Zach Parise vs. Alex Ovechkin

steve laidlaw





This week’s Cage Match investigates the fantasy value of… Parise vs. Ovechkin

Lists make for great internet reading. They are usually tightly structured and easy to follow. Bleacher Report has built and entire website around the concept of lists. My favourite lists have to be Jeff Angus' annual Top 10's. If you aren't reading those then you are missing out. As much as I love reading lists, I hate writing them because it's way too easy for dinks (like me) with a keyboard and a modem to read a list and start poking holes. For instance, in Angus' Top 10 Left Wingers piece he ranked Zach Parise ahead of Alexander Ovechkin. My head nearly exploded.



Nope, he was dead serious, bro. Parise over Ovechkin! My goodness, that really happened. But rather than going all Mars Attacks I collected myself and remembered that I have my own outlet that can settle things once and for all – THE CAGE. Yes indeed, this week's Cage Match is Alexander Ovechkin vs. Zach Parise.

Many of you will recall that I am so firmly in Ovechkin's camp that I even went so far as to put him in the cage BY HIMSELF.

Rather than rehash the arguments I've already made let's go over the bullet points:


– Ovechkin has only had one bad season (last year where he scored 38 goals and 65 points in 78 games) it's just that his three-year trajectory going from 109 points down to 85 and then bottoming out at 65 is rather disheartening.

– A big part of Ovechkin's drop in performance is the result of decreased power play production, which can be linked to the annual decline of power play opportunities and also to the Capitals' power play struggles in recent years.

– Coaching and the presence of a healthy Mike Green are both integral to rejuvenating the Capitals' power play and thus the success of Ovechkin. The presence of new head coach Adam Oates should help with the former part of that statement.

– Ovechkin's usage rate has declined in recent years as he is taking shorter and shorter shifts. Oates could help in this regard as well as he was an assistant on a New Jersey Devils team that rode Ilya Kovalchuk hard last season.

– Ovechkin's offensive zone starts have been slipping in recent years as well. Part of this is the result of coaching philosophy changes and part of this is because Washington's depth has eroded and their weaker lines are not pushing the play forward as much as before.

– Ovechkin's shots per game have declined in each of the past three seasons.

– There was a study done that shows goal-scorers typically peak at around age 23 and have their three highest output seasons before they turn 25. Ovechkin is now 27. He is likely done as a 50-goal scorer.

– As important as Green is to Ovechkin's production it is also important to have a healthy Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup as a top playmaker as well though the off-season acquisition of Mike Ribeiro should help.

– For Ovechkin to return to his 100 point heights he not only needs help in keeping his slipping goal production up but he will also need to evolve his game and become more of a playmaker and that would require teammates who can score as well.


So let's review where we are at now with all of these points:


– With a recent five game goal-scoring streak, Ovechkin is back up to nearly a point per game. In fact, outside of a horrific start (three points in his first eight games) Ovechkin has been humming along with 29 points over the last 24 games. He's closer to an 80-point player than he is to the 65-point guy he was that one time. The 100-point Ovechkin has seemingly gone the way of the Unicorn, though.

– After an early boost in power plays this season because of some of the new rules power play opportunities have now begun crashing below last year's rate helping to continue the league's overall trend toward the hatred of offense. That hasn't hurt Ovechkin because, as predicted, the Capitals power play is flying under Oates and with the addition of Mike Ribeiro. They currently have the league's most efficient power play at 24.1% and Ovechkin has been the main weapon with a team leading 10 power play goals and 15 power play points overall.

– Ovechkin's time on ice is slightly up this year (20:40 per game) but most importantly his power play time is up over a minute from last year (4:46 per game this season vs. 3:38 per game last season). It's not the Kovalchuk treatment but it's an improvement.

– Ovechkin's zone starts are back up to 56.0% this season under Oates versus 52.7% and 51.6% in the previous two seasons respectively.

– Ovechkin's shooting is up from last year. His current rate of 4.24 shots on goal per game puts him on pace for 347 SOG for an 82-game season. It's not 500 but it's still a significant boost from his career low 303 SOG fired last season.

-Ovechkin is on pace for about 40 goals for an 82-game season, which is in line with our theory that he is likely done as a 50-goal scorer. His shooting percentage is currently 11.4%, which is right around his career average of 12.0% so for Ovechkin to boost his goal scoring rate would require him to significantly increase his rate of shooting from the high level he is already at or he needs to drastically improve his shooting efficiency. Beyond some outlier of a season both scenarios seem unlikely.

– We've yet to see the teammate who can push Ovechkin into overdrive by contributing his own goal scoring and thus boosting Ovechkin's assists. Mike Green 30-goal-scoring defenseman could really help in that regard. Unfortunately, that Mike Green no longer exists. The only people more disappointed than Mike Green owners are people who bought stock in Taylor Kitsch's film career.


All in all it's looking pretty darn good for those of us remaining on board the Ovechkin bandwagon. How does Parise stack up?

Like Ovechkin, Parise is having a nice bounce back year after a couple years of declining production. It's technically been three years of declining production for Parise but he missed most all of the 2010-11 season following knee surgery. He seems to have bounced back just fine though and with the way recovery from surgery is going these days I have no long term concerns about Parise so you write off 2010-11 and you get a three year trajectory of 94 points, 82 points and finally 69 points last season. Which Parise is the real one?

