Alexander Ovechkin has been under quite a bit of scrutiny lately. The franchise superstar and key attraction is running amok, with many fans tired of his play.
Coach Bruce Boudreau himself has sat down with the media and called Ovechkin "reckless."
Owner Ted Leonsis personally sat down to discuss the recent play.
The result of that meeting? Leonsis telling Ovechkin to keep playing like he plays.
The problem with Ovechkin's high-octane, breaks-off mentality is that it can lead to rough injuries and dangerous collisions. These can lead to the idea that Ovechkin is a dirty player, since he plays so hard and so fast.
Those rumblings are going on in several media outlets and fanbases.
If Alex tones his play down, fewer injuries are likely to happen. This is good.
The problem for the NHL and the Capitals is that part of the reason Ovechkin is such a massive draw at the turnstyles—and his sweater is so well sold—is his play.
The same play led to boarding and kneeing ejections in the last few days—and to a two-game suspension.
The NHL would be able to survive without Ovechkin, but the $9 million he brings home (before taxes and the payment the players make to the NHL) is less than what the NHL makes off of him. In short, he's obviously a profitable player.
While they don't want him to be suspended, his play can't change too much, or it may affect the ticket stands and the jersey racks.
Alex probably isn't thinking about that. Alex is thinking, "What do I have to do to win my team the game?" Or, "That guy has the puck, I must take it."
He's doing everything within his power to win the game.
Before labeling Ovechkin as dirty, let's look at two players who compare similarly to him in many ways.
Maurice Richard was a legend who did everything he could for his team. He won scoring titles and Stanley Cups. He fought hard and was willing to drop the gloves.
"Rocket" Richard had a fiery demeanor, one Ovechkin seems to have as well.
On March 13, 1955, Richard was high-sticked during a game against the Bruins.
A penalty call was on the way, but, with the Habs in control of the puck, no whistle was blown. An irate Richard swung his stick violently at the referee, hitting him, and causing a massive melee.
Earlier in the season, Richard had slapped a linesman in the face. The two incidents led to a suspension for the rest of the season and the playoffs. Richard lost the scoring title that year, and the Habs lost the Stanley Cup.
Dale Hunter is a Capitals legend. He has often said he would do whatever it took to win a game, even if it required some dirt.
He will be remembered by Caps fans, for the most part, for an overtime game-winning goal against Philadelphia. He's remembered by the rest of the league for his hit on Pierre Turgeon after Turgeon scored a goal that put the series out of reach.
His subsequent suspension did nothing to erase the stigma he received as a dirty player, and he was suspended on multiple occasions later in his career. Both of the suspensions were record-setting at their times.
Ovechkin has never swung a stick at a referee. He has never hit someone after a play with an obvious intent to injure.
Does he play hard? Yes, undoubtedly. He delivers hits in a fashion that's going to hurt.
The NHL needs to decide what they want from Ovechkin, and let him know soon.
Do they want the next Rocket? I have doubts that they want another Hunter.
The Capitals hands are tied. You can't tell your best player to change his game drastically.
Damned no matter what you do, Ovechkin. Might as well do what you do best, and go out there and play.