3 Reasons the Washington Capitals Should Cut Ties with Alexander Ovechkin
I know...I know.
Blasphemy, right? Absurd, preposterous, borderline insane. Insert your critical remark here.
If you have followed anything I have written here on Bleacher Report in the nearly one year I have been covering the Capitals, you already know I have been one of Ovi's biggest supporters.
I, like many of you, believed he would have a big bounce-back season. When the season got cut to 48 games, I still believed we were going to see the return of the Great 8.
I felt that if anyone could get Ovi back on track it would be Adam Oates, with his up-tempo style of hockey.
I watched Ovi play several games while he was in the KHL during the lockout. He looked great. He played in 31 games, scored 19 goals (fourth-best in the KHL), had 21 assists, 40 points and a plus-13 rating.
There was every reason to believe that Ovechkin would come back to the NHL and just light it up against defenses who had not had the same amount of quality playing time during the lockout.
But the reality is this, folks: Something is very wrong with Alexander Ovechkin, and as crazy as the idea would have sounded a couple of years ago, it is time for the Caps to really think about cutting ties with the face of the franchise and moving in a different direction.
Think about this—Joel Ward scored his fourth goal of the season Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs; Ovechkin scored his second.
That's right. The same Joel Ward who scored six goals all of last season (although he did score one of the biggest goals in franchise history in overtime of Game 7 against Boston) is outscoring Ovechkin at the rate of 2-to-1 right now.
That is beyond bad—it is entirely unacceptable.
This has not been lost on Caps' owner Ted Leonsis, who has indicated that Ovechkin "needs to play better" (Yahoo! Sports).
Ovechkin can blame the slow start on the larger KHL rinks all he wants. But that does not explain his lack of effort at times this season, or his standing around too much or just seeming to be somewhat disinterested in what is going on around him.
We only get rare flashes of emotion, such as when he finally scored against the Buffalo Sabres. But too often, the emotion and passion that made Ovechkin so much fun to watch in the good old days is just missing.
So, should the Washington Capitals actually cut ties with Alexander Ovechkin?
As nuts as it sounds, here are three reasons why they should.
1. The Numbers Don't Lie
You can get as emotionally invested in the Alexander Ovechkin debate as you like. But the fact remains that the numbers and stats for Ovechkin tell a great deal—and it is not particularly good.
Go back in time a bit and remember the greatness that was Alexander Ovechkin.
He was the first player to win the Art Ross Trophy, Maurice Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award and Hart Memorial Trophy in a single season.
He holds the record for most goals scored by a left-winger in a season—65 during the 2007-2008 season. He led the NHL in scoring for that season as well.
He also holds the record for most points scored by a left-wing rookie—106 during the 2005-2006 season.
He won his second consecutive Hart Memorial Trophy after the 2008-2009 season.
During the 2009-2010 season, the Caps and Ovechkin were on fire. The team was dominant and they won their first, and so far only, President's Trophy. The Caps were picked by many to win the Stanley Cup that season.
Along the way, Ovi tallied 50 goals, had 59 assists and his 109 points were the third-most of his career.
But the Caps were stunned in the opening round by the No. 8-seeded Montreal Canadiens, blowing a 3-1 series lead in the process.
When you look at what Ovechkin has done since that series, one has to wonder if that failure had a more profound effect on Ovi than any of us could have imagined.
During the 2010-2011 season, Ovechkin only scored 32 goals, the lowest total in his NHL career. He had 53 assists, but his 85 points were 24 fewer than the season before.
Last season, Ovi increased his goals a bit, notching 38. But his assists completely bottomed out at 27. Blame that on Dale Hunter's system all you want, but there is no way a player like Alexander Ovechkin should only have 65 points in a season.
So, lets take a look at this shortened season for a moment.
We are now seven games into this 48-game sprint. The Caps are 1-5-1. The team's hopes to make the playoffs—particularly if they keep blowing third-period leads—is getting slimmer by the game.
As for the Great 8, he has two goals, one assist, three points and a minus-three rating.
If Ovechkin stays on this pace, he will end up with 14 goals, 7 assists and just 21 points.
