Alex Ovechkin has been quite the newsmaker this summer.
First, he weighed in on new Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates. Then, he caused a scene with his enthusiastic support of girlfriend Maria Kirilenko at the Summer Olympics in London. And finally, he joined Dynamo Moscow of the KHL once the NHL lockout began.
But he rocked the hockey world by saying he may not return to the NHL if player salaries are slashed.
That remains to be seen. In the meantime, Washington Capitals fans will be watching his every move while he is playing in Russia.
Here are five reasons why Caps fans should be nervous about Alex Ovechkin playing in the KHL.
Capitals fans—as well as NHL fans around the league—know all about Alex Ovechkin's proclivity for physical play on the ice. In fact, a big hit seems to get him into the game faster than a good shot.
The risk of injury that comes with this style of play has always been accepted by Washington Capitals fans as long as Alex Ovechkin was playing for the Washington Capitals. But now that he is playing for someone else, Caps fans may view this physicality with a little more consternation.
Caps fans should also be concerned with the injuries Ovechkin may suffer at the hands of opposing players. In fact, one notable Caps blogger actually thinks Ovechkin is in more danger of getting injured in the KHL than in the NHL. This same pro-Ovechkin blog, called Alex Ovetjkin, provides a quote by journalist Andrei Kuznetsov of Sport-Express to support that theory:
Hockey world in any league is self-contained and extremely jealous. More than seven hundred players of the KHL league are well aware about ten-digit amounts in the contracts of the top stars. Moreover 90 percent of those more than seven hundred players know that they are not destined to be in the center of attention, it will be Ovechkin and co. Such inequalities make many openly angry.
This type of environment is bound to make many Capitals fan nervous about Ovechkin's health and well-being.
The KHL plays on a larger ice surface than the NHL. Alex Ovechkin has said this would take some time to get used to, as he told Sportbox.ru (via RT.com):
I don’t think it’ll be long, but I’ll need some time to adjust. There’s more space near the goals here, and the defenders, who play at the crease pay more attention to one-on-one play. When the puck bounces, then you have more opportunities to find and rebound into the net.
But as Ovie explained further, the bigger ice also has its advantages:
What other differences are there? Of course, there’s more space and less power struggle. The speeds are very high so as the level of play.
This additional space on the ice is exactly what Ovie has been looking for during the past two NHL seasons. His offensive numbers declined while he was trying to adapt to defenses better geared to stop him. But in the KHL, he won't have to work as hard to find this additional space on the ice.
What if Ovechkin realizes that instead of changing his game to find more space, he should simply play in a league that uses a larger ice surface?
Alexander Medvedev is the president of the Kontinental Hockey League and has presided over this young league since its founding in 2008. In that time, the KHL's relations with the NHL have been described as frosty (via TSN). However, relations between the two most powerful hockey leagues in the world did improve last summer with the signing of a player-movement pact.
But Katie Carrera of The Washington Post states that a refusal to honor an NHL contract by Alex Ovechkin and other players would nullify that pact and start a chain reaction:
If Ovechkin were to stay in Russia once the NHL season starts up again, he would be in violation of his deal with the Capitals, and the breach of contract would be in conflict with the league’s agreement with the KHL to honor each other’s player contracts. It would also bring sanctions from the International Ice Hockey Federation and could potentially lead to the NHL keeping its players out of the Olympics, which in 2014 will be in Sochi, Russia.
And Washington Capitals fans may get no help from the KHL on this one. On September 4, Alexander Medvedev weighed in on the possible signing of Ovechkin by Dynamo Moscow, who was competing with rival CSKA Moscow for the superstar.
Of course there's a formal bureaucratic side which can be disputed sometimes, but there's also a moral-ethical side. I don't think anyone will dispute the moral rights of Dynamo to the player Alexander Ovechkin.
It does not bode well for a potential dispute between the two leagues if the president of one league feels this strongly about a dispute between two of his own teams.
Many Washington Capitals fans may not know Ilya Nikulin very well, but they should learn more about him now that Alex Ovechkin is playing in Russia.
Nikulin was captain of the Russian national team that won the 2012 IIHF World Championship this May. Ovechkin was a part of that team, as well as other rosters for the national team that included Nikulin.
Ilya also played with Alex on Dynamo Moscow from 2001-2005 in what was then called the Russian Superleague, before Ovechkin left Russia to join the Washington Capitals in the NHL.
Nikulin joined Ak Bars Kazan at the same time, signing a contract that allowed him to join an NHL team. He had already been drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2000 NHL Draft. But despite being a world-class defenseman, the Moscow native was content to play hockey in his home country.
And he has been very successful in doing so. Nikulin is still playing with Ak Bars Kazan, which is now part of the KHL, and he has a career regular season plus/minus rating of 44 in 211 games, and a career postseason plus/minus rating of 23 in 60 games. In all action, Ilya averages 24:34 per game on the ice, yet only 1:16 per game in the penalty box.
Ilya Nikulin may convince Alex Ovechkin to make the same career choice and continue playing in the KHL. And Alex may listen. According to Ilya Nikulin's Wikipedia page, Alex Ovechkin is the godfather to his son.
Career advice may be difficult to ignore coming from a friend that close.
The biggest reason for Capitals fans to be nervous about Alex Ovechkin playing hockey in Russia has nothing to do with hockey.
Ovechkin was there for support (pictured).
If men and money cannot persuade Alex Ovechkin to stay in Russia, perhaps a woman will.