Alex Ovechkin has been captain of the Washington Capitals since midway through the 2009-10 season.
His captaincy has been a tumultuous period in the franchise's history, to say the least. In that time, the Capitals experienced one collapse from a 3-1 series lead, three postseasons of not making it past the conference semifinals and three different head coaches.
So, was Alex Ovechkin the right choice for captain?
Here are five signs Alex Ovechkin was never captain material.
The numbers don't lie: Alex Ovechkin's offensive production has declined since he was named team captain.
Ovi was given the captain's "C" during the 2009-10 season, in time for the game on January 5, 2010. Prior to that season, Ovechkin averaged at least 0.56 goals per game in each of his four years in the NHL, including a career high of 0.79 during the 2007-08 season. Even during the season in question of 2009-10, Ovi would eventually average 0.69 goals per game to lead the league in that category for the third straight year.
But prior to the game on January 5, 2010, Ovechkin had scored 26 goals in 33 games, for an average of 0.79 goals per game. From that game on, Ovechkin averaged 0.62 goals per game by scoring 24 goals in the remaining 39 games. He has not been the same goal scorer since.
In 2010-11, Ovechkin averaged 0.41 goals per game, a career low that was, thankfully, not repeated. In 2011-12, Ovechkin's goal scoring improved slightly, as his average rose to 0.49 goals per game. But it was the second straight season in which he averaged less than half a goal per game, the only two such seasons in his career.
It seems being team captain has Alex Ovechkin's focus away from goal scoring.
It's not good when any player does not buy into a system implemented by a new coach.
But it's especially bad when it occurs in the playoffs and involves the team's leading scorer, who happens to be the team captain as well.
In the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Washington Capitals and their fans got their first (and only) taste of Dale Hunter as a postseason head coach. Although things went reasonably well for the team and their former player—especially in the quarterfinals—it certainly wasn't a smooth ride.
Alex Ovechkin had his ice time severely diminished during the playoffs, as he played a career low 15:34 during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins, a game after playing only 0:15 over the last 14:00 of Game 4.
Ovechkin expressed anger over the limited ice time, but it was his own fault. If he had played the type of hockey Dale Hunter wanted from all his players, then he would have been on the ice more.
And the captain needs to play the type of hockey that the head coach wants from all his players to ensure that all the players play that type of hockey.
At this summer's press conference to announce new head coach Adam Oates, general manager George McPhee (pictured) was looking forward to turning over a new leaf, as he named the franchise's third head coach in eight months time.
But thanks to his captain, he instead had to do some damage control. Earlier in the week, Alex Ovechkin had said he was happy with Oates' hiring, as he told The Washington Post:
It’s not blocking the shots and it’s not dump and chase. Any system that I played, I learn a lot. I’m an offensive guy, it’s no secret to nobody. I’m pretty excited and very happy to hear the Caps signed that kind of guy that likes offense.
So as McPhee introduced Adam Oates, he was forced to respond to his rogue captain's comments, saying Ovechkin "still might have to dump it in and block a shot once in a while."
When the general manager is attempting to get the entire team on the same page with a brand new head coach, the last person he should have to worry about breaking ranks is the team captain.
Last season, Washington Capitals media and fans did not know there were any locker room chemistry issues until captain Alex Ovechkin let everyone know about it. This news came shortly after head coach Dale Hunter had left the team, as reported by Katie Carrera of The Washington Post:
I don’t know who’s going to be the coach next year but the leaders in this group have to be together and don’t look, you know. I don’t know how to explain better, but sometimes you don’t have to be jealous….I don’t want to say it was a jealous situation for us, but sometimes you just have to be a group together.
Ovechkin was asked to elaborate on his eye-raising comments, and he continued, alluding to possible cracks in the facade of locker room unity:
I don’t want to say persons, I don’t want to say situations, but sometimes you just know like, some guys, if you didn’t play well they just look at you like, you know...Of course, you can see it, I can see it and somebody else gonna see it and it’s not the way we gonna win the game.
Every locker room has chemistry issues from time to time, especially during a tough season. But a good captain deals with them in the locker room and never worsens the problems by exposing them in the media.
This is a very bad reputation to have around the NHL. But once earned, fairly or not, it is nearly impossible to escape.
In the 10th game of what turned out to be a long season for the Capitals and a short season for head coach Bruce Boudreau, Alex Ovechkin was surprisingly benched during the last minute of regulation against the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center. The Capitals captain did not take too kindly to the benching, and he had some choice words for Boudreau that of course were caught on camera for all the hockey world to see.
The Capitals would go 4-7-1 in their next 12 games, and Gabby was fired after their loss to the Buffalo Sabres on November 26.
Although the team was struggling, the move seemed sudden at the time. Later, however, George McPhee shed some light on the subject when he discussed Alex Ovechkin as captain. When asked if new head coach Dale Hunter would have the freedom to demote Alex Ovechkin from captain, McPhee said, "That's not going to happen."
Now the firing of Bruce Boudreau made perfect sense. With the intractable Alex Ovechkin as captain, the Washington Capitals' head coach may be nothing more than a figurehead.
As a result, the Stanley Cup may be nothing more than a dream.