Another Season, Another Heartbreak For the Great 8
In a Wednesday column in the Washington Times, Washington Capitals reporter Stephen Whyno makes the argument that the Capitals are well-served to trade star captain Alex Ovechkin. While certainly that is a valid viewpoint for one to hold, Ovechkin's downside in Washington is far outweighed by his upside.
When Ovechkin came to Washington in 2005, he was heralded as the NHL's next superstar. For his first few seasons, he appeared to live up to that status. He won the Calder Trophy for his 52-goal rookie season, and his production increased over the years as he became the face of the post-lockout NHL for his high-speed and high-scoring abilities.
Everything was going swimmingly in early 2010 for the young Russian. His Capitals were in the midst of their best season ever with a 14-game winning streak, and he had been recently named captain of the squad.
A disappointing sixth-place finish for Russia at the Vancouver Winter Olympics was not what he had in mind, but surely nothing could have prepared him for the Capitals' stunning first-round exit at the hands of Montreal.
In four of his first five seasons in Washington, Ovechkin had point totals of over 100. He hasn't seen triple digits in any category since that 2009-10 season, and his production dropped this year to just 65 points in the regular season, and most alarmingly, nine points in 14 playoff games.
Clearly, that is not the kind of production that the coaches, management, players, and fans expect from the Russian phenom. This severe drop in production could be related to several things. The first of which is his role as captain of the team.
At the beginning of his career, he was seen as the captain-in-waiting for the team, and when Chris Clark was traded, Ovechkin was named captain soon thereafter. One may argue that his lack of point producing is because of the added role that he has had to take on in the past 2.5 seasons. He did just fine as an alternate, and he may not be the appropriate choice for captain.
This title should be give to someone with a strong voice and high level of respect in the dressing room, someone like Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, or Matt Hendricks. Ovechkin can be the face of the franchise without wearing the "C" on his chest.
Whomever general manager George McPhee decides to bring in as Washington's next head coach should consider Ovechkin and his true ability to lead a team in this role.
How Can Ovi's Numbers Go Back Up?
Another feasible cause of this shift is the system that has been put in place by former head coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter.
After that loss to Montreal, which happened largely because of a poor defensive strategy, the coaching staff decided to change the system to a more defensive style of hockey.
It focused not on the goal scoring that had gotten the Capitals to where they were, but a sound backcheck that was not as suspect as the ones in years past.
It worked in last year's playoff series against the Rangers, but since then, the systems run by both coaches backfired. This year, it was the Capitals' lack of goal scoring that sent them home in the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the third time in five years.
This is best remedied by getting a "hybrid" system instituted: one that combines the offense of 2007-2010 with defensemen that George McPhee would have to acquire who do their jobs better than the likes of Dennis Wideman and Mike Green.
Simply put, it is not entirely the players' fault that the Capitals have underachieved so much in recent seasons. There is no one particular person or group of people that blame can be placed upon. George McPhee has not made the offseason and deadline acquisitions that he's had to make.
The coaching staffs of seasons past did not institute the playing style that fit the team that McPhee has built. And the players have not bought into those styles that have been put in place. It has been a vicious cycle, and now the Caps' window for a Stanley Cup is closing.
Trading Ovechkin now would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Quite frankly, if it was not for him, Washington wouldn't even have a hockey team right now. They would have been the team to relocate to Winnipeg, or Kansas City, or Quebec City.
Yes, there are many changes that need to be made. Yes, there are many players whose time has passed in the nation's capital. Those changes do not require trading arguably the most talented player in the league. His situation can be remedied.
However, part of the onus is on him. His rival, Sidney Crosby, changed his game to counter the way opposing defenses handled him.
If Ovechkin does not do the same, then he will have to face the consequences of doing so, which will likely include going down as the most underachieving player that hockey will ever see.