The Ovechkin Factor

Posted September 26, 2014

(Caps Outsider)

The Caps feel like they have the recipe for success this season: One cup of seasoned Caps, a tablespoon of rookie Caps, a teaspoon of Predators, a dash of Penguins, a pinch of Hurricanes and one 29-year-old veteran superstar, Alexander Ovechkin.  But what happens if the superstar doesn’t blend well with the other ingredients and taints the whole recipe?  It doesn’t matter how many general managers get fired or how many new coaching philosophies are introduced or how many recipes for success are concocted, if Ovi won’t mix.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Ovechkin is one of the finest hockey players that ever lived.  He just wasn’t listening when his youth hockey coach told a frisky, young Alex that there is no “i” in team—or whatever they say in Russia.  Anyway, his stats are revealing.  Certainly, he can score goals.  He loves to follow each goal with a generous celebration, and Caps’ fans love to celebrate with him.  He scored 51 goals last season and was presented yet another Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy–a personal victory, not a team victory.  And his plus/minus statistic or goal differential was one of the worst in the NHL at -35.  In other words, his presence on the ice during 5-on-5 play ultimately had a positive effect on their opponents scoring.  To be fair, the defensive performance of the team as a whole should be taken into consideration when interpreting a player’s plus/minus.  It is mainly used to measure defenders and forwards who play a defensive role. Offensive forwards, like Ovechkin, are better measured by scoring statistics; however, goal differential remains a studied marker of a player’s effectiveness. It is undeniably a glaring chapter in the tale of a “Rocket” Richard Trophy recipient’s team that failed to make the playoffs.

Many head coaches have tried to coax and cajole Ovechkin into embracing the whole team concept. Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, and Adam Oates have all been there and done that.  They quickly found out that he is an enigma and if Ovi ain’t happy, nobody’s happy – and the Caps don’t win.  Now, Barry Trotz has a shot at sorting out the pieces and solving the puzzle.  According to ESPN:

New Capitals coach Barry Trotz will work to help Ovechkin become a more complete player and the first step will be a move back to his off wing. “He’s better on the right side a little bit defensively, but his talent is on the left side,” Trotz said. “And so if I’m going to maximize his talent, I need to get him on the left side. Now if he doesn’t want to adjust defensively playing the left side, then we’ll talk about maybe moving him back to the right. The stuff that he does on the left side, there’s no coach on the planet who can teach (it). If he’s willing to learn, I can teach him the other stuff.”

In a recent interview with Capitals Insider, Ovechkin commented on Coach Trotz’s expectations.

“He wants me to play hockey,” Ovechkin said. He paused for effect, then continued, more sincere now. “That’s the most important thing, I think. I don’t think…it’s not about my game. It’s five guys on the ice.”

So, good luck Coach Trotz. Now, it’s your turn to be the master chef.  Fans hope that your “team as a family” philosophy and your defense-minded style of hockey will be the Caps’ recipe for success and provide the key to unlock the team player in Ovechkin.  Fans hope you can teach him to be a strong captain and a role model for young players like Evgeny Kutznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, and to play every game like it’s taking all of us one step closer to the Stanley Cup.