Tape2Tape: Introducing Alexander Ovechkin, The Coach Killer

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, NHL, NHL Playoffs, Adam Oates

Adam Oates could be scapegoat for another poor defensive season by Alexander Ovechkin. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The ‘Great Eight’ strikes again – at least that’s what headlines should’ve read after Washington’s firing of head coach Adam Oates this past Saturday. Surely, we’ve all noticed the Capitals have had their disappointments over the past nine seasons – all of which saw Alexander Ovechkin don the team’s crest.

Since he came into the league in 2005-06, Ovechkin and his Capitals have only missed the playoffs three times (2005-06, 2006-07, and 2013-14). Only twice, they made it to the conference semi-finals and the team has never won the Stanley Cup.

But on Saturday, team owner Ted Leonsis made the decision that something needed to be changed after his team missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. That change came in the form of Oates – after only two seasons behind the bench.

Along with Oates, the team decided not to renew the contract of long-time general manager George McPhee, who had been with the Capitals since 1997.

The McPhee move, I understand. He’s been with the franchise for so long and it seems that the team is never built quite right for the NHL playoffs. That was McPhee’s responsibility – to find a core and build around it. But firing Adam Oates is something I simply don’t agree with. A coach’s system can only work as well as the players executing it – if they are indeed executing properly.

Enter Alexander Ovechkin. The 28-year-old Russian has been a lethal sniper throughout his NHL career. In fact, he has 814 points (422g-392a) in just 679 games. He ranks 142nd on the all-time points list and 17th on the active list.

However, what many don’t consider with this sort of offensive output is how Ovechkin has obtained the label of coach killer. At some point, with every coach, his play has suffered. Whether it’s lack of motivation or, in the case of his defensive play this season, compete lack of ability, Ovechkin has been the constant on that team while coaches have been picked through like apples in a grocery store.

In nine seasons, Ovechkin’s played for four coaches: Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, and Adam Oates. Of those four, there were issues between Ovechkin and three of them near the end of their tenure.

Boudreau began holding the superstar accountable. Ovechkin saw his ice-time dwindle and therefore saw a decrease in his point totals. Ovi won multiple awards under Boudreau, while the coach himself won the Jack Adams Award in 2007-08 as coach of the year. That, however, didn’t work out.

Alex Ovechkin

(Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Dale Hunter came in. Former team captain and a big part of the OHL’s London Knights, many thought Hunter was a good change for a struggling Ovechkin. Hunter lasted 60 games, before he decided to step down and head back to London and his Knights. During that time, Ovechkin had a hard time adjusting to Hunter’s system.

“It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, because he’s my coach and I have to listen,” said Ovi in an article by Katie Carrera, regarding his diminishing ice-time.

Now, Adam Oates is the latest victim of a team that simply seems to fall apart when it matters most. Sure, Ovi scored 51 goals this season in 78 games. But his minus-35 was a league worst and Oates’ wasn’t afraid to voice his frustrations in the sniper’s defensive play – and rightfully so.

CSN Washington reported Oates’ comments following that play: “Ovi quit on the play, coming back. It just goes to show you gotta hustle the whole time. The whole, entire time.”

Now, Oates is gone. The truth is, Leonsis can bring in coach after coach. Heck, he line them up and give each of them a trial season wit the the team they have – they won’t hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. As the saying goes, defence wins championships. Well, let me add to that – 50-goal scorers with minus-35 ratings don’t win Cups.

Until the Capitals can figure out a way to make Ovechkin a complete player, it doesn’t matter who’s behind the bench or even who’s in the front office. You can’t have a core that won’t work with the system that’s presented to them. Good luck to the next coach of the Washington Captials, and the one after that. Until changes are made on the ice, don’t expect the Cup to travel to D.C.

Thoughts and Shots

Cook-e Cutter

It’s a cookie cutter statement – a sentence that simply rolls off the tongue now. Matt Cooke was suspended for a reckless play. This past week, that was case once again. Cooke went knee-on-knee with Colorado defenceman Tyson Barrie. While Barrie will be out for the next four to six weeks, Cooke received a seven-game suspension from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

Cooke apologized (another familiarity) but I’ll leave it to you to decide if you’ll accept the public address. Forget the league’s definition of a repeat offender, because Cooke has been brought ‘to the office’ more times than any player should be.

I am, however, curious about the length. His last suspension in 2011 was 17 games, but the way punishments have been handed down this postseason, I was actually expecting less than seven games. Either way, changed or not, these sorts of plays have to stop. It’s a matter of respect – something players need to learn to have for one another.

The Philly Stare Down

Well, he one of those guys that you love to have on your team, but hate to play against. He’s pesky. He’s gritty. And he’s well above arrogant. But when Dan Carcillo scores to the raining boos in Philadelphia, nothing beats a staring contest with local fans.

Who said tough guys couldn’t score? Well Dan, that’s one way to get fans to dislike you. But hey, it only happens a couple times a year.

Top Young Gun

Is there any question that Nathan MacKinnon is the NHL’s Calder trophy winner? In my mind, he’s already won. I mean it’s great for Tampa Bay to have both Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat in the running for the top rookie award, but MacKinnon helped the Avalanche win the Central Division.

He also played in all 82 of his team’s games and finished the season with an impressive 63 points (24g-39a) and a plus-20 rating. The other two put up similar numbers – and were impressive – but not as outstanding as The Great Nate. Palat played in 81 of Tampa’s 82 games recording 59 points (23g-36a) while Johnson put up 50 points (24g-26a) in 82 games for the Lightning.

Player Goals Assists Points Plus/Minus
N. MacKinnon, COL 24 39 63 +20
T. Johnson, TB 24 26 50 +23
O. Palat, TB 23 36 59 +32

The Best Between the Bars

I’d love to say that Colorado will go two-for-two and Semyon Varlamov would take the Vezina trophy for the league’s top tender, but I’d be wrong. He was good. So was Tampa’s Ben Bishop. But Tuukka Rask just seemed to better both of them in two of the major goaltending categories (goals-against average and save percentage).

The Bruins won the Atlantic Division and the Presidents’ trophy this season for recording the highest point total in the NHL. They allowed the second fewest goals against (177) – only Los Angeles allowed fewer.

Player Wins GAA SV%
T. Rask, BOS 36 2.04 0.930
B. Bishop, TB 37 2.23 0.924
S. Varlamov, COL 41 2.41 0.927

Among the Classy

Staying along the lines of the NHL player awards, the candidates for the Lady Byng trophy were announced this week as well. Folks, there’s no competition here. Sure Patrick Marleau and Martin St. Louis had remarkable seasons and rarely found themselves in the sin bin. But, Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly received one – yes, I said it – one penalty this season.

What makes it better, is that it was such a stingy penalty, and he was so close to setting an NHL record for most points without a penalty. So long as