If you take that pace and extend it over an 82 game season, Ovi would end up with just 23 goals, 12 assists and a paltry 35 points.
Last year, through the first seven games, Ovechkin had three goals and two assists—and that was with Bruce Boudreau as the coach.
The numbers don't lie folks.
Are you concerned yet?
If not...you should be.
2. The Great 8 Is Just Not That Great Anymore
As disturbing as the pure statistical data might be, there are other things—less definable and more intangible—that should cause any Caps' fan to have some serious concerns over Alexander Ovechkin.
If you saw the game on Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the final minute of the game is what I am talking about.
Trailing by one in the final minute, Ovi skated in with a head of steam, circled around the net and between the circles, found no one open, circled around again, and when he tried to do something with the puck, it was poked clear of the offensive zone.
When did Alexander Ovechkin become so indecisive?
Then, with just about 10 seconds left, Ovi was set up perfectly. James Reimer was beat. Dead-to-rights beaten—he had no chance on the play. Ovechkin shot the puck wide of the goal, and the Caps lost by one.
That is the kind of intangible sort of thing I am talking about. The Alexander Ovechkin from 2009-2010 would have buried that puck in the back of the net and sent the game to overtime. The 2013 version missed the net completely.
Think back to the series against the New York Rangers last year, and more specifically, overtime of Game 3. Ovechkin stole the puck with about five minutes left and had Henrik Lundqvist beaten. So certain did the game-winning goal seem that the guy running the spotlight and siren at Verizon Center set both off as Ovi shot the puck.
The puck clanged off the post and the Rangers would eventually prevail in triple overtime.
The old Alexander Ovechkin would have scored right there, and the entire complexion of the series would have changed.
I give coach Adam Oates credit. He has tried all sorts of things to get Ovechkin going. He has placed him on different lines. He tried playing him on the right wing, as opposed to the left.
Nothing has worked so far.
What is also concerning is that I just don't see Ovechkin playing with the same passion and fire that we are used to. Players and former players have said some things about Ovi that, one would assume, would get him fired up.
For instance, in February of 2012, Katie Carrera of the Washington Post conducted an interview with Olaf Kolzig where Olie The Goalie questioned, in the nicest way one can do so, Ovechkin's work ethic:
For Alex, it’s a work ethic. He just has to get back to being the way he was in his younger days and maybe not get wrapped up too much in the rock star status that comes with being Alex Ovechkin.
You then have the comments Michal Neuvirth made about Ovi during the offseason. In an interview with iSport.cz as translated by Russianmachineneverbreaks.com, Neuvirth had this to say about Ovechkin:
He isn’t what he used to be, that’s for sure. And if a team like ours wants to have a chance at the Stanley Cup, we need Ovi to be the best. We all expect that from him; he has to be the real leader. But it’s hard you know, he achieved everything as a player. He was on the absolute top, and then one can only fall down. I just hope that Ovi will stop falling and instead stops and maybe tries to get back on top. As for his attitude in the locker room, he is still the same guy. Even when it’s not working out for him, he is in a good mood, he celebrates with the others. He is the right team player. He will stay like that forever.
Why hasn't Ovechkin made both these guys eat their words? Where is the fierce determination we used to see from this guy? Would the Alex Ovechkin who got into Sidney Crosby's face at the height of their rivalry have just shrugged off comments like this?
No. He would have gone out and scored a hat-trick.
One of the theories I have had for a while explaining the decline of Alexander Ovechkin is that, for whatever reason, being the team captain just is not working out so well.
Here is some sobering statistical information I compiled about the Great 8's numbers since he became captain.
Ovechkin was named captain on January 5, 2010. At that time, Ovi had 26 goals in 33 games. After being named captain, he tallied just 24 goals over the final 39 games of the season. No, that’s not a huge drop-off if one looks at it in isolation.
In Ovi’s first full season as the captain, the 2010-2011 season, his production crashed and burned.
His goals-scored tally dropped to his all-time low, 32. His assists dropped to 53, even though he played in seven more games.
