Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals takes a slap shot against the
Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of
the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.( Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
Ovechkin or Crosby?
That was the great debate. Who would you build your team around? Who would you take first in your hockey pool? Ovechkin or Crosby? You didn't have to be from Pittsburgh or Washington to fiercely argue that one.
But that's a one-sided discussion now. (And condolences to Ovechkin, en route to Russia for his uncle's funeral.)
I was in the NHL offices last week, flipping through the league's preview magazine. Former colleague Scott Morrison put together some fantasy rankings, and Ovechkin came in at a not-so-"Great 8." He was behind Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin, Martin St. Louis, Henrik Sedin and Evgeni Malkin.
Only Ovechkin could drop so far after a 32-goal season. What's the old line? "The danger of doing something well is that people expect it all the time." When your five-year average is 54 a year, that's what happens.
But, we all know it wasn't just the scoring. Ovechkin sleepwalked through a weirdly indifferent season, with rumblings that he was conserving himself for the playoffs. That plan (assuming it existed) failed miserably with the meek second-round Tampa train wreck.Not meeting expectations
Look at the players taken first overall right around him: Marc-Andre Fleury (2003), Crosby (2005) and Patrick Kane (2007) have already been critical components of a Stanley Cup champion team. Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Malkin and Jonathan Toews are franchise players of Ovechkin's generation who've done it, too. And Stamkos also trends upward.
It is ludicrous to solely blame him for Washington's failure to carry the Cup, so far. And I cannot disagree enough with the idea that Ovechkin doesn't want to win. But why have many of the players listed above soared while he has stagnated? Because he has not invested enough in improving his game or learning how to win.
Let's use Crosby as an example. Every summer, he's concentrated on something to make his game better. As a rookie, his faceoff percentage was 46 per cent. Last year, he was 14th in the NHL at 56 per cent before the injury. When he thought he was becoming too easy to defend, he worked on his shot to become a more dangerous scorer.
Where do you look at Ovechkin and say, "Wow, he's really improved at that in five years?"
That does not mean it cannot happen. The guy just turned 26 and has years of superb hockey remaining. But it's time for him to become as single-minded as his elite peers, to modify his game and reach his full potential.
There are positive signs. He was notorious for arriving in North America just before training camp, which cut down his skating time because he had commercial and NHL commitments upon returning. This year, he came back earlier. Times are changing
Then, something very interesting happened in Sunday's Chicago/Washington preseason game. On a Capitals powerplay, Ovechkin, playing the point, carried the puck and was stripped, leading to a Blackhawk chance. The rest of the night, there was no Ovechkin on the powerplay point. A message is being sent that things are going to be different.
At the NHL/NHLPA media tour last month, I asked him about the highlight of his summer. He smiled and said, "My new equipment." Smart pitchman, that Ovechkin, who signed a six-year deal with Bauer.
See that photo at the top of this blog? It's from May 2009, the night he and Crosby scored head-to-head hat tricks in an incredible playoff showdown. Ovechkin used a Bauer stick that night, even though he was contracted to CCM/Reebok at the time. He was forced to switch and a couple of people say this really affected him last year.
I asked him if that was true. His reply? Another smile: "That's between me and the stick."
Whatever the case, things have to change. He has championship-level greatness inside of him. It's time to join his peers and bring it out.30 THOUGHTS1.
A decade ago, Saku Koivu turned his battle with cancer into a fantastic benefit for the people of Montreal. Koivu used the fundraising power of his fight to bring the city its first PET-scan machine, which allows for earlier detection of the insidious disease. Now, another Canadien is trying to use his injury to create a similar positive. The Max Pacioretty Foundation aims to advance the Traumatic Brain Injury Project at Montreal General Hospital/The McGill University Health Centre. You can get more information or make donations at mghfoundation.com
Idiotic comment of the week: going to award this to myself. As the show closed Saturday night, PJ Stock asked how many games I thought Ryan Malone was going to get. Maybe it was because PJ was nearby and I became an airhead by osmosis, but it wasn't the greatest example of thinking on my feet. You can't be knee-jerk on these things, especially if a team has several days until its next game. Brendan Shanahan's said that if there is a hole in the schedule, he'll take extra time to think. With Tampa off until Friday, he sure did that in Malone's case.3.
It's very clear, based on the non-suspensions to Malone and Alex Edler (who hit Taylor Hall in the noggin) that the "hittee's" prior movements are going to be essential in determining supplemental discipline. (If you watch the Brad Boyes video, Shanahan brings up the fact that Toronto's Joe Colborne did not move at all before the Sabre hit him.) To me, that's very important. If you're going to decrease the number of concussions, you must teach players not to put themselves in vulnerable positions just as much as you need to punish illegal hits.
Rob Blake is supposed to start doing some of those suspension videos. Bet Shanahan can't wait.
Don't want to waste the entire blog on this issue, but: How many people complaining about the number of suspensions are the same people complaining about the amount of concussions? You can't have it both ways.
On the cover of the 2011-12 NHL Guide: Zdeno Chara lifting the Stanley Cup -- but not in Vancouver. The league gives teams the option to pay for an alternate cover. Philadelphia did that last year (it lost to Chicago in the final) and Washington did it in 2009-10, after hated rival Pittsburgh won it all.
It appears as if realignment for next season will be more of a "shuffle" as opposed to the drastic change proposed at the Board of Governors a couple of weeks ago. The "drastic move" was very interesting: Two 15-team conferences, four divisions. The idea I loved most: a return to the old Patrick/Smythe/Norris/Adams playoff format, where teams stayed in their own divisions until the Stanley Cup semifinal. Those games would be unbelievable.
