As the Washington Capitals prepare for the 2013-2014 NHL Regular Season, what will Alexander Ovechkin’s legacy be? Until Ovechkin wins a Stanley Cup—until he leads his team into the Eastern Conference finals—Capitals fans will always lose the Sidney Crosby/ Ovechkin argument.
Hart Trophies are great (and Ovi has a beautiful collection of them), but as Ovi himself has said, all that matters is the Cup. This year is by no means “Cup or bust”; the Capitals don’t have the talent on the roster to compete for the Stanley Cup (not to say that it won’t be there by the end of the season via trade or call-up, but no one is picking the Caps to lift).
However, what will Adam Oates bring out of Alex Ovechkin in 2013-2014? Last season Oates rejuvanated Ovechkin’s offensive play and—barring one embarrassing mistake in the playoffs— a semblance of interest in defense.
Keep in mind that one of the greatest two-way players, Steve Yzerman, didn’t emerge as a defensive force until his late 20’s in his tenth season. Yzerman was almost traded on two occasions, once to the Ottawa Senators and another time to the Montreal Canadians.
Ovechkin needs to take a few steps, though, if he wants to be half the leader Stevie Y was.
Ovechkin must improve his knowledge of the game and who better to help him than a coach famed for his vision and knowledge of the game?
We saw glimpses of this last season when Ovi relinquished control of the puck in the neutral zone and was content to let Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johnasson to carry into the zone. This allowed Alex to enter the zone uncontested and resulted in better scoring chances. As Ovechkin’s athletic abilities decrease, he will need to compensate with added acumen.
The other step that Ovechkin must take is dispel all rumors about his nightlife and extracurricular activities. The one thing which you must grudgingly admit about Crosby is that his work ethic is unquestioned.
Whether this is a result of the Canadian vs. Russian bias or not is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that Ovechkin has given the critics much fuel for the fire.
Personally, I want to give Ovi the benefit of the doubt. His passion on the ice is unmatched and no one shows more excitement when his team succeeds and disheartenment when they fail.
His fiancé, Maria Kirilenko, has settled Ovechkin down and he always seems to play better when she is in the stands. The key, though, is that it seems that Ovechkin has matured off the ice.
The next step is for Ovechkin to mature on the ice. This means playing smarter, rallying the troops, and doing the little things—like backchecking.
I think that this is going to be a good season for Alex Ovechkin and expect a great season offensively. Where I hope to be pleasantly surprised is on the defensive end, in the locker room, and off the ice.
If Ovechkin makes that leap, the Washington Capitals become a team that is truly just one or two players away from the Stanley Cup.