Ovechkin may have to reinvent himself
With dip in production, adjusting to faster game expected
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.”
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.