Backstrom versus Ovechkin

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers

Since there’s a current lull in the Canuck schedule, I thought I’d write about something else. Try this on for size:

Backstrom is a better player than Ovechkin.

Sounds like hockey heresy or irreverance right? Maybe, but a heretic always has his reasons.

Reason one:

Backstrom’s a better passer. A given, uncontentious point you might think. Ok, but let me try for a ripple effect of sorts. He’s a better playmaker. It’s not just the simple pass he’s superior at, but he can make that quick and accurate pass from almost anywhere, in crowded areas and under pressure. Ovechkin rarely does this. But I’m not done. Backstrom’s a better orchestrator of the play. He possesses the puck for long periods of time, circling, weaving, buying time, weighing options, surveying the positional landscape, waiting until the opportune time to make that pass. During these moments, he is the central figure on the ice. Few people in the league can pull this off, Ovechkin included. My point is this: for those who would have no problem conceding to the fact that Backstrom’s a better passer, they would eventually be forced to admit to much more besides.

Reason two:

Backstrom’s a better stickhandler. I know, I know, how can I say this? Hasn’t Ovechkin scored all those crazy one on one goals, or goals while lying on his back, and so on, ad utube nauseum? No doubt he’s an above average stickhandler, but next time watch him closely as he carries the puck on a rush across the opposing blueline. I couldn’t count how many times he’s lost the puck either while cutting to the middle, cutting wide on, or trying to go straight through, the defence. His stick movements are bullish and cutting, not subtle and flowing. The puck doesn’t look like it’s attached to the blade of his stick, like it does with Backstrom (Malkin and Kovalev are other fine examples here).

Reason three:

Backstrom’s better on the boards and at shielding the puck. I don’t know what it is with Swedish players, but it’s incredible just how much better they all are at this than others (Crosby a notable exception). Think about the Sedins, Sundin, Forsberg, Samuelson, Zetterberg, Backstrom – just to name a few. So strong are they on the puck, so good are they with their feet, that, at times, it looks like they’re holding off boys. In any case, Backstrom’s one up on Ovechkin here.

Reason four:

Backstrom’s a better defensive player. Again, I take it this will go uncontested. Yet to admit to this is to admit to more again. Forwards who come back and help out end up carrying the play more. They become more essential to the up and down flow of the game. Datsyuk’s defensive play, for instance, doesn’t come at the exclusion of his offence – it contributes to it. It doesn’t just make him a better all-around player, it makes him a better forward. The same goes for Backstrom. The same can not, and will never, be said of Ovechkin.

What does Ovechkin have over Backstrom? He’s a better shooter, goal-scorer, and hitter. Since these qualities constitute hockey orthodoxy, Ovechkin will forever be regarded as the better player.

But the heretic will still have his reasons.