Not too long ago, Alex Ovechkin practically owned Washington D.C. In 2009, caught up in the fever of the Washington Capitals' run to the top of the Southeast Division and Ovechkin’s 100-plus-point season, fans voted the Russian player as the most popular athlete in D.C. The vote wasn’t even close, with Ovechkin claiming 52 percent of the 7,807 votes.
Fast forward to 2012. This summer Ovechkin found out just how quickly the tide can turn in sports, as he was voted the worst athlete in D.C.
I understand the fickle nature of sports. I understand that since Ovechkin first donned a Washington Capitals sweater at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, the fans have had images of multiple Stanley Cups dancing around in their heads and sadly, Ovechkin hasn’t led the team to the Cup finals once during his tenure. Sure, the team has captured the Southeast Division crown four times, but let’s face facts: The Southeast had been the weakest division in the Eastern Conference for quite some time, and someone had to place first, right?
With the Capitals failing to deliver a Cup and Ovechkin’s dwindling production, fingers are going to inevitability point to the captain and face of the franchise. Is that fair? Maybe, a little, but there are other factors at play that say Ovechkin shouldn’t have all the anger thrown in his direction.
The team has underperformed as a whole, they haven’t been able to get a solid starting netminder in place, they’ve switched systems (and will do so again under Adam Oates) and the culture seems to always be one of “wait until next year” instead of going out and swinging for the fence in trades or free agency.
The other issue is that the town, for a few years, could only hang their hopes on the Capitals. Now they have the Nationals and their developing stars, and RG III to look to for hero worship. That’s only natural; everyone tends to look at this year’s model, even if the old model still has many miles left on it before it heads off to the scrap heap.
So, the question is, have Capitals fans begun to turn against Ovechkin? And I think the answer is no, if you look at the fans of just the Capitals. The casual sports fan in the city? Yes, maybe they have turned against Ovechkin, but at only 27 years of age and with many, many, many years remaining on his contract, he can win them back.
Ovechkin is currently playing in the KHL, having put up 11 points in 11 games. While that point total doesn’t put him among the league leaders in points, the fact that he is playing away from the bright lights and high expectations of the NHL may have a positive effect on his play when he does come back to D.C. Hopefully, the time in the KHL will allow him to recapture some of the joy of playing the game just to play the game and not to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Come talk to me in a year or two; let’s see if Ovechkin’s still voted the worst athlete in D.C. or if the fans have tuned their venom on Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg or RG III if they fail to deliver championships.