It is one of the most widely discussed topics among hockey fans – “What is wrong with Alex Ovechkin?” Will he ever be the same? Is the old Ovie gone forever? Everyone in the hockey business has a theory or a point-of-view. As professional commentators start their analysis they routinely draw on recent game footage that shows Ovie simply going through the motions. The visual proof of his decline is startling. His play has no passion or drive to it. He looks indifferent and almost confused. He just isn’t himself.
Who is to blame? Perhaps it starts with his contract. Ovie gets paid $9 million per season and will for the next two years before getting a raise to $10 million for the final year of his contract. He has no incentives. He doesn’t get paid any more if he scores more. He doesn’t get paid any more for winning the Hart Trophy or the Art Ross Trophy. He is already rich and he’s guaranteed to get much richer but there is no “carrot” to provide an incentive. Like all pros he says it is all about winning a Stanley Cup but the chase for the Cup doesn’t really start until playoff time. The regular season doesn’t matter much as long as you make the playoffs. Maybe Ovie is saving himself for the big test in the spring.
Maybe coaching is to blame. The Capitals used to be a “run and gun” team happy to win 7-6. They played to their strength. They had offense to burn, but at playoff time they struggled to tighten up their game. They have experienced only failure in the playoffs. Last year they decided to pay smart defensive hockey all season. They took less chances. They scored less goals but they gave up even less. They kept winning with their new style, but in the playoffs they met with defeat again. Ovie’s numbers were down last year but everyone viewed it as an aberration. Ovie would bounce back this season. Wrong! Things have gotten much worse. Ovie’s numbers are down again. He is now 65th in league scoring. Ovie lack of production played a key part in getting his coach Bruce Boudreau fired two weeks ago. The new coach, Dale Hunter started with two tough losses with his team only scoring once in each game. He doesn’t appear to be the solution to Ovie’s problems. Like Boudreau, Hunter wants structure and solid defense. He wants conservative and responsible play. Ovie seems to want the opposite. His lacklustre play suggests that he wants to go back to the old days when hockey was fun.
So what happens next? Can Ovie get back on track? He should be at the peak of his career. It is almost unheard of for a top player in any sport to experience a decline like this as he reaches the traditional age of peak performance. Will the Capitals revert to their old style of play and cut Ovie loose? It is unlikely. They have been there, done that. It didn’t result in playoff success. Will they trade Ovie? It is unlikely. He is too tied to the Capital fan base, he makes too much money and until he starts playing better nobody is interested. Ovie’s new coach Dale Hunter has to find a happy balance where Ovie can get a little freedom to play less structured hockey without disrupting the rest of the team. Hockey needs somehow to be fun again!
Will we ever see the old Ovie again? Eventually, I think we will see something that resembles the old Ovie. When Tiger Woods went into his horrible tailspin it took two full seasons to get back on track. Finally today (Dec.4) Tiger won again. Maybe he is finally back. Maybe it will take Ovie a couple of seasons to find himself again. Hopefully we will see flashes of his old self as the season goes on. Maybe when Mike Green gets back the powerplay will get going again, bringing Ovie with it. Maybe some playoff success will help to bring Ovie back. The coaching staff of the Capitals need to find a solution if they want to stay employed.
For now, Ovie is simply “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.
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This article was written by Simon Lewis, former GTHL hockey coach and NHL hockey expert.
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