On April 14, the day after the Washington Capitals’ season ended, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the notion that the endless amount of criticism he receives for the team’s woes every year was wearing on him. It’s part of his job to handle that scrutiny, he said, as the captain and face of the franchise.
But what about being labeled a coach killer? Next fall, Ovechkin will be playing for his fifth coach in 10 seasons. He dismissed those assertions too, simply as a reality of his contract.
“Because I have 13 years on my deal,” Ovechkin said that day, “of course some change is going to happen.”
Back in 2008, the Capitals signed Ovechkin to a blockbuster 13-year contract worth $124 million that solidified him as the foundation of the organization. He has seven years remaining on that deal, which will pay him $10 million annually through the 2020-21 season.
This spring when the Capitals missed the playoffs, the volume of those suggesting the team should trade the star winger and reboot the roster grew louder. But if Saturday’s news conference with owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick following the dismissal of Adam Oates and George McPhee was any indication, that course of action seems unlikely.
“Alex Ovechkin is a great, great hockey player. I wish we had two of him. Then we wouldn’t even be here today, probably,” Patrick said. “All he wants to do is win. Adam Oates helped him a great deal. He’s becoming a better player every year.”
Patrick then addressed the annual dissection of Ovechkin’s game that follows every disappointing season ending for the Capitals.
“The criticism goes, unfairly I think, tilted towards him when we’re not winning because people are saying, ‘You’ve got Alex Ovechkin, how come you haven’t won a Cup?’” Patrick said. “It does take a team, it takes 20 guys. How can you be unhappy with what Alex Ovechkin’s accomplished and continues to accomplish in the National Hockey League?”
Leonsis wasn’t as vocal as far as the winger was concerned, but said Saturday’s management changes were “not for Alex Ovechkin” or any individual but simply the pursuit of a Stanley Cup.
Asked about the type of freedom and leeway to make personnel decisions a new general manager would be afforded, Leonsis said he seeks to “empower” executives and that an incoming manager would have “the exact same liberties that George McPhee had.” As for whether he considered any player on the current roster untouchable, Leonsis said only that a general manager’s proposals would be heard.
“I’m not the general manager,” Leonsis said. “So if a general manager comes with something we would listen to the general manager. But I’m not the general manager.”
More on the Caps’ shakeup:
Jenkins: Leonsis puts himself on the spot
Feinstein: Capitals hope change can cure their ills