March 13, 2013

Alexander Ovechkin and Hockey IQ

I'm a big fan of "hockey IQ," the unquantifiable intangible that sets intelligent hockey players apart from the rest.

This does not necessarily mean the game's best players rank high in the IQ department. Take, for example, what Ray Ferraro of TSN dared to say this about Alexander Ovechkin, creating a minor controversy:
"But Ovechkin to me, there are no 60-goal scorers in the league any more,there are 40-goal scorers. He’s a 35-to-40-goal scorer, which would put him among the best goal scorers in the league, in my opinion, year after year after year. The one thing that I just don’t know about, it keeps coming back to this for me, is we often talk about players with high hockey IQs. I don’t think he’s got one. I do not think he’s got a high hockey IQ. He goes for power, he goes in straight lines, he doesn’t see around him really well, and to me, one of the great traits that Sidney Crosby has is his ability to think the game at the highest speed. And I don’t think Ovechkin’s got that.”
Newsflash: This isn't news! I've been saying this for years now. Of course no one cares when I say it, but if someone from TSN says it - look out!

Like Ferraro, I'm not saying Alexander Ovechkin was ever or is now a bad player. He always has been a player who relies so much on instinct and power and speed, but never a player who played particularly well with others. Every time he is on the ice, it is all about him, but unless he's scoring a goal he does not understand how to make his team better. He doesn't use his teammates particularly well. He is hard to find someone who can play with him and excel. And judging by his insistence that every shift must be played with his trademark hell-bent pursuit of scoring a goal on the one-on-one rush rather than employing other styles when the game requires it, he does not read plays or game situations well. He is not a cerebral player who can create something in various situations. He's boom or bust.

It has never been an issue of effort for Ovechkin. He just doesn't get it. Despite his recent troubles, Ovechkin remains a wonderful player, but both he and his team are held back because he's always been average in the hockey IQ department. And I don't think there is anything that can be done to change Ovechkin's game. Returning to 65 goals a year would mask a lot of these issues like it did before, but it's just not going to happen.

One other thought: Ferraro said there are no 60 goal scorers any more. Steven Stamkos scored 60 last year, and, if this was an 82 game season, he would be on pace for 62 this season. That being said, I'm not so sure I'd say Stamkos has great hockey IQ either. Incredible goal scorer, but he really benefits from a player who has a truly remarkable hockey IQ - Martin St. Louis.

Is a strong "hockey IQ" a dying trait among hockey players? Kids are taught systems and discipline right from an early age, in many ways killing creativity and improvisation amongst future generations. Know the coach's system inside and out and today's players can thrive.

But do they ever truly develop their hockey IQ? I'm not so sure it can truly be taught. Are today's kids too busy being taught the game as opposed to learning the game?

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