I, I’m not so sure.
New Jersey Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk retired for the NHL this past week, and it has caused quite the commotion. Critics have come out and put the russian on blast for “selfishness,” most notably Jeremy Roenick (http://www.sportingnews.com/nhl/story/2013-07-11/ilya-kovalchuk-retirement-devils-jeremy-roenick-matthew-barnaby). Roenick and Matthew Barnaby both took shots stereotyping the russian winger for only caring about money and not competitively honoring his contract.
The reason I bring this up is because of how the russians in the Caps organization have caught similar flack over the years. Alexander Semin certainly garnered the “I only care about the money” reputation, and with good reason. When guys on your own team are calling you out, you know something is amiss with your competitive zeal. He, as Caps fans well know, is now in Carolina, where, after a hot start season, he floundered to the finish along with his team.
Ovechkin is the big fish, obviously. I believe Ovie has had his heart in the right place during his NHL career. I honestly believe he is very competitive and he wants to win. His work ethic needs some improvement because of his semi-frequent bouts with being out of shape, and I know that sounds funny a sentence after saying he is very competitive. However, he’s a seasoned veteran now, and if he doesn’t “get it” now, there is legitimate concern/criticism that he might not every fully come around. We’ll see.
I do not see Ovechkin in the same light as Kovalchuk, though, and here’s why. I think the criticism people try to pin on Ovechkin is often misguided. I think Ovie’s flaws lie more with his hockey IQ than his attitude and sportsmanship. I think, for someone as immensely gifted as Ovechkin, he hasn’t had to “think” the game as much as play it, so when he looks lost on the ice for this reason, it’s not because he doesn’t care. That is why I don’t see him as similar as Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk, I think, has better hockey IQ and awareness, but his heart isn’t in the same place as Ovechkin’s. He (clearly) wants to go home and play in Russia, and he is not as concerned with establishing himself as an NHL great. I think Ovechkin truly wants to be remembered, and he wants to be remembered as a winner.
We’ve been watching Ovechkin grow up for nearly a decade now, and I think Oates truly reinvigorated him this past season. I think/hope that Oates established enough trust and kinship that he opened Ovechkin’s eyes to his true potential. Ovechkin has been through the fire the last couple of seasons, some of which he surely brought on himself, and I think he wants to stand his ground and keep at it. I don’t see him retreating to Russia anytime soon. Hopefully that’s not just the Red in my veins, though.