Alex Ovechkin won his third Hart trophy this year, so the noise surrounding his ability (or lack thereof) to come through in the clutch, as an MVP should, is about to get a whole lot louder. Look no further than Lebron James to see how this story plays out.
Lebron racked up rooms full of regular season hardware during his first eight years in the league, yet he was eviscerated by the basketball world for not having won a title. Lebron could do nothing right until he won a championship, and this year, with a title under his belt, Lebron had to re-prove his “clutchness” to the world because of the standard he had set. This is just what we do with great athletes. We see that they are great or potentially great, we anoint their greatness, and then we demand that they follow through on our projections. Because of the feverish nature of sports media, this tenacity usually comes off as aggressive negativity, but, I think if you dig deeper, you see that it is rooted in positivity. We compare these great athletes to legends, and we desperately want to see it come to fruition. We want to justify the energy we put into analyzing and calculating just how good these guys are. I think these athletes should and do realize that it is an honor just to be the subject of such attention and comparison, and they should ignore some of the petty criticism that is directed in a personal manner.
Lebron’s scrutiny is, in many ways, similar to Alex Ovechkin. Both are prodigies who exploded onto the scene, and both have been hobbled by some spotty image management. Lebron’s infamous “decision” careened his popularity, and many see Ovechkin as more of a selfish rockstar than a team hockey player that’s committed to winning.
Hopefully, Ovie continues to embrace the pressure that is mounting along with his regular season trophies. It seemed that Oates has done a great job on his much maligned mindset in just one year. He gave Ovie confidence while making him take one step back (moving to the right wing) in order to take more steps forward, so stability from the coaching position should allow Ovechkin to continue to improve his game. From all accounts, Oates has developed a great personal trust with Alex, something that hasn’t been achieved by previous bench bosses, and something that is mandatory for cultivating stardom.
This summer, Ovechkin should enjoy his third Hart trophy and the potential of his partnership with Oates. It goes without saying that he should also fully digest every part of that awful first-round game 7 loss, knowing that if it happens again next year, the heat he will take will be exponentially greater. And it should, if he wants to be great.