For the past few years, if you were to ask me who my favorite NHL player was, I’d answer (begrudgingly, though without hesitation): Alexander Ovechkin.
Begrudgingly because it’s a hopelessly trite response that even the most uninformed hockey fan is capable of generating, but without hesitation because he’s exactly the type of player I admire. A big, physical guy, arguably too physical, who can also score goals. Not for lack of critics, though. Ovi is notorious for dogging it on the backcheck, dragging his feet at times when the “C” on his sweater should have him tear-assing around the ice, and he has a tendency to disappear in the playoffs. Right when he’s needed most.
But I’ve stood by my buddy Ovechkin, oohing and ahhing over his checking, gushing over highlight reel snipes, anticipating with an eager expectedness his one-timer goals from his spot over by the offensive zone face-off dot. The Great-8, doing his thing. Putting 50 in the net year in, year out, being one of the most formidable offensive players the game has ever seen.
But I’m over Ovechkin now. Going into these 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I thought–for sure–this will be the year for the Caps. Ovechkin is finally going to get his name engraved on the cup. He’s 30 years old, Washington took the President’s Trophy, Holtby is a favorite for the Vezina, they’ve got Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams on the roster, Oshie will be a valuable asset (and he’s proven this, with his hat trick), it just seemed like all the pieces were falling together. But they’re not. Ovechkin has failed, yet again, to step up. Does he throw the body around all over the ice? Yeah, and it’s fun to watch. But the thing is, that’s not going to win him a Stanley Cup. In some regular season matchup against Buffalo, sure, that’s fine to do, but when you’re facing the newly hot Pittsburgh, or even the Flyers in round one, the key is discipline. And Ovi has just never seemed to have it.
That’s not to say that he hasn’t produced offensively or hasn’t played well. He has. He scored a beautiful sniper’s goal just a few nights ago, and he’s playing hard. But he isn’t playing smart and he doesn’t seem to be leading his team. Think of Mark Messier (the namesake of the leadership award for which Ovechkin has been nominated). Think of Steve Yzerman. Even Sidney Crosby. What did/do these guys all have that Ovi doesn’t? The discipline to lead and hustle out of the spotlight. The level-headedness to take a rain check on some physicality to stay in the play. That’s what they have on Ovechkin. That and Stanley Cups.
Attribute it to bad puck-luck, playoff juju, whatever you want, but I feel no sympathy for the Caps and their captain. Ovechkin still has time to turn it around, and if I see him hoisting the cup in a few weeks I’ll be happy for him. But if I don’t see it, I’ll feel fine just the same. I’m over Ovechkin. He’ll live forever as a 50-goal scorer, deadly sniper and a physical force–but whether or not he’ll ever earn (yes, earn) a Stanley Cup Championship…the clock is ticking and the fans are tired of waiting.