In the playoffs, Ovi was solid against the New York Rangers with three goals and three assists. But, against the Tampa Bay Lightning, when the team needed its captain the most, the Great 8 was just No. 8, scoring two goals, two assists and getting swept out with the rest of his teammates.
Last season, Ovechin's goal production was up, but his assists were way down.
Along the way, Ovechkin showed some maturity, particularly during the playoffs when he somewhat begrudgingly accepted a reduced role for the better of the team.
That's what being a captain is all about.
But this year, one really has to look at what is going on with the team and then answer the hard question: Is Alexander Ovechkin an effective captain?
No, he is not.
I do not see him doing the things a captain needs to do to get his team out of this wretched start. I don't see him getting fired up, or harassing officials for terrible calls (like the one that cost the Caps the game in Ottawa Tuesday night) or delivering the big hit to get the team going, getting into a fight or any of those things.
Being a hockey captain is no easy job, and Ovi, for whatever reason, just has not responded to the role.
If you still don't believe me, take note of Ovi's production when he was in the KHL.
Guess what? He was not the captain.
But if you are George McPhee or Adam Oates, how do you strip a player like Alexander Ovechkin of the captaincy without doing irreparable harm to that relationship?
The only way you can—by cutting your ties with him and trading him.
3. Trade Him While There Is Still a Market for Him
Look at the video clip to this slide.
Remember that guy? Take a good look into his eyes.
To steal a line or two from Rocky III, Ovi clearly has the Eye of the Tiger there. And he backed up that comment by taking over that 2009 series with the New York Rangers, rallying the Caps back from a 3-1 series deficit.
But we don't see that Ovechkin very much at all anymore. And as long as that remains the case, then the Caps have to seriously think about the unthinkable: trading away Alexander Ovechkin.
If the Caps are going to go down that path, now—or at least the very near future—is the time to do it.
The main reason for this is that there would likely still be a market for him.
Without question, Alexander Ovechkin is struggling. Even the most diehard of Alexander Ovechkin fans—and count me among that group— would be lying to themselves if they did not admit that they were more concerned than ever about their hero returning to form.
The rest of the NHL sees the same thing and recognizes the same thing. But they also see that he is still a great talent with an unbelievable wrist shot, even if it is not as accurate as it used to be.
Look at the goal he scored against Toronto last night, an absolute laser beam right through the five-hole.
Ovechkin still has the skill. What might be missing is the will. There are any number of NHL general managers out there who might very well think that all Ovi needs is a change of scenery to return to his past form.
It's not as if NHL general managers are shy about spending money, and there is no doubt at all about the impact Ovechkin could make to certain teams that might just be a player away from becoming a Stanley Cup favorite.
Or go to a really dark place and imagine Ovechkin on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Whether or not Ovi and Sid The Kid could co-exist, having a team with Crosby, Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin is not just scary—it's terrifying.
While much of that is unlikely, the fact remains that if the Caps could trade Ovechkin, he would still command a very high price. The Caps could get players back around whom they could rebuild their team or, at the very least, retool.
Of course, the big problem with trading Ovechkin is that contract of his, a 13-year, $124 million monster (Sportsnet.ca). It is a contract that has been called one of the worst in the NHL. What seemed like a great investment at the time, a true no-brainer, has seen diminishing returns on investment for the past few seasons.
With eight years remaining on the deal, Ovechkin is set to earn $79 million over the remainder of that contract.
Would it be possible to find a team willing to assume that kind of liability? Maybe—but not if George McPhee allows Ovechkin to further diminish his stock by playing poorly.
If the Caps can get out of that contract, even partially, it would free up all sorts of cap space, never mind the talent they would have to get back in return.
If you look at this graphic you can see just what a cap hit Ovechkin is to the Caps' overall salary cap. Ovi accounts for roughly 15 percent of the Caps' overall salary this year. That is quite a lot.
But I strongly believe that if George McPhee let it be known that Alexander Ovechkin was available, there would be suitors, and probably more than one.
As unfathomable as it seems, as uncomfortable as it might feel and as sad as it would be, there are some compelling reasons why the Washington Capitals should cut ties with Alexander Ovechkin.
Doing so might actually offer both the Caps and Ovechkin the best chance to succeed.