There is no arguing that Alex Ovechkin is the greatest hockey player in Washington, D.C. history.
But what takes place in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final could ultimately determine his legacy as one of the all-time greats.
Or one of the all-time greats to never win a championship.
Ovechkin is on the ‘100 Greatest NHL Players’ list. He is 19th all-time in goals (607) and could easily finish in the top-5 when it’s all said and done.
He owns three Hart Trophies (league MVP), a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) and three Ted Lindsay Awards (players’ MVP).
He’s led the league in goals seven times and points once.
As impressive as Ovechkin’s resume is, however, it is missing one key accomplishment.
And that, of course, is leading his team to a Stanley Cup.
With the Caps three wins from their first Cup, we asked NBC’s hockey experts, a collection of hockey lifers who have combined to play and/or coach in more than 3,500 NHL games, if they believe Ovechkin needs to win a Cup to secure his spot in the “pantheon of hockey’s all-time greats.”
Here’s what they said:
"He’s going to go down as one of the all-time greats. I think it’ll be disappointing, as it was for me, having been to a number of Finals, to come up short. It would be for Ovechkin, too, or anybody else—Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, they never managed to win a Cup. But I don’t think it’s going to tarnish his legacy."
"My opinion of Alex is not going to change whether he wins it or not. He’s going to go down, in my opinion, as one of the greatest goal scorers of our generation. Will mainstream media, will other hockey pundits look at him differently if he wins? Probably. But there have been many great players in all sports that have never won a championship. To me, I won’t look at him any differently if he wins or loses. That’s me, because I think he’s been so consistent. His playoff numbers are off the charts. For mainstream media and fans, they won’t have that crutch if he indeed wins a Cup or two at some points in his career."
"No, he does not. If you look at just the recent history of all-time greats that have gone in: Adam Oates was never a Stanley Cup winner; Cam Neely wasn’t a Stanley Cup winner; Paul Kariya wasn’t a Stanley Cup winner. And then if you go back to the old days, Jean Ratelle wasn’t a Stanley Cup winner; Rod Gilbert wasn’t a Stanley Cup winner; Darryl Sittler wasn’t a Stanley Cup winner. These are upper echelon, superiorly respected people around the hockey world.
"The thing that separates Alex Ovechkin from a lot of people is seven Rocket Richards, three MVPs and a Calder Trophy. That says it all about individual accomplishment. And he has been one of the most dynamic, if not the most dynamic, goal scorers in the history of the game. If you ask any team in the league, would you want Ovechkin or you wouldn’t? The other 30 teams would all want him, in any era."
"No. Because he’s done enough to separate himself from other players. He’s a unique talent that people pay to watch play, whether at home or on the road. That alone makes him one of the all-time greats. You could use the same argument for Eric Lindros; I think Ovi has taken it to a far greater level. And Lindros is in the Hall of Fame.
"Is Ovechkin in the top 10? He’s there. I think he’s in it."
"I don’t think he necessarily has to win. To me, you think of the great goal scorers that we’ve have had in a game, you could argue that this era that he’s had to score in is the toughest to produce. To me, I have immense respect for what he’s done during his time. Having said that, we always want to put a championship on a guy, to kind of put an exclamation point on their career. It would definitely be a nice feather in his cap. But, for me, to validate his career and what he’s done, he doesn’t need to win a Stanley Cup. I’ve always thought he’s performed well in playoffs. If you look at his goals per game numbers, they are there. It would be nice for him, but he’s had one heck of a career whether he wins a Stanley Cup or not."
"I think he’s right there right now, in terms of the best goal scorers that we’ve ever seen. Alex Ovechkin is in the conversation. But I think he has to win a Cup to put himself in the super-exclusive club as best player of all-time. That’s what separates the best of all-time, the Gretzkys, the Lemieuxs, the Bobby Orrs and the Gordie Howes."
Each of the NBC analysts agreed that Ovechkin has already secured a place in hockey history. There were, however, some subtle differences in their responses as to where exactly he’ll settle in that history.
Of all the comments, Olczyk’s reference to the “crutch” stood out as the most interesting one. Indeed, there are always going to be a handful of haters among the media and the masses when it comes to Ovechkin, who, at times, has been a polarizing figure in the game.
But if Ovechkin can lead the Caps to a Cup, any argument that he’s not one of the all-time greats won’t have a leg to stand on.
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