7 Signs That Alex Ovechkin Is Too Much of a Rock Star
At the time, the Capitals captain was leading the league in goals by a wide margin, but after his Russian squad was demolished by Team Canada in the tournament's quarterfinals 7-3, Ovechkin entered a goal-scoring slump that he has yet to fully recover from, as he hasn't come close to the 50-goal pace that he'd become accustomed to over his first five seasons.
This year, not only is Ovechkin's individual offensive production down, but more importantly, his team's success has taken a huge hit, as the reigning four-time Southeast Division champions are clinging to the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
The explanations for Ovechkin's offensive decline have been numerous, ranging from the Caps' increased emphasis on defense to a decrease in the star forward's confidence, but whatever the cause, Ovechkin isn't the lethal sniper he was two years ago.
Recently, former Capitals great and current goaltending consultant Olie Kolzig said in an interview with the Washington Post that he believed a big reason behind Ovechkin's struggles is his "rock star status," and that the way he has carried himself off the ice has taken a toll on his performance.
With that in mind, here are seven reasons why the two-time league MVP has become too much of a rock star for his own good.
7. He's Become Distant in the Locker Room
In a recent Washington Post article, some of Ovechkin's teammates discussed how much the captain's interaction with his troops have changed since the Capitals won their first of four consecutive Southeast Division titles in 2007-08.
Back then, Ovechkin, Mike Green, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom were referred to as Washington's "young guns," and the chemistry the four shared off the ice translated into success on it, as all four rose to stardom over the course of the next two seasons.
According to Green, the four became close friends, and they certainly appeared to have almost too much fun, all while winning more frequently than just about any other team in hockey.
Nowadays, Green says that the quartet of talented phenoms don't see each other very often away from the rink, and rumor has it that the only Capital who still hangs with Ovechkin is Semin.
As the team's captain, Ovechkin has a responsibility to be accessible to his teammates, and while the company he keeps during his down time is obviously up to him, it's in his best interests to do everything he can to foster team unity within the Caps' dressing room, especially during such a trying season.
6. He's Been Unable to Adapt
Through the first five seasons of Ovechkin's career, fans became accustomed to seeing the Russian sniper fly down the left wing, cut to the middle of the ice and rip darts over, under or through opposing netminders, which is why he averaged just under 54 goals a season over that span.
Since then, Ovechkin's highlight reel tallies have been much harder to come by, and consequently, his overall offensive numbers have taken a big hit. These days, he appears to be closer to a 30-goal scorer than a 50-goal scorer.
It isn't because he's somehow lost his speed, hands or cannon of a shot, but rather it's due to opposing defensemen and goaltenders learning to anticipate what the 26-year-old All-Star is going to do every time he enters the offensive zone.
Now, if Ovechkin ever wants to reach the goal-scoring heights he did earlier in his career, he'll have to do so by changing the way he approaches the game in the opposing end of the rink. In Tuesday night's game, for example, Ovechkin scored two goals, not by using his dazzling puck handling or ice-melting speed, but rather by going to the high-traffic areas in the offensive zone and being determined to will rebounds into the back of the net.
5. The All-Star Game Fiasco
One of the biggest stories of the 2012 All-Star weekend revolved around a player who wasn't even present for the festivities, as Ovechkin's decision to skip the All-Star game due to his three-game suspension made headlines across the hockey world.
Understandably, Ovechkin was frustrated and upset by Brendan Shanahan's decision to suspend the six-time All-Star three games for his hit on Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek. However, his opting to stage a protest of sorts, regardless of whether it was his intention, portrays him as a player who doesn't believe the expectations of NHL players are necessarily applicable to him.
For the vast majority of the players in the NHL, being selected for the All-Star game is a rare honor, and it's a distinction that some wait their entire careers for, which is why Ovechkin appeared selfish when he chose not to even attend the event in Ottawa.
4. The Olympics
Admittedly, the 2010 Olympic Games were held just over two years ago, but that's also the point in time when Ovechkin's game appeared to tail off gradually.
Though his open-ice hit on Jaromir Jagr was one of the highlights of the tournament, his performance was uninspiring at times, and Ovechkin simply came up short in the biggest game of the tournament, against Sidney Crosby's Canadian squad.
However, Ovechkin's true low point of the tournament came when he was caught on camera pushing a female fan's camera out of his face. Now, chances are the incident was exaggerated by the woman in question, but it wasn't the type of publicity Ovechkin needed after a disappointing performance on the world's biggest stage.
To his credit, according to a recent Washington Post article, Ovechkin is very aware of what's being said about him in the media, so the brand of criticism he received after the incident may have something to do with his routine lack of enthusiasm and confidence on the ice since the Olympics.
3. His Changing Inner Circle
Since being drafted first overall in 2004, Alex Ovechkin's inner circle of close advisers, friends and consultants has changed drastically.
For starters, Ovechkin fired hockey super-agent Don Meehan in the fall of 2006, a move that raised eyebrows across the league. In recent years, the only other marquee superstar that has dropped a respected agent for the advice of parents was Eric Lindros, who also developed a bit of a reputation for being immature and withdrawn.
Since dropping Meehan, in the last two years, Ovechkin let go of his trainer, Dmitri Kapitonov, his interpreter and adviser, Susanna Goruveyn and hired sports agency IMG to handle his off-ice endorsements.
While who he hires and trusts is obviously up to Ovechkin, one has to wonder whether Ovechkin would have skipped the 2012 NHL All-Star game if were listening to the advice of a respected agent like Meehan.
2. His off-Ice Escapades
After the Capitals were upset by the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Alex Ovechkin continued on to Germany to help Russia earn the Silver Medal at the IIHF World Championships, so he was very deserving of a short break from hockey.
However, weeks later, pictures of Ovechkin partying shirtless on a boat with teammate Alexander Semin and a host of bikini-clad women surfaced.
Now, for the most part, I believe what professional athletes do on their own time should be their own business, but Ovechkin going on a week-long booze cruise just days after one of the most disappointing performances of his career qualifies as an exception. As the team's captain, it's hard to believe that going drinking, dancing and soaking up rays with another underachieving teammate and a collection of girls in swimsuits on a boat would be his first order of business after such a colossal letdown in the postseason.
Can one even imagine what Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos would be doing after having their teams' Stanley Cup hopes dashed three playoff rounds early? Does Ovechkin really think the other members of the Caps' leadership group like Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble were knocking back beers in a Speedo so soon after being eliminated?
Ovechkin is 26, so it's no secret that he'll take a few nights off to enjoy the fame that comes with being an international icon, but he has to at least appear more crushed after yet another disappointing playoff outing.
1. The Boudreau Incident
Though the incident may have been blown out of proportion, when Ovechkin was benched in November by former Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau, his reaction was not the sort of leadership one wants to see from a team captain.
After learning that Boudreau had opted to put six skaters on the ice over Ovechkin with the Caps trailing Anaheim late in the game, Ovechkin was caught on camera calling Boudreau fat, and using another word that begins with an "f" that isn't fit to print.
While the Capitals would go on to win the game in overtime, with Ovechkin collecting an assist, the incident raised red flags concerning Ovechkin's commitment to doing what's best for the team, which may not always be the same thing as doing what's best for Ovechkin.
Going forward, if the Caps are going to hang onto a playoff spot with just 12 games remaining, Washington will need their captain to lead by example, both in the way he plays, and in the way he carries himself.