Sometime on Sunday, there's got to be a meeting. George McPhee. Bruce Boudreau. Alexander Ovechkin. Get into a room. Be honest with each other, and work it out.
This situation calls for the Jay Feaster/John Tortorella/Vincent Lecavalier solution: "No one's going anywhere, so you better find a way to get along."
McPhee's built a really good hockey team. This is a group that other clubs consider good enough to win the Stanley Cup. They're deep and they are talented. (Right now, they're missing Mike Green, which hurts, but it's no reason for what happened Saturday night, a 7-1 nuclear meltdown against the battered Maple Leafs.)
Firing Boudreau is craziness. He's won 70 per cent of his games since arriving in Washington. He revived a flatlining franchise. His peers will tell you he's got a good in-game feel. He's open to different concepts and ideas -- going to the trap last season, the first time in his career he coached it.
He's fulfilling McPhee's wish of being harder on his players when necessary. The whole point of adding as much depth as they did was to say, "Look, if someone's not going hard, they're not going on the ice." When he kept Ovechkin on the bench in that now-infamous game against Anaheim, the players he chose scored the tying goal. And Ovechkin set up the winner. As McPhee said in our pre-game Inside Hockey Feature, "That's coaching."
Plus, who are you going to find that's better?
Trading Ovechkin (as Mike Milbury hinted at in the Hotstove) is way too premature. He is 26 with lots of great hockey ahead of him. He's too talented, with the prime of his career very much in front of him.
There was a time people were as critical about Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman as they are about Ovechkin right now. Lemieux won his first Stanley Cup the season he turned 26. (Yzerman was 32.) The point is: Ovechkin has plenty of time to adapt. But, he must be willing to do so.
The biggest concern about watching him coast through Saturday's wipeout is that he normally thrives on the big stage of Toronto. It was stunning to see him look so uninspired and uninvolved in that city. But, the answer is not so easy.
In addition to our Hotstove debate, I listened as Milbury, Glenn Healy, PJ Stock and Kelly Hrudey discussed what to do. Although I disagreed with Healy on-air about making Ovechkin comfortable and playing him like crazy, Hrudey backed that idea.
Why? Al Arbour.
Both Healy and Hrudey loved playing for Arbour, one of the sport's most successful coaches. And, one thing they said about Arbour was that he didn't grind his players when things were going badly. (On the other hand, he could be very tough when things were going well.)
Boudreau and McPhee discussed a tougher approach this past summer. Ovechkin generally had his run of the place over the past six seasons and he gave the Capitals a lot in return. There were 300 goals and millions of dollars in ticket sales. Much of that comes from him.
But, the team never came close to doing what really matters: winning it all.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked one Eastern Conference coach about Ovechkin. He said, "If you look at the last few Stanley Cup champions, they were led by dominant two-way forwards. Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (who didn't get enough credit for how good he was), Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk all dominated at both ends of the ice."
"Ovechkin is not there. In the defensive zone, he is above the puck all the time," the coach added.
Even though I believe many of Washington's players support Boudreau's harder edge in attempting to get Ovechkin to become this player, both he and McPhee must decide if this is the right approach. Maybe trading Alex Semin will make Ovechkin respond in a similar manner to the Montreal Canadiens, who are 8-3-1 since an assistant coach was made the scapegoat for their bad start.
But Ovechkin must be willing to evolve as well. Lemieux did it. Yzerman did it. Lecavalier did it, too, playing the game of his life in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
People who know Ovechkin say he really cares and really wants to win. But, you can't look at the way he's going and see it. Yes, everyone's entitled to bad games and it's very early in the season. As Boudreau said, "It feels like the end of the world, but it's not the end of the world."
He's right. It isn't. But the Capitals cannot afford to underachieve. It is time for a serious talk. For four years, Bruce Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin have been great for each other. Now, it's time for both men to be honest about what it will take to rediscover the magic.
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