Why that won't happen: the schedule. Teams would face non-division opponents only twice per year, home-and-home. A number of the Eastern teams didn't think that was an improvement over the current setup. Among them: Pittsburgh. Why? The Penguins and Flyers were going to be in separate divisions. The former didn't like the idea of only two games per season against that rival. Can't really blame Pittsburgh for that.
If you're going to score three goals in 76 games, you must have other skills that make you indispensable to a team. Sean Avery has real talent, but when you bring some of the issues he does, three goals doesn't make you worthwhile. Does he still want to be a difference-maker, or just an exceedingly well-researched trash talker?
The St. Louis Blues had a guest at their training camp: Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's Vice-President of Hockey Operations/National Teams. A Buffalo Sabres fifth-round pick in 1990, Pascall will be an NHL GM some day.
Mark Scheifele signed for a cap hit of $1.625 million. That's less than the number seven picks in 2008 (Colin Wilson, $1.725) and 2009 (Nazem Kadri, $1.7). Last year, Jeff Skinner went in at $1.4, so it lowered the bar a bit. But Scheifele wanted to play at the NHL level and decided to leave money on the table.
If you look at the bonus structures for recent drafts, you'll notice that the numbers really drop after the fifth player taken. Last year, the difference between Nino Niederreiter and Brett Connolly was a $1.2 million cap hit. From 2009, almost $1.4 million separates Brayden Schenn and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. That became an issue last year with Erik Gudbranson, as Florida didn't want to give the full package even though he was a number three selection.
Best news of the weekend: that doctors who performed surgery on Oiler defenceman Taylor Fedun told him his injury doesn't have to be a career-ender. The hope appears to be maybe a game or two at some level by the end of the season. Nothing wrong with setting a positive target, even though the recovery will be long and hard. Good luck, Taylor. We'll all be rooting for you.
Kurtis Foster, whose career nearly ended on a similar play in 2008, wrote an email Saturday afternoon to NHLPA executive director outlining his "concern and disappointment" over the injury. Foster, who is in Europe with the Ducks, hopes to meet with Fehr, who is there, too. Players who heard Fedun's screams in the press box might have something to say, too. 15.
Canada beat the US 3-2 in the semifinals of the 2003 World Junior tournament in an extremely tight, tough game. The first (and for a long time, only) American to come out after that hard loss was the captain, Eric Nystrom. It's easy to answer questions when you win. It's more impressive after a loss that ends any hope of a championship. Not surprised that Nystrom would engage twitter followers, both pro and con, after his race for the puck led to Fedun's injury. (Although I wonder what his coach and GM thought about it.) The easy thing to do was hide.
Meanwhile, Ron Wilson joins twitter and I get five tweets saying Wilson's tampering -- because he follows Kyle Turris.
Very, very curious to see how long Ales Hemsky goes a) unsigned or b) untraded in Edmonton.
Before last season, Ryan Whitney (who I should probably say was not the source for this story) was busting on Taylor Hall. Hall was trying everything possible to be quiet and respectful, but Whitney's pretty funny and Hall lost it a bit. Another player told him to be respectful to a US Olympian, to which an annoyed Hall responded, "Olympian? He only played about six minutes!" Even the veterans laughed at that one.
Teammates did say the irony of Hall's season-ending injury in the fight with Derek Dorsett is that it came at the end of the rookie's best shift of the season. He made Fedor Tyutin look like a child.
Will Hall fight again? "If I do, I'll pick my opponent a little better," he said.
Paul Postma didn't always see eye-to-eye with his Chicago Wolves coach, Don Lever, a couple of years ago, but now admits time has changed that perspective. Lever was hard on the defenceman, trying to get Postma to improve his compete level in one-on-one battles. Postma was sent down by Winnipeg, but that work has him close to being an NHL regular. And several scouts really noticed his improvement.
Hearing BJ Crombeen's injury timeline (shoulder fracture) is 2-3 months. He's a pretty important person in the Blues' dressing room, especially relevant considering the pressure this team is under to perform.
. What to watch with David Rundblad: How he does without the puck. He's so skilled with it, but must learn to play without it. Little doubt he will, but it may take time.
. One coach on Ottawa: "They'll probably run out of steam in March, like most teams built like that...Until then, they're going to play everyone very hard."25.
The relationship between Alexander Radulov and his KHL team, Ufa, is worse than the one between Barack Obama and the Tea Party. It would take a voiding of his contract to allow him to return, but word during the weekend was that there was no contact between him and Nashville.
It sucks for Cody Franson, but the worst thing the Maple Leafs could do with Mike Komisarek is sit him at the start of the season. If you do that immediately, you lose him. They might as well just send him to the AHL. Play him and see where it goes. What Komisarek must do is play simple, which he hasn't done since he came to Toronto. The contract is the contract. That's done, you can't change it. If he tries to live up to that every shift, it's going to be a mess.
. After watching the preseason, can't help but think there is no player more crucial to his team's success this season than James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And that might not be incredibly fair to him.
Hart: Ryan Getzlaf. Norris: Shea Weber. Calder: Adam Larsson. Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist, who I'm convinced could fall out of bed and still look better than any human alive. Comeback Player: Dany Heatley.
Stanley Cup: Pittsburgh against Vancouver. (I flipped a coin with San Jose. Really like the Penguins, though.)
Every year, I marvel at the pain threshold of athletes -- especially hockey players. When their teams are eliminated in the playoffs, it's pretty amazing to see who was hiding what injuries. After seeing my wife go through 23 hours of labour, eight of them without an epidural, I have to say that she's tougher.
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