You are a National Hockey League player. Over your last 14 games you have eight goals, nine assists, and you are a plus-3. You have five power play goals in that span of games. Over a full-season’s worth of games that works out to a 47-53-100, plus-18 pace. Your team is 8-6-0 over that span, a 94-point pace that might have been better but for the fact that of the defensemen your team dressed over much of that span, half of them spent big chunks of time (or should still be) in the AHL.
Folks might think you are doing not just your share – you are, after all, a well-known star – but more than your share to keep your team at least within shouting distance of a playoff spot. No doubt you would be getting praise from the pundits and pontificators in the assembled hockey media for your effort and results, at least on a personal level.
Well, maybe not. In the midst of this last month of hockey in which you put up these numbers, you would have one “analyst” describe your effort in one game as an “awful display of hockey” and tell you to “get up and act like a man for God’s sake” when knocked down.
You have another “analyst” saying that you’re inconsistent, that you are uncoachable, that you are toxic, and that you and your contract are the impediment to your team changing its culture.
A former player thinks you let yourself go, that you’re fat.
Another thinks you’re a dolt.
Another analyst thinks you’re just not very good.
Never mind that you are playing in your fourth system and third head coach in 28 months.
Never mind that you have spent a lot of time this season skating alongside a center with whom you had never skated before this season or that you are playing a position you had never played before this season.
Never mind the fact that that the other side of your line has been for most of this season an endless revolving door of grinders, bargain signings, and spare parts.
Never mind that over the last month’s worth of games you’re playing at a 100-point pace.
Truth be told, Sidney Crosby is better. That debate has concluded.
Steven Stamkos is still in the blush of a goal-scorer’s youth (he's 23, and his day is coming when the bloom will be off that rose).
John Tavares is (finally) showing why he was a first overall draft pick in 2009.
But it is not as if Alex Ovechkin has become hockey’s version of the old, soft, fat, droopy dog on the porch who can barely be motivated to get up for a Milk Bone. He has not had the comfort of playing alongside players with whom he has shared a line in almost unbroken fashion for the past three-plus seasons (Crosby, when he's been healthy).
He is not playing with the same cast of set up men (the last few games notwithstanding) this year as he has in the last two-plus years (Stamkos).
He is not playing for a team with low expectations, that whatever success they have can be wrapped in a pretty “overachiever” bow (Tavares).
Much is expected of Ovechkin. That comes with his name and his past performance. He is expected to play to a 100-point pace (leaving aside the matter of there being only five players in the NHL on a 100-point pace today). He is expected to be a 50-goal scorer (whether that is to be expected given the life cycle of goal-scorers). He is expected to lead by example and inspire with the style of his play.
At the moment – over the last month’s worth of games -- he is meeting those expectations, not exceeding them. But that’s not the crime here. The crime is this sense of “seriosity” that has consumed media in general, and hockey media in particular.
We are not going to argue that Ovechkin is the player he was perhaps three years ago. Nor are we going to argue that his performance this year has inspired the Caps to overachieve. Sitting in 13th place in the conference sticks a pin in that balloon. But apparently, a pundit or an analyst cannot be taken “seriously” by their fellow wizards unless they find fault – real or imagined, persistent or temporary – and pick at it and pick at it and pick at it. It leads to blanket statements that do not inform as much as inflame… “you’re fat”… “you’re not acting like a man”… “you’re uncoachable”… “you’re toxic”… “you’re stupid”… “you’re not very good.”
It is profiling masquerading as “analysis.” There is a profile to which the player must fit, regardless of whether the objective evidence laying in front of the analyst says something else. And it seems that ever since Alex Ovechkin disappointed with his performance at the Vancouver Olympic Games, a lot of the hockey media have seen it as an opportunity to nurture and propagate a narrative that Ovechkin is fat, stupid, and lazy, when in fact the lack of analysis is a mirror, showing those analysts – at least in the quality of their commentary – to be fat, stupid, and lazy. Because right now, and for the last month for that matter, Alex Ovechkin has been a pretty damned fine hockey player.