He’s a rap super star and a rock star. What he is supposed to be is a hockey star, but Alexander Ovechkin has not been a superior hockey player in two years.
Ovi started at the top after being the first overall draft pick ahead of Evgeni Malkin in 2004 during the Russian Sweepstakes. His rookie year in Washington, he scored a staggering 106 points (52 G, 54 A) and continued the scoring for seasons to come, coming away with 92, 112, 110 and 109 point seasons and some serious hardware: Calder, Kharlamov, Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay, Hart, Art Ross, Rocket Richard. All of this was accomplished by age 24.
As the Captain of the Capitals, the team should expect more from Ovechkin than what they have received from the Russian Super Star the past two seasons. There are many theories as to why Ovi is no longer a consistent 50 goal scorer at such a young age. Everything from discontinuing steroid use to problems with coach Bruce Boudreau and too much pressure on him as captain have been thrown around. Other people believe that Ovi was a fluke. I find it hard to believe that a man who scores 45-65 goals for 5 consecutive seasons is a fluke. That is raw, undeniable talent.
This week, the Caps goalie coach, Olaf Kolzig has a theory that has been on my mind as at least part of the reason that Ovechkin’s on ice production has decreased. Kolzig had this to say about Ovechkin:
“He just has to get back to being the way he was in his younger days and maybe not get wrapped up too much in the rock star status that comes with being Alex Ovechkin.”
He went on to say that the loss of Nicklas Backstrom on his wing to injury and fans villainizing him for his sometimes over the top celebrations are putting pressure on Ovi that he mentally cannot handle.
I will agree with one thing: Ovechkin has embraced to the max the status of being being “Alexander Ovechkin.” Who needs to produce when you are making the money that helps you maintain a certain lifestyle through endorsements from Gilette, Verizon and other companies? There are those who want to be hockey players, and those who want to lead the hockey player life style. Perhaps Ovi has lost a bit of the allure of the game to the allure of the spot light off of the ice. One thing opposing teams know for sure when playing against the Capitals this season is that the threat of an Ovechtrick is non-existent.
I believe this is part of the reason that Max Talbot stopped producing in Pittsburgh. He became a local celebrity. Who needs to score goals when everyone loves you no matter what you do? Now, in Philadelphia where half of the fan base was likely most disenchanted with him for his “Shhhhh” move after his fight with Dan Carcillo in the 2009 playoffs and the other half indifferent, Talbot has a career high 16 goals and is playing what may be the best season of his career to date.
In addition to his rock star status off the ice, I believe that the team is putting undue pressure on Ovi to play roles that he is not suited to play. He obviously had a poor relationship for former Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, but with Boudreau out of the picture and Dale Hunter behind the bench, the team is still in disrepair, being out of the playoffs if they started today.
After Boudreau was released, General Manager George McPhee insisted that Ovechkin would retain his role as Captain. This is a mistake and more pressure on Ovechkin than I believe he can handle. He is a one dimensional player lacking leadership skills or the ability to inspire the players around him to perform better. He is a role player. He scores goals and he hits. That is Ovechkin. His game is rather simple, while he may score pretty goals, there is little creativity in his style of play, though what he does when he is on top of his game is extremely effective.
If the Caps want a better Ovi, then they need to just let him do the goal scoring and let someone else do the inspiring and helping the players around them develop.