How much longer can this go on? How much longer will the Alexander Ovechkin era in Washington continue? The ugly truth is that it should be ended now. Cold, hard, and sober. Alexander Ovechkin cannot win a championship, at least as the leader for either Washington and Russia. And probably he can take long time loyal Capitals Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Orpik, goaltender Braden Holtby, and new guy Kevin Shattenkirk with him. Coach Barry Trotz is 50-50.
Let’s review the ugly facts. Pittsburgh was playing without its best goaltender, Matt Murray, its best defenseman, Kris Letang, and Washington even got the bonus of having the best player in the NHL, Sidney Crosby, cross-checked with a concussion and missing one game. And Pittsburgh still won.
Meanwhile Washington added T. J. Oshie laat year. They added Kevin Shattenkirk this year. And Pittsburgh still won. Not even Pittsburgh having to play erratic playoff goaltender, Marc Andre Fleury could save the Capitals. In fact Holtby outdid Fleury and gave performances that Fleury used to give Pittsburgh in the playoffs since the 2009 Stanley Cup victory. 3 goals on 19 shots, 3 goals on 14 shots. He was pulled in that game. Holtby is as unreliable as Ovechkin.
For those who believe in these things, and there may be some truth to it (especially over the long decades I’ve watched sports) there may be a hex by one team over another. For example Montreal beat Boston in the playoffs consecutively for over 40 years. Not even Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito could change it.
The problem with the “hex theory” in the Ovechkin story is that there have been many years when Washington never played Pittsburgh in the playoffs and still lost. And Ovechkin’s Russian teams have a dismal record with Ovechkin as leader. He is the common denominator. Washington has changed coaches. Ovechkin has had different Russian coaches. None could make him a winner. Management should remember that if they have a hankering to dump Trotz.
In fact Trotz in desperation, mindful of Ovechkin’s self-admitted poor play, demoted him to the third line where he could do less damage. The ugly truth is that every playoff season, Alexander ends up with a bad plus/minus statistic. That means he is actually a liability, not an asset to a team in the playoffs, both internationally and in the NHL.
It’s a sad thing to have to write this, but I have been writing about Ovechkin’s limitations for several years now on different blogs. Billed as the equal of Sidney Crosby when he entered the NHL, the first international player who could be the best player in the league, he has lots of pretty individual statistics but a horrid team record. Crosby has 2 Stanley Cups, 2 Olympic Gold Medals, a World Cup victory and a Conn Smythe Trophy to Ovechkin’s none. The score in direct playoff meetings is Pittsburgh 3, Washington 0. This so-called “rivalry” has been a dud. And it could be argued that Crosby’s colleague, Evgeni Malkin has been the best Russian player in the NHL all along. He has 2 Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy and is leading this year’s playoff scoring.
This defeat is even worse because with all the player additions and subtractions, Ovechkin’s limitations became more clearly focused for all to see. By his own admission he was playing poorly. That he had an unrevealed injury cannot be used as an excuse either. Erik Karlsson of Ottawa is playing with a more serious injury and Crosby came back after a concussion. As noted above, Trotz demoted Ovechkin to the third line, a open admission about Ovechkin’s performances in the playoffs.
The problem of such an open admission is that it makes Ovechkin harder to be traded. The most obvious solution it might seem is to trade him to a contender where he might be “the last piece of the puzzle”. The problem with this is that when one scrutinizes Ovechkin’s playoff record, he becomes someone to be avoided. Why would any contender want to get an aging player, with a huge salary, who consistently fails to come through for his team when he is needed the most? There are no records of Ovechkin – and for that matter Backstrom, Orpik, and Holtby – being the difference maker in the playoffs. I have no memory of Alexander playing so well that it can be said he put his team in the next round.
From the NHL’s viewpoint, the best thing that Ovechkin can still do is sell tickets. So the best place for him to go is to a city that is not worried about icing a winning team, but increasing attendance. The Capitals do not want to trade him to an Eastern Conference team, so that rules out Carolina, the New York Islanders, Florida, and Columbus. So by default, the best place for Alexander to go is the Arizona Coyotes.
Before concluding this article, it is wise to put things in perspective. I, the critic, the blog writer, am telling maybe the truthful thing that Alexander Ovechkin and the others are not good enough and have to be traded for the good of the Washington Capitals. But it must be remembered that I am talking about humans. NOBODY likes to be told that they are not good enough in their job. It means the end of their of the dreams, their hopes. It means an admission of failure, hurt pride, which is hard to swallow. Being traded means having to move to a new city. What about their children’s education, their friends? They get uprooted and lose them all.
I don’t like writing an article like this. I’d rather believe in “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles, where everybody wins and gets in. But Ovechkin chose sports as his profession, where sometimes one player is chosen to win consistently and another is chosen to lose consistently. That is the ugly side of sports, part of its nature when a person chooses that occupation. Ovechkin’s career closely resembles Marcel Dionne who also never made it to even a conference final. They would be fully justified to go to a bar together, order a beer and then sob in each other’s arms.
Writers go through a phase too. I don’t dislike Alexander Ovechkin. But you start out saying, “Wait until next time”. Then it is, “He still hasn’t done it.” Then it becomes “When is he going to show something?” Disillusionment comes. Now it is, “He is not what they say he is.” Finally it becomes, “He should be traded.”
If things had gone the way happily ever afters go, I would be writing, “They finally overcame…” “At last he rose to the occasion…” “They overcame adversity and past history…” “At last, over the hump…”, etc. (That last line can be said about this year’s Nashville Predators.) But as the second President of the United States, John Adams said when he was defending in court, the British soldiers being tried for the Boston Massacre, “Facts are stubborn things.” So I can’t write any of that.
Sometimes the story has a happy ending. Phil Esposito was consistently overshadowed in Boston by his teammate Bobby Orr, until the 1972 Canada-USSR series when he, probably more than any other player saved Canada’s bacon. It was the type of performance under pressure that Alexander Ovechkin has never given in any playoffs for either Washington or Russia.