Sometime this summer, when Alexander Ovechkin runs into Alexander Radulov and/or Andrei Kostitsyn at Garage (look it up in your Moscow nightlife directory), the Washington captain should buy them a drink and say, "Thanks for taking the attention off me, guys." (Yes, Kostitsyn is from Belarus. Maybe he'll visit.)
More on the Predators later. We'll start with Ovechkin, who will be in the lineup Wednesday night in Washington. The question is: How much will he be on the ice?
Captain Capital is saying all the right things about his 13:36 of time on the ice Monday night. That's the lowest of any NHL game in which he wasn't hurt or ejected.
"I don't think we have to talk about it right now," he said on the HNIC postgame, when asked if he discusses the situation with Dale Hunter. "Right now, the most important thing [is] winning in playoffs ... I'm not a guy who is going to scream to everybody 'I want to play' ... Sometimes you just suck it up and play for your team."
Privately, Ovechkin is not bitching. Teammates and friends who know him well say he's dying to get more action, but realizes this is not the time to demand it.
He's right about that. This is an unexpectedly great stretch in Washington, after a borderline nightmarish regular season. And credit to him for rising to the occasion when a powerplay beckoned.
But here is the money quote from the Game 2 aftermath - critical passage in bold type:
"Dale, anybody who's following our team, you see he's coaching the situations. He's playing certain guys," Mike Knuble told The Washington Times' Stephen Whyno. "If we're down a goal, [Ovechkin's] going to be our main guy. He's going every other shift. If we're up a goal, then Dale tends to lean on other guys. That's the way it is. I guess they can talk about it this summer after the season and figure it out. For now it's working and we're going to run with it."
If the Capitals continue their success, odds are this trend continues. Knuble is absolutely right. This is going to be dealt with in the off-season. Hunter, or whoever is coach, will have a vote. GM George McPhee will have a vote. Ted Leonsis? He'll have 88 million votes.
Why? Because that's how much remains on Ovechkin's contract.
Leonsis is loving it right now. His fans are happy (and he listens to them), his team is guaranteed at least five home playoff dates and there is the possibility of many more. Plus, Ovechkin doesn't collect any of that salary now, so watching him play less than 14 minutes doesn't ache the pocketbook.
I'm a big believer that this could potentially be the best thing to happen to Ovechkin in a long time. The reason Bruce Boudreau didn't get away with telling him "No!" is that the team fell apart. Now that there's success, he must pay attention. The coach wants this, the other players want this and the GM wants this.
If the owner wants this too, Ovechkin will be forced to adapt for the better and become the player he should be. If not, then it's a blip on the radar and everything gained is lost.
Every regular-season game, Leonsis pays Ovechkin $109,756. This summer, he can make that an even more worthwhile investment.
Radulov, Kostitsyn and the Predators
Tuesday, I was chatting with an agent who represents several Russian players.
"They are easy targets," he said. "It's easy to pick on them."
There is some truth in that. Ovechkin, for example, has handled his demotion as well as we'd expect a good Canadian boy to handle it. Ilya Kovalchuk proved he was willing to be a positive part of a strong, structured organization.
But there is a reason NHL teams are scared of drafting and depending on Russians, and what happened last Saturday night in Phoenix is Exhibit A.
The Predators have not confirmed it, but several sources indicate Radulov and Kostitsyn didn't just stay out past curfew - they napalmed it. But, as of this writing, one thing was missing from both players: a sincere, forceful, public apology.
(Maybe it comes after this is published, but that's too late. It should've happened right away.) At least Radulov faced the media horde, albeit clumsily. Kostitsyn was nowhere to be found.
Here is what both should have apologized for:
Nashville's done some wonderful things with Jordin Tootoo (one of the guys forced to sit) and Brian McGrattan, both of whom battled addiction issues. To have two players spend the night before the game at a bar flies in the face of everything the organization believes in.
Tried to make contact Tuesday with some former players to ask if they'd come across anything like this. There were three common threads. First, was the apology heartfelt? Second, was this a first-time offence or repeat behaviour? Third, how important was the situation?
The answers are 1) Not publicly, 2) Don't know, and 3) Pretty Freaking Important.
