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Alex Ovechkin Is a Treasure, Treat Him That Way

Ovechkin gets a bad rap for his playoff failures, but that doesn't tell the whole story about his talent. Nor does it capture the fact that he's a treasure.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

You probably don't think of Alex Ovechkin as the greatest goal scorer ever. More likely he's the overgrown manchild jumping into the boards after goals, only to disappear like the rest of his Washington Capitals come playoff time. Ovechkin's greatness is easy to dismiss because, to date, it has come only during the regular season, and the regular season doesn't matter. What really matters, we've collectively decided, are the playoffs. But the playoffs can't be the whole story. They can't alone be what defines greatness for Ovechkin, a historic talent too easily dismissed on the basis of team failures in April, or anybody else.

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Sixteen teams participate in four rounds of the NHL playoffs and each round sees half the competition fail. There is a mathematical reality at play here, one that paints too many great players as failures. This is true over all professional sports, where the regular season becomes an afterthought, but Ovechkin is perhaps the best example. He's a three-time NHL MVP and four-time goal-scoring champion who in nine seasons has never made it beyond the second round of the playoffs.

Read More: Watching Playoff Hockey at the Department of Player Safety

The second round is where Ovechkin's Capitals find themselves today, having defeated the New York Islanders in seven. This upcoming series will be painted as yet another chance for Ovechkin to assert his greatness. It shouldn't.

Ovechkin is at least the best scorer in hockey since Wayne Gretzky. Actually, he's been a better goal-scorer than the Great One. Hockey Reference's adjusted goals statistic, which accounts for different scoring environments, shows Ovechkin's 544 adjusted goals to be the most of any player through his age, including Gretzky.

But this isn't really about comparing Ovechkin and Gretzky. This is about how overlooked and under-appreciated Ovechkin is, all because—still shy of 30 years old—he has yet to raise the Stanley Cup. Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers, of course, won four Stanley Cups. There is no amount of context that can change that. The playoffs aren't about context. They are about results, and so far in Ovechkin's career, the playoff results have been middling at best.

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Yet another goal for Alex Ovechkin. Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

It's not fair, but when you think about it, what about sports is fair? Put Ovechkin with a team of Ovechkins and they win the Stanley Cup every damn season. Put Ovechkin on last year's Los Angeles Kings, the Stanley Cup winners, and he makes them even better. Put him on the Chicago Blackhawks teams of the last half decade, two time Stanley Cup winners, and he makes them better. But Ovechkin is on the Capitals.

During Ovechkin's time in the NHL, Washington has made the playoffs seven times. Three times they've lost in the second round and three times they've lost in the first round. In the recently completed first round, they barely escaped a team that finished the regular season with an identical point total. Now they take on defending conference champion Rangers and the best goaltender in the league.

The matchup will pit Ovechkin, hockey's best goal scorer in a generation, and Henrik Lundqvist, the sport's greatest goalie. The smart money will be on a yet another second round exit for Ovechkin. But the even smarter money recognizes that without Ovechkin, the Capitals don't make it into the playoffs at all.

The NHL and its fans have been blessed with nine years of Alex Ovechkin, and can look forward to more greatness for years to come. A few more weeks of hockey in the springtime would add to his legacy, but if they come to define it, then that says more about us than it does about Ovechkin.