As a hockey fan for [coughs] years, I’ve been proud to see the progression of puckheads.
Proud of our willingness to accept hockey in places without ice, and hockey players with more vowels in their names than consonants. Proud of our exploration for truths beyond the box score. Proud of our acknowledgement, inconsistent as it is, that players are human beings with human being brains that can be injured, and we should at least be cognizant about that.
But perhaps my biggest point of pride as a hockey fan is that we’ve moved past the archaic, unjust and downright trifling notion that a player’s ultimate worth and his legacy are judged against whether or not his name is on the Stanley Cup.
It’s one of the most regrettable standards used by the Hall of Fame, and it’s one of the most overrated aspects of a player’s résumé. Especially when decades of players only had to overcome five other teams, and next year that number grows to 30. Also, because it’s [expletive] nonsense.
Unless, of course, you’re Alex Ovechkin.
Yes, this again. The latest kicking of this biweekly hornets’ nest comes from Joe McDonald of ESPN.com, a good dude who nonetheless believes this about the Washington Capitals star:
Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin is one of the greatest offensive players of all time. The 31-year-old forward is closing in on 1,000 career points: He has 531 goals and 444 assists for 975 points in 849 games. He scored the winner when the Caps beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 in overtime Thursday, finishing the night with two goals and one assist. It was the 91st game-winner of his career, tying him with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Recchi for 19th on the NHL’s all-time list. Ovechkin’s statistics are outstanding, and the Capitals finally have the team to win. They have a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie in Braden Holtby, a strong defensive core and strength up the middle. With Ovechkin dominating, there’s no reason not to win. But unless he wins a Stanley Cup, Ovechkin’s career numbers won’t matter. The time is now for No. 8.
Le sigh. Although in Joe Mac’s defense, he’s been making this “Ovechkin isn’t elite without a championship” argument for some time. I call it “The Reverse Joe Flacco.”
Ovechkin, ICYMI, was a point-per-game player in the playoffs last season, and has 82 points in 84 playoff games. Obviously he didn’t want it enough. Or something.
Look, it’s a go-to joke about Ovechkin, and that’s fine. Heck, I use it in the video below. But a Stanley Cup ring doesn’t validate nor diminish a career that’s going to see Ovechkin finish with more than 700 goals and potentially challenge 800. (If he pops 50, he’ll have 575 goals at 31 years old.)
And a Stanley Cup ring isn’t won or lost on the back of a left wing playing 25 minutes a night. This isn’t the NBA where one offensive player can affect a game, or the NFL where one quarterback can do the same. That’s why the championship validation in those sports is at least mildly more justifiable.
(And why you never hear these asinine arguments about baseball players; no one was ever like, “yeah, 4,189 hits, but what did Ty Cobb ever win?”)
The only reason Alex Ovechkin “needs” a Stanley Cup ring is to erase this annoying footnote some have affixed to his “One of the Best of All-Time” narrative. Because it’s not his fault the Capitals can’t get to a championship round, just like it’s not his fault Team Russia has morphed into “six scorers and pray the goalie does the rest” in international play.
This isn’t a requirement for greatness. This is a standard we can choose to apply or not apply. If you think Marcel Dionne’s 731 goals are somehow diminished because he played on the Kings for 13 years, that’s on you. If you think 1,079 assists for Adam Oates are crap because he doesn’t have a ring, that’s on you. If you think Glenn Anderson is an all-time great because he won six rings, that … means you’re a Hall of Fame voter, I guess.
Ovechkin is the greatest goal-scorer of his generation. A Stanley Cup doesn’t make him greater. The lack of one doesn’t make him any less so.
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