Ovechkin may have to rein­vent him­self

With dip in pro­duc­tion, ad­just­ing to faster game ex­pected

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

De­scrib­ing Alex Ovechkin’s fu­ture with the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals, gen­eral man­ager Brian MacLel­lan went to the past.

“He’s a big part of our fran­chise, a big part of our his­tory,” MacLel­lan said. “He’s been a big part of where we’re at as an or­ga­ni­za­tion and just to ca­su­ally say, ‘Let’s trade him?’ For what? For who? I don’t think it makes sense from an or­ga­ni­za­tional point of view.”

But MacLel­lan, for the first time, didn’t com­pletely dis­miss the pos­si­bil­ity of an Ovechkin trade.

“Maybe at some point if there’s a le­git­i­mate hockey deal that came avail­able, but I don’t know if that’s where we’re at right now,” MacLel­lan said. “I just think he’s got a his­tory here. He’s a big part of this fran­chise, and he’ll con­tinue to be go­ing for­ward.”

This is the dilemma the Cap­i­tals find them­selves in.

Wash­ing­ton is still one of the league’s top teams, so it doesn’t make sense to deal Ovechkin — un­less the team gets an of­fer they can’t refuse. Even if there were such an of­fer, it’s un­clear owner Ted Leon­sis would ever part with Ovechkin, given how much the 31-year-old star has meant to the fran­chise.

Ovechkin’s con­tract — he’s owed $9.5 mil­lion over the next four sea­sons — and his slow­ing pro­duc­tion on the ice also make a deal un­likely.

Last sea­son, Ovechkin played a ca­reer-low 18:33 per game and scored 33

goals, his low­est since 2010-11. MacLel­lan ad­mit­ted it was a down year for Ovechkin and they were as frus­trated as he was.

If the Cap­i­tals are stuck with Ovechkin and Ovechkin wants to win, Ovechkin will have to rein­vent him­self as a player.

“I think for him mov­ing for­ward it’s, he’s get­ting in the low 30s, I think he’s go­ing to have to think of ways he can evolve into a player that still has a ma­jor im­pact on the game,” MacLel­lan said. “The game’s get­ting faster. He’s go­ing to have to train in a dif­fer­ent way — a more speed way in­stead of a power way. He’s gonna have to make ad­just­ments to stay [rel­e­vant] in the game.”

To Ovechkin’s credit, the Rus­sian star said the same thing in his closeout in­ter­view.

“I don’t want to stay on the same level,” Ovechkin said. “I want to be bet­ter, I want to get bet­ter and I have to work much harder this off­sea­son than those pre­vi­ous to get suc­cess and to get the goal of the Stan­ley Cup. I’m pretty sure ev­ery­body wants to win the Stan­ley Cup. It’s hard.”

Ad­just­ing to the speed of the game won’t be easy. Ovechkin’s great­est strength last sea­son was his im­pact on the Cap­i­tals’ power play, lead­ing the team in that cat­e­gory and scor­ing 17 of the Cap­i­tals’ 57 power play goals. Ovechkin still has the ac­cu­racy and the abil­ity to cap­i­tal­ize when the game slows down and Wash­ing­ton can take ad­van­tage of a man miss­ing.

But Ovechkin has seen his pro­duc­tion dip when teams are in even strength. His 16 even-strength goals were tied for the low­est of his ca­reer and it was the first time Ovechkin fin­ished a sea­son with more power play goals than 5-on-5.

“He’s al­ways go­ing to have po­ten­tial on the power play be­cause he has a great shot and a good fit on our power play the way it’s set up,” MacLel­lan said. “Five-on-five goals is go­ing to be the key for him, how much he can cre­ate 5-on-5 and he’s go­ing to have to make ad­just­ments in the way he ap­proaches the game in the off­sea­son to get to that point where he can score 5-on-5 goals.”

Eight of Ovechkin’s 12 sea­sons have re­sulted in scor­ing at least 40 goals. MacLel­lan, though, said he thinks Ovechkin is still ca­pa­ble of be­ing a 40-goal scorer.

Ovechkin will spend part of his sum­mer re­hab­bing from in­juries suf­fered in the play­offs. Ovechkin hurt his knee and ham­string, but said the in­juries weren’t ex­cuses for his play­off per­for­mance.

The Cap­i­tals star had five goals and three as­sists in the post­sea­son. He’s only had more than five goals in the play­offs once, scor­ing 11 in 2009. In the sec­ond round of the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins se­ries, Ovechkin was sent down to the third line to try and bal­ance out the scor­ing.

If Ovechkin wants to be a pro­duc­tive player when he’s older, Cap­i­tals coach Barry Trotz said Ovechkin will have to train even harder. Trotz passed on ad­vice to Ovechkin he had heard from Hall of Fame vet­er­ans around the league.

“I just think as you get older, you have to be much more con­scious to what you eat, how you train, how much you train and why you do it so that you’re very spe­cific and you have to be a lot more dis­ci­plined be­cause the body just doesn’t come off like it used to,” Trotz said at the end of the sea­son.

Ovechkin has al­ways been a po­lar­iz­ing sub­ject among Cap­i­tals fans and out­siders. He was anointed the team’s cap­tain in 2010. There’s been no dis­cus­sion about chang­ing that, MacLel­lan said.

As long as Ovechkin is the face of the Cap­i­tals, he’ll also bear most of the re­spon­si­bil­ity when the team fails.

“That’s part of be­ing a cap­tain, part of mak­ing the money he makes,” MacLel­lan said. “You have to ex­pect that re­spon­si­bil­ity if that’s the chair you’re sit­ting in. And I think he should. But in­ter­nally, we have other things too. It’s not just Alex. There’s other play­ers who could have played bet­ter here, too.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals wing Alex Ovechkin is owed $9.5 mil­lion over the next four years and his slow­ing pro­duc­tion on the ice makes a trade un­likely.

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