You’re not allowed to blame George McPhee for the Washington Capitals’ midseason malaise. Well, you can. But it won’t do any good. Silly Cap fan, you know Ted Leonsis doesn’t hire general managers; he appoints Supreme Court justices. McPhee already outlasted a pope; Ruth Bader Ginsberg has no shot.
You can’t blame Adam Oates either. His first NHL coaching job was to change Dale Hunter’s bump-and-grinders back into Dutch speedskaters who could score like Gretzky. The only problem was he had about a week before this hideously played, 48-games-in-99-nights’ season started. Plus, who blames any first-year coach nicknamed “Oatsie?”
Alexander Semin, forever everyone’s favorite Cap to pick on, is also off the hook — because Sasha just scored three points for Carolina the other night against the Devils and returns to Verizon Center finally absolved of being the root of all hockey evil in Washington.
That leaves No. 8 by his lonesome. It’s all Alex Ovechkin’s fault, right? It’s Ovi’s fault, now and forever.
Call him “Loafechkin,” like some angry anonymous poster the other day. Say he’s a disgrace to the game at 27 years old, that he’ll never win the Hart Trophy again and his 13-year, $124 million contract could end up being essentially Arenas on Ice for Leonsis. Say he is a dum-dum with low hockey IQ, like the puckhead radio guy in Canada.
Add that he frequently plays like he doesn’t care and say he, to again quote the disenchanted among the fan base, “is mentally lazy, childish and a prima donna of a bum.”
Don’t let facts get in the way of slamming Ovi.
Forget, for instance, that a major part of the offense disappeared when Semin and Dennis Wideman didn’t return to the team in the offseason.
Disregard the offense and leadership the Capitals lost when Mike Knuble didn’t come back.
Don’t even consider the loss of Brooks Laich to injury, which hurt team as much psychologically as physically. Forget that Mike Green’s porcelain frame is on the shelf again. Everyone loses Norris Trophy candidates and goes to the Stanley Cup finals, right?
Don’t even give one ounce of sympathy that Ovechkin has never played for an NHL coach who had a lick of NHL head coaching experience before being put in charge of one of the game’s greatest offensive talents.
Certainly don’t give him the benefit of the doubt that Ovechkin, like this depleted roster still trying to find talented healthy bodies and chemistry, is on his third coach — and thereby third system — in a mere 13 months.
No. Just keep bashing Ovi. We can all play Mike Milbury for a day, can’t we?
“It’s easy to go after the Russian guy who still doesn’t have a great grasp of the language, isn’t it?” says Alan May, the Comcast SportsNet analyst and former tough guy. “Fine, but he is still the best player on the team. When they’re playing well, he’s the guy that stands out.
“The NBC guys can’t say enough [stuff] about Ovi. It’s pre-packaged in their shows. And a lot of times it doesn’t even match up to reality with what’s really happening on the ice.”
Don’t look at the last two Stanley Cup finalists and realize that every single player on the rosters of the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings had to contribute to get there. No, put it on the star, the guy who makes the most money. It doesn’t matter that the greatest hockey players have less control of outcomes, because of shifts and overall ice time, than LeBron James or Tom Brady.
It doesn’t matter that Washington is in the middle of playing 17 games in 30 days this month because labor woes put players’ health at extreme risk, or that the young guns we used to know as Ovie, Backie, Greenie and Brooksie are now fully formed been-around-the-block veterans who get hurt and are nowhere near invincible anymore.
Let’s just magnify in this schlock of an incomplete NHL season just how awful and past-his-greatness Ovechkin is. Let’s harp about his lack of production, his predictability and his stubbornness. Heck, say he was so lousy even a year ago he only managed to score as many goals as all but four players in the entire league.
Let’s just pile on the guy who is still the Capitals’ most legitimate offensive player, who still has a lot to offer his teammates and this town, who never asked to be captain but is gradually learning the hard way what it means to have that letter sewn to his jersey.
“Honestly, he’s a got a team full of carpenters right now,” May says. “They’re not super, super offensively dynamic. For them to win right now, he’s got to be a guy that everything else has got to work at 100 for him to do well.”
But that gets in the way of another Ovi-bashing day. And there’s certainly no reason to do that because then everyone might have to admit to the hardest truth imaginable: It’s his fault, all right. Just like it’s Ted Leonsis, George McPhee and [Insert the New Coach Here]’s Fault. Just like it’s Backstrom, Green and [Insert This Year’s New Goaltender]’s Fault.
But it’s not all Ovechkin’s fault. It never was. And until we all get past that, we are going to miss the evolution and possible maturity of a guy who could still raise the Cup one day in this town.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.