Alex Ovechkin: Why Lockout Could Pave Way to Capitals Star Quitting NHL
Many have already accused me of such.
But if you think about the idea for a second—no, you won't go to Hockey Hell for doing so—you will realize that the previously unthinkable is in fact entirely possible.
First of all, this is now the second lockout Ovechkin has experienced in his relatively short NHL career of seven years. The first lockout canceled the entire 2004-05 season, delaying his rookie campaign by one year. But this second lockout may be even more damaging.
Ovechkin had a down year last season, totaling the fewest points and second fewest goals of his career. But he and the Washington Capitals made some progress during the postseason. The Caps upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, advancing to the Conference Semifinals for the third time since the strike-canceled season. Ovechkin contributed five goals including one game-winning goal, and nine points total.
Furthermore, the Capitals gained an identity as a disciplined and defensive team that is a tough out during the postseason, the only season that truly counts in the NHL. And there was additional excitement surrounding the team going into this season with the impending debut of first-time head coach Adam Oates. The former Capitals center has said he favors the same style that the team played under Dale Hunter, and figures to reinvigorate the once-dominant power play. But the rookie head coach also plans to improve parts of Alex Ovechkin's game such as his two-way play, saying "even the superstars need to be coached once in awhile."
How many 2012-13 NHL regular season games will be cancelled by the current lockout?
But all this would be put on hold by a lockout. And the longer the current lockout lasts, the more it would derail the momentum building within this franchise. Ovechkin may therefore become disenchanted with the NHL due to the work stoppage.
Ovie alluded to such feelings, as related by Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. While at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on September 7 for an informal practice with some teammates, Ovechkin fielded questions from reporters on the league's labor situation. At one point, a reporter explained that the reason the NHL would not more drastically reduce salaries is because the league needs players. Ovechkin responded thusly:
"Yeah. If they need us, how I say, if they going to cut a percentage of the contract and years I don’t think lots of guys who signed American deals are going to come back and play here. It’s not reasonable to be here. You have to think of the future, you have to think of your family."
Ovie may be one of those "guys" he was describing. At that same informal press conference at KCI, Ovechkin told reporters he was indeed preparing to play in the KHL in the event of a lockout. Fellow Russian and reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Ottawa Senators defenseman and former Washington Capital Sergei Gonchar have already signed with Metallurg of the KHL.
But a return to his home country will do more than just provide Ovechkin with some ice time: It will fan the flames of his national pride. In the past, he has joined up with the Russian national hockey team shortly after a Capitals playoff defeat to participate in various international competitions. Just this May he joined his countrymen—including Malkin and former Capitals teammate Alexander Semin—in Finland and Sweden just in time to lead Russia to the gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World Championships.
Will Alex Ovechkin return to the NHL when the lockout is over?
And now this fire may only burn brighter. The 2014 Winter Olympics are set to be hosted by Sochi, Russia's largest resort city. As early as the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Alex Ovechkin was already leading the charge to Sochi for 2014, and he has since been named an ambassador of the Games. A return to Russia may only get him more involved in the Games, especially as the date draws near.
Most importantly, though, a return to Russia would allow Alex Ovechkin to spend more time with his girlfriend, Maria Kirilenko. The 25-year-old Russian is a world-class tennis player who won bronze at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and still resides in Russia. A return to the Motherland for hockey would serve the dual purpose of allowing Ovechkin to spend time with his love interest on a consistent basis.
So, instead of playing in a league that has now gone through four lockouts in the last 20 years, Ovechkin can play hockey in a young but stable league in his home country while living with his serious girlfriend and preparing for his beloved Winter Olympics.
To Washington Capitals fans, it is inconceivable for Ovie to forsake the heavenly existence he enjoys in Washington, D.C. for a comparatively hellish experience in Moscow. In the NHL, Ovechkin faces the best hockey players in the world on a nightly basis while being paid a ridiculous sum. Whereas in the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League), the competition would be weaker by comparison and he would not be paid a "crazy salary," at least not by GM Andrei Safronov of Moscow Dynamo .
However, Ovechkin would be leaving a country where his career would always be controlled by the capricious higher power that is the NHL for a country to which he would triumphantly return as king. If he did indeed make this decision, Alex Ovechkin would become the Lucifer of the NHL, a true fallen angel.
But as Lucifer explained in Paradise Lost:
"Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven."
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