Win or lose, can Barry Trotz afford to play them again?
1. Watched Pekka Rinne in Game 2. He is visibly furious, which is rare. Barry Trotz said he didn't know about the curfew violation before Game 2, but watching Rinne, wonder if the players sensed something was up and it affected them.
2. Guarantee Dave Tippett prepares the Coyotes for an absolute onslaught in Game 3. Predators will be at home, in trouble, and seriously angry. Guys who've been sitting will be given a chance to regain their spots.
3. Couple of years ago, we looked into doing a feature on whether or not more players would follow Ovechkin's lead and go without agents. Kelly Hrudey thought it was a poor precedent. Why? Exactly what's going on now. Hrudey believed a good agent could be a good mediator in these kinds of situations. After Game 2, both Craig Simpson and Glenn Healy made the same point.
4. Most hockey people don't believe Hunter will be back in Washington. Spoke to George McPhee about it last week, and all McPhee would say is he would like Hunter to stay. That's going to take a lot of work, and there's no guarantee the fiercest lobbying would be successful. Again, Leonsis could make the decision very hard, depending on what he's willing to pay.
5. The amazing thing about Hunter's coaching is that it's almost the exact opposite of what he does in London. He's brought out the whip before (benching Rob Schremp in a 2004 Game 7 defeat, sitting Nazem Kadri), but, generally, star players get lengthy shifts and a lot of preference.
6. The Ovechkin spotlight overshadows what's going on with Alexander Semin, who played just 12:27 in Game 2. The last three extensions he's signed (a two-year deal for 2008-09 and 2009-10; one-year contracts for 2010-11 and this season) were all inked well before free agency. (We're talking October 2007, December 2009 and January 2011.) Nothing yet this time around.
7. One NHL coach with a great line about the first two weeks of playoffs. He called it: "The Testosterone Round."
8. Convinced the edgier-than-ever John Tortorella media conferences have to do with his recent $20,000 fine. There were always things he wouldn't discuss, but this is a new level. You could always find something he'd have a (great) opinion about.
9. In the room, he's done a couple of things that have gone a long way with the Rangers. Players say he allows the group more leeway to handle things now that he knows them a little better. Also, his decision to dress Steve Eminger as a forward in Game 1 was really smart. Tortorella asked the team to trust the organization's decision to bring in Chris Kreider so late in the season, knowing it could upset chemistry. Putting Eminger in the lineup for that one game showed the Rangers that Tortorella would find opportunity for someone who'd been around most of the year (despite injury). Small thing, but a big thing.
10. Down 2-0 to Los Angeles will be the biggest challenge to the Blues' greatest strength of this season: maintaining patience. They've done it so well this season, with Ken Hitchcock preaching trust in the system no matter the score or the situation. But the Kings are shredding their tremendous positional play with power, strength and fire. Will St. Louis stick with it or try something new?
11. Apparently, after the Kings made it into the playoffs, Darryl Sutter told his players that the worst was over and it was time to relax and have fun. Good message. What probably helps is that he, Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have all gone to the Final from low-seeded teams since 2004.
12. Watching Philadelphia lose a strong Ilya Bryzgalov start in Game 2 of its series with New Jersey was like watching Vancouver waste a great Roberto Luongo performance in Game 1 against LA. If you're Philly, you hope the ending is different.
13. Montreal sure went to the "hire the opposite of the guy you fired" theory in choosing Marc Bergevin to replace Pierre Gauthier. Bergevin will have a very different public persona than his predecessor, which is undoubtedly what the Canadiens want. It's hard, though, to be that guy all the time when you're the GM.
14. Bergevin's strength is in scouting and player development. He's got a good eye for talent and those he's worked with (Troy Brouwer, for example) praise his ability to draw it out. That will be very important. He's also been in several different roles (including assistant coach) which gives him a lot of different perspectives.
15. His lack of administrative experience is only a negative if he doesn't surround himself with (and listen to) people who can support him. Serge Savard will be there, sounds like Rick Dudley, too, and it would be smart to keep Larry Carriere. Curious to see if he brings his own capologist or stays with what was already on staff. Capologist can be your most important position and it's going to be critical with Carey Price and PK Subban negotiations upcoming.
