Watching Alex Ovechkin develop in the NHL is like watching a child grow up. When he entered the league at 20, his ceiling was sky-high, but first he had to learn how to play the game, even how to speak his first words. Of English, that is.
We watched with the same wonder as when a baby takes his or her first steps when Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark in a freshman campaign for the ages. ‘The GR8’ was born, master of the breathtaking goal. His first coaches in Washington, Glen Hanlon and Bruce Boudreau, knew he was gifted and let him treat the ice like his personal playground. Fifty goals gave way to 60-plus and the Capitals stormed into perennial contention. Ovechkin was the best player on Earth.
But we all lose our innocence sooner or later. Ovechkin received the Capitals captaincy in January 2010 and learned about right and wrong when he blew up Chicago’s Brian Campbell with a hit later that season and wound up suspended. Ovechkin lacked the same youthful abandon when he returned, seemingly holding back. And, after four 100-point seasons in a five-year stretch, he hasn’t hit that milestone since.
Life as an adult NHLer hasn’t always been sunny for Ovechkin, 28. His Caps have regressed, from the second round of the playoffs, to the first, and out of the big dance altogether this season. Washington has burned through coaches, too. Ovechkin and Boudreau clashed when the coach cut Ovechkin’s ice time for a lack of accountability. The marriage with Dale Hunter was worse, and Ovechkin ended up playing checking-line minutes. Adam Oates produced a boom in Ovie’s game by moving him to the right wing, but by the following spring he was publicly lambasting his star for a lack of effort. Next up is Barry Trotz, a defense-minded bench boss who, on paper, doesn’t look like a natural match for Ovechkin.
Ovechkin has gone from the golden child who could do no wrong to a lightning rod for criticism, be it for a lack of leadership, not taking the game seriously and especially for his inability to play defense. Fans and keyboard warriors are no longer convinced he can carry a team to a championship, and his $9.5-million cap hit through 2020-21 suddenly looks more like a burden than a safety net.
Everyone has an opinion on Ovechkin these days, but what is the true story from within the Washington organization? Is he really a bad leader? Does he care about backchecking? It’s time to unearth the Myths of Ovie, with help from past and present coaches and teammates.