as the league's most valuable player. Playoff success has eluded him, but there's no question he helped make the Washington Capitals into a contender.

But no longer. While some of his offensive numbers still look similar -- he led the league with 51 goals this season -- Ovechkin, 28, is no longer the same player he once was. The results can be seen in Washington's record: after averaging 108 points per season from 2007-08 to 2010-11, the Capitals have averaged only 92 points the past three seasons (even after adjusting for the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign). The team missed the playoffs this season for the first time in the past seven campaigns.

The simple truth is that Ovechkin is no longer a franchise player, and the Capitals are in trouble because of this. But just how bad is this trouble, and what can they do about it?


The glory days

It's important to remember that for the four seasons between 2007-08 and 2010-11, Ovechkin and his partner in crime, Nicklas Backstrom, were the most feared duo in the entire NHL. Backstrom's entry into the league in 2006-07 gave Ovechkin a true No. 1 center to play with, and the two immediately clicked. Over the next four seasons, Ovechkin finished first or second in league scoring three times and won three MVPs, and the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy in 2009-10.

More importantly, the team's performance was largely influenced by how well Ovechkin and Backstrom played. During those four seasons, Ovechkin and Backstrom dominated their opposition: With both of them on the ice, at 5-on-5, the Capitals outshot their opponents 2128-1645, meaning they got over 56 percent of the shots on the ice, and outscored their opponents 208-121, scoring over 63 percent of the total goals. When only one of the two or neither was on the ice, the Capitals held only a slight advantage over their opponents, outscoring and outshooting them by slim margins.