16. Asked a couple of NHL executives what they thought was a fair number for Price. The average was about $5.5 million - but a couple pointed out the player has the leverage here. That will make the number go higher.
17. For those of you who are language-watchers in Quebec, was told that on a couple of occasions, English-only candidates were suggested to Geoff Molson/Savard. The response was that such individuals would only be considered if superstars were not available.
18. That said, wouldn't you love to see what would happen if Bergevin called Detroit and asked for permission to talk to Mike Babcock?
19. Chicago has lost two assistant GMs in two years (Kevin Cheveldayoff last spring), so Stan Bowman has another hole to fill. It's an important time for the Blackhawks. The 2010 Cup win is starting to fade and John McDonough is apparently demanding better than back-to-back first-round defeats. Sounds like everyone there is "on notice."
20. Other GMs aren't so certain Peter Chiarelli will hang on to Tim Thomas, but I can see why the Bruins boss would want to keep him. Neither the team nor the player has ever come clean about the spring of 2010. Tuukka Rask was the No. 1 guy at the time, and it's been reported Boston tried to trade Thomas. Whatever the case, ferociously motivated, Thomas won the Vezina, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup. He'd be just as charged up somewhere else next season.
21. Would there be a market for him? Absolutely. A couple of interested GMs say the political issues surrounding Thomas would not prevent them from going after him.
22. It became very clear early this season that Daniel Alfredsson was going to treat this season like his last. Getting off the bus to shake hands with Ottawa fans after the Game 7 loss and joining Sweden for the worlds is part of that. It's a "Just in Case" philosophy. Before All-Star festivities, the belief was: this is it for sure. That changed, but his recent moves are consistent with his overall philosophy.
23. Wouldn't be surprised if Alfredsson's Game 6 outburst had as much to do with not playing a critical third-period powerplay as much as the hard hit from John Mitchell. You fight to come back from a concussion and don't get out there in that situation? Can be very frustrating.
24. Mike Gillis and Francesco Aquilini were originally supposed to meet Thursday, and it's expected the Canucks GM will tell his owner he does not want to change coaches. There's a lot of speculation that Alain Vigneault is a goner because he left town without talking to the media. It's more likely he didn't want to talk without knowing for sure and didn't want to wait almost two weeks for that discussion to happen.
25. For Canucks fans who want Vigneault fired, my question is this: Who is available that is better? Gillis will not make the change unless that person exists. It's not his way. Would also guess that the meeting between owner and GM was delayed because Aquilini would be very emotional after the first-round loss and that is not the time to make important decisions.
26. Cody Hodgson (and everyone around him) did themselves a great service by not saying anything after Gillis made it very clear why he traded the young forward. When you've played 1350 games (like Gary Roberts), you can say what you want. But, as we've said on Hotstove, the word on Hodgson was the people around him interfered too much. By keeping quiet this time, he comes off looking much better.
27. The annual "Trade Marleau" watch is underway after the Sharks fell in the first round. Here's the problem: The players San Jose got in the Heatley/Setoguchi deals came in 25 goals below the players they gave up. Whatever you think of Marleau's playoff performance, if you don't make up for the 30 he scores in the regular season, do you even get to the playoffs?
28. For those wondering: The self-help books Braden Holtby says had the best effect on him were Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack and The Greatness Guide by Robin Sharma.
29. The Phoenix Coyotes will survive in Arizona if the "management fee" to run the arena gets through Glendale City Council and The Goldwater Institute. If not, there might be five guys who know what will happen: Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, John Collins and the NHL's top two financial guys, Craig Harnett and Joseph DeSousa. Cassie Campbell-Pascall mentioned the word "fold" in her blog this week. Nothing would surprise me here.
30. Finally, wanted to direct your attention to http://richardmorrisonfund.org/. Some friends of mine in Vancouver know Richard Morrison, who was seriously injured in a freak hockey accident. (He tripped over a goalie pad and fell into the boards.) The father of two young children will spend the next six months in hospital and eventually need an electronic wheelchair to get around. (Here's hoping he will regain the use of his hands.) Take a look, any help you can give would be greatly appreciated.
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