Alexander Ovechkin’s public evisceration began immediately after the Washington Capitals’ exit from the postseason.
A number of media types chimed in as the Capitals began picking up the pieces of a second consecutive President’s Trophy, each time leading to a premature playoff exit at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. With three prior exits at the hands of the New York Rangers, the heat is on like never before for Ovechkin, now 31 years of age and twelve seasons into his career.
It was disclosed Thursday that Ovechkin has a lower-body injury which will prevent him from playing in the World Championships. Usually, Ovechkin exits North America for Europe immediately after the Capitals are eliminated from competition. This season, considering the result, the optics would be bad, injury or no, had he gone. Ovechkin had to be helped off the ice during Game 5 of the first round series against Toronto after a hip check by Nasem Kadri, but it’s unclear the nature and extent of his injury. Some have surmised that a hamstring may have been impacted, but it remains unclear.
Here’s a sample of rants/takes/critiques directed at Ovechkin in the 48 hours since elimination:
Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post was pointed re Ovechkin’s injury:
“Maybe that explains Ovechkin’s demotion to the third line. Maybe that explains why both Penguins goals Wednesday night came when he was on the ice. Maybe that explains why he made what appeared to be a halfhearted and ultimately unsuccessful effort to clear the puck from the Washington zone in the third period, a puck that ended up behind goalie Braden Holtby for an insurmountable 2-0 lead. But don’t get too caught up in this specific game, this specific failure. We have a wide-angle view of Ovechkin, his Capitals and the playoffs. We don’t need a larger sample size. We know.
“…He can fairly be viewed, simultaneously, as the reason the Capitals rose to prominence over the past decade and the reason that they have failed so monumentally at the most meaningful moments.”
Barry Melrose of ESPN wondered aloud whether it would be a good time to trade Ovechkin.
“The thing is it’s so hard to make a major deal in the NHL right now with salary cap, a lot of these guys have no movement clauses in the contracts … that almost makes a deal impossible. How do you trade Ovechkin?”
“The bottom line is Alex Ovechkin’s the best player on the team, the highest-paid player on the team, he’s the captain of the team, and Alex isn’t getting the job done,” he told Scott Van Pelt. “I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I like Alex, he’s great when I’m around him and deal with me and stuff like that, but I really think it’s time for the Washington Capitals to look at moving Alex Ovechkin. I think it’s to that point, and for his sake. Not for the Washington Capitals’ sake, for his sake. Look at what we’re talking about now, everyone’s just ‘Alex Ovechkin let the team down, Alex Ovechkin let the team down.’ He can’t win in Washington right now. Theoretically, it would be good for him to move on to another team with a fresh start also. This team, 10, 11 years, they don’t win. They don’t get to the third round. They’re always winning the Presidents’ Trophy, they’re always one of the best teams in the NHL, they’re always one of the most exciting teams in the NHL, they spend as much money as any team in the NHL, but they never get to the third round. It’s time to do something if you’re a Washington Capitals fan.”
Mike Milbury, resident curmudgeon at NBC, didn’t stop at Ovechkin:
“I mean, they have to rethink their whole philosophy, their future. What to do with Ovechkin, what to do with Backstrom, what to do with everybody on that roster? Big decisions on Williams and Oshie. If they can’t do it now, were they ever gonna do it?”
The fact that Ovechkin was on the ice for both Pittsburgh goals in a 2-0 loss in Game 7 at home was not lost on Milbury.
“He was on the ice for both goals against, one of them very directly involved and the first one I thought he had a decent chance to get it out, looked a little lazy on it. I think the Ovechkin experiment has to be reviewed. Lots of decisions to make. He tries hard, I just don’t think he’s a heady enough hockey player to get it done in key moments.”
Milbury’s on-air partner Keith Jones contrasted Ovechkin with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby:
“This was the year. I mean, they had their opportunity. When they lost it was the game that Crosby wasn’t available for Pittsburgh. They didn’t get past them in that game, it ended up haunting them. The Penguins once again found a way to beat them. Star players [are] not enough for the Capitals. Stars for Pittsburgh got the job done.”
Capitals own Joe Beninati was diplomatic, but the elephant in the room is too big to ignore:
“If you want to scream blow it up, then you’re going to be perfectly fine with blowing it up and coming back with a team next year that’s .500? No, you’re not going to do that, and the businessmen and women who own the team are not going to do that . . . But blow it up is too severe. But I understand why they’re saying blow it up, because you’re quickly becoming a fable. You’re becoming the boy who cried wolf. Every year. Every year Joe Beninati comes on the air and tells me it’s different. I wish it was. I wish it was. I keep thinking it is. I’m trying to be objective about this. This team was good enough to win a darn Stanley Cup, but they can’t get past Pittsburgh, and they can’t seem to do it in a Game 7 at home, which to me is mind-numbing and I understand why you are disturbed the way you are. I understand why you’re screaming blow it up.”