Let’s hold off on the Ovechkin-to-Yzerman comparisons

22 Comments

The Hockey News columnist Ken Campbell has a question – why isn’t Alex Ovechkin being “lionized” for sacrificing personal success for team success the way Steve Yzerman was in Detroit?

Campbell also has a theory:

This wouldn’t have anything to do with a bias against Russians would it? Didn’t think so.

We don’t need to get into Ovechkin’s reduced ice time under Capitals coach Dale Hunter. If you still don’t know the story there, just scroll PHT and you’ll find a few thousand posts on the topic.

But some of you might be less familiar with Yzerman’s career progression.

From a 2006 Sports Illustrated article, we’ll let Red Wings GM Jim Devellano bring you up to speed.

“We had some really good teams in the early ’90s, but we couldn’t get it done in the playoffs,” said Devellano. “So we brought Scotty Bowman in to get us over the hump in 1993. Up until then Stevie was a tremendous one-way player, which we’d encouraged. In his early years we needed his goals and assists and, well, his glitz to sell tickets and to promote the team. Scotty didn’t care about any of that. He was determined that players were going to play his way.”

Sound familiar?

However, with all due respect to Campbell, that’s where the comparisons stop. Because not only did Yzerman become a better two-way player, he became the best two-way player, winning the Selke Trophy in 2000.

To state the obvious, Ovechkin’s nowhere close to winning the Selke. He hardly sees the ice when the Capitals are trying to protect the lead, and he hasn’t spent a single second killing penalties in the playoffs.

I’m not trying to pile on the guy — Ovechkin does deserve praise for sacrificing for the team — but to argue Ovechkin doesn’t get the same respect as Yzerman because one is Russian and the other is Canadian is specious. Pavel Datsyuk’s Russian and he gets plenty of respect for playing a two-way game.

As Yzerman recounted for SI, “Since I came into the league, there’s been three types of hockey played. At first it was a high-scoring game, very violent in terms of fighting, in which everyone concentrated on offense. Then, starting in about 1994, the trap took hold, and offense was more of a counterattack. It was a methodical, plodding game with less fighting. Now, since the resolution of the strike, it’s more of a flowing game, more open, very tightly refereed, with less violence than any time in my career. The thing is, a good player can adjust to any type of hockey.”