What’s next for Ovechkin?

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It happened again; the Washington Capitals fostered high hopes, but Alex Ovechkin & Co. fell short of the conference finals.

That doesn’t mean he’s getting the same heat he once did for a playoff exit, however. Mike Milbury and Keith Jones believe that he didn’t have the same burst in Game 7, yet they acknowledged his hard work, as many others have:

(Meanwhile, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz was downright effusive about his high opinion of the work from Ovechkin and Washington’s other top players.)

Perhaps deep down it’s all about the humanizing affect of some gray hairs?

Will the returns diminish?

Of course, that graying hair brings up a troubling question: what if Ovechkin’s best days are behind him?

He’ll turn 30 during the offseason, and as blogger-turned-front-office-employee Eric Tulsky once pointed out, things tend to really slide when you pass the big three-oh:

In addition, we now have an estimate of how even strength scoring ability changes through a player’s 30’s. On average, players retain about 90% of their scoring through age 29, but the drop from there is pretty sharp — they hit 80% at age 31, 70% at age 32-33, and 60% at age 35.

The easy counter is that Ovechkin isn’t like other snipers.

He’s a special player who could very well live off of his ridiculous power-play shooting. Then again, there’s also the wear-and-tear of being one of the most physical star forwards of his generation. It’s estimated that Ovechkin has thrown 1,224 hits since 2009-10; that’s a ton of extra collisions, even if his opponent received the brunt of the impact in every instance. His reckless style might lose some of its appeal as he goes grayer.

What we know happens next and what we don’t

For one thing, it’s clear there will be no rest for the weary:

That might be a bit challenging for a guy who seemed spent after Game 7:

Anyway, the biggest question marks revolve around the makeup of a Capitals team that may look very different in 2015-16. The impression is that one or more of key free agents such as Joel Ward and Mike Green may not return. It’s also clear that RFA Braden Holtby’s impending raise could make Washington’s estimated $21 million in cap space look like an illusion.

As much as Barry Trotz may request even more defensive prowess, Washington would be wise to focus on giving Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom a little more support. Just look at the drop-off in production after those two:

2013-14:

Ovechkin – 79 points
Backstrom – 79 points
Joel Ward – 49 points
Marcus Johansson – 44 points
Troy Brouwer – 43 points

2014-15:

Ovechkin – 81 points
Backstrom – 78 points
John Carlson – 55 points
Johansson – 47 points
Mike Green – 45 points

It’s plausible that Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov might make big strides next season, but one could argue that the Caps should still shop for more offensive help.

***

Long story short, Ovechkin is likely to remain a star for some time, yet Washington has to hope that he defies broader stats about snipers falling sharply after they turn 30. It should be fascinating to see if all the talk about growth ends up being justified, especially for “The Great Eight.”