Parise has scored 27 points through 31 games this season, which makes it look like something between the 82-point Parise and the 69-point Parise is par for the course. I don't know who that 94-point Parise from 2008-09 was but I don't expect to see him ever again, especially when you consider that Parise is now 28 years old. Remember that study that showed Ovechkin has likely already peaked as a goal-scorer? Well the same applies to Parise who scored his career high 45 goals in 2008-09, his 24-year-old season.

Still, Parise is scoring at a good clip this season with 14 goals so far, which would pace him for yet another 30+ goal season were the season 82-games and that sounds just about right when you consider Parise has broken the 30-goal mark in every year of his career except his rookie year and the written off 2010-11 season.

Parise is scoring on 11.8% of his shots this season, which falls well in line with his 11.4% career shooting percentage so there are no albatrosses here. Furthermore, Parise is firing shots at a rate of 3.83 per game, which pace him for 315 SOG over an 82-game season. That's consistent with what we know about Parise's shooting habits.

So it would seem that Parise is fitting in just fine with the Wild this season. He has been a bit streaky though. Following an explosive start (nine points in his first five games) Parise went ice cold in February (five points in 12 games) before picking it up again in March to bring his numbers back to a near point-per-game rate. There really isn't much to read into that though because hot and cold streaks happen for everyone. The only concern is that perhaps 31 games isn't quite a big enough sample size.

One of the things to like about Parise in Minnesota has been his power play production. He has already 10 PPP this season after scoring just 14 all of last season. Chances are last season was just a blip on Parise's radar as he was good for 20+ PPP annually for much of his time in New Jersey. He is also seeing the power play time this year as he was in New Jersey last season (3:51 per game this year versus 3:27 last year) and the power plays have also been as frequent and as productive in Minnesota (3.48 power plays per game at a 18.5% success rate) as they were in New Jersey (3.26 power plays per game at a 17.2% success rate). Essentially, Parise was just a bit unlucky to have been kept out of the power play scoring loop last season.

Parise is also having success despite skating with arguably worse linemates than he did in his time in New Jersey. His current linemates in Minnesota courtesy of Frozen Pool:


Games between 2013-03-20 and 2013-03-25



Line Combination



















I like Koivu but I don't think he necessarily stacks up with Kovalchuk although one must certainly consider chemistry. One must also consider defensemen and I would certainly argue that with guys like Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert and Jonas Brodin the Wild have more to offer than the Devils have in recent years even though none of those Wild defensemen are what you would consider elite offensive defensemen.

But all of that really just re-enforces what we already knew – Parise is good and if we are talking pure points I'd put him as a slight dog to Ovechkin. However, the criterion for Angus' lists this year don't just consider points they consider the whole slurry of rotisserie categories (officially Goals, Assists, Plus/Minus, Penalty Minutes (PIM), PPP, Game Winning Goals (GWG), Hits and SOG) so let's give those a quick breakdown shall we.

Three-year Averages for Ovechkin (2009-10 to 2011-12) and Parise (2008-09 to 2011-12):





























There are a few discussion points here. For both players the three-year average encompasses their peak through to their subsequent decline. The hope is that this is average will give a better picture of what they are now.

As mentioned previously, Parise is a slight dog to Ovechkin in point production. They are both right around that point per game level on average but Ovechkin rates out slightly better and that's consistent with my intuition. Plus/minus is close but this is more of a team stat. I prefer the Wild's future to the Capitals' so I'd favor Parise going forward. This is reflected in Parise's plus-8 rating this season versus Ovechkin's Minus-4 although the sample size for these figures is too small.

PIM goes to Ovechkin but he had actually toned down his penalties the past couple of years with just 26 PIM last season and 40 PIM the year before. Ovechkin has 26 PIM already this season and it's come entirely through minor penalties so while this could be an aberration I'm inclined to think Oates is just allowing Ovechkin a little more freedom.

PPP is close but with Oates as part of Ovechkin's future I like him here. The Hits category is no contest in Ovechkin's favour. It isn't even close. I will mention that because Parise's stats include 2008-09 his hit totals are a two-year average but in the face of Ovechkin's physical and statistical dominance, who cares?

SOG is a close one that slightly favours Ovechkin.

So when you take it all into perspective in a rotisserie league there's little reason not to favor Ovechkin. As we've seen these two are capable of some wide-ranging scoring production but even in a down-year Ovechkin is still going to give you an edge in several categories and that makes him the safe choice.

The only narrative that I could possibly get behind for preferring Parise is one that peers far into the future and predicts that he will age more gracefully than Ovechkin. The theory would go that because Parise has such damned good character and is a classic overachiever that he will work diligently into his 30s as guys like Teemu Selanne and Martin St. Louis have, which has allowed them to stay relevant long past their best before date. Parise's elite hockey mind will further help him in this endeavor of agelessness because it will allow him to keep up despite diminishing physical skills. But I don't know for certain that Ovechkin won't have the same (or at least similar) ability to remain successful into the twilight of his career and besides, these guys are still in their twenties. This aging gracefully non-sense is years from being a factor.

Ovechkin remains the best at the LW position even if his decline has been a pain in the arse.


Other Cage Matches:

David Backes vs. David Clarkson

Paul Stastny vs. Tavis Zajac




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