Matt Bradley finally said aloud, on the record, what the Washington Capitals players and coaches have been skirting around for several seasons. He confirmed the whispers, the pointed eye rolls and the general feeling in the Caps’ dressing room, that something was lacking. Someone was lacking.
Bradley’s “someone” is Alexander Semin, a tremendous talent when he feels like it. He just often doesn’t feel like it. That’s been obvious to anyone who watches the Caps, which is why there were a lot of raised eyebrows in January when the Capitals re-signed him. Why keep him around for another season, and at $6.7 million, if he doesn’t want to truly commit?
Of course, Bradley’s comments came on the radio in August, after he’s left the team, not last winter, when he could have said them in the dressing room, where they might have done some good.
Bradley pulled his punches a bit when discussing the bigger “someone,” Alex Ovechkin, praising his on-ice play. That’s pretty typical and fair, because Ovechkin plays as hard as anyone in the league. But Bradley also hinted at Ovechkin’s conditioning deficiencies. That’s been a hot topic among Caps fans for some time. Ovechkin has even tacitly acknowledged the fact by saying he’s going to show up at camp in better shape next month.
One way to stay in shape would be to participate in more practices. There is no question that the Caps’ stars sit out of a LOT of practices, and not just the morning skates after a night game. Ovechkin’s not the only one, but he’s the one who wears the “C.”
While he didn’t name any other names, Bradley called the team’s dressing room “too nonchalant” and cited a lack of discipline.
The Caps seem to agree: Their entire busy offseason seemed to be devoted to getting more grownups, not just in age but in demeanor.
But more telling to me were Coach Bruce Boudreau’s remarks of a week ago, when he said of Ovechkin, “I think he’s a great captain on the ice...”
No one ever said of Steve Yzerman or Mark Messier, probably the two best captains in hockey history, that they were great “on the ice.” Wearing the “C” is a full-time job, and Ovechkin has been allowed to phone it in for too long. It was clear from watching HBO’s “24/7” last winter that a major difference between Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin is dressing room presence. Crosby was almost another coach in the room, praising, offering tips, being involved in the conversation. Ovechkin was nearly silent.
No, it’s not all about talking, and no, English is not his first language. But Ovechkin has enough of a command of the language now to use it to light a fire under guys, to offer compliments and criticisms. The fact is, he has, until now, chosen not to.
It’s clear that Boudreau expects more of him this season than just 81 hard games, and it’s high time someone did. Boudreau said he wants Ovechkin to take his role as team captain “a step further” and he wants to establish “a more serious tone” in the dressing room. He also said, “I fully expect Alex Ovechkin to come back into camp mean as a bear.”
If he doesn’t, if nothing changes with the Caps on and off the ice this season, Ovechkin won’t be the only one feeling mean as a bear. Caps fans (and Jason Reid) love him, but they won’t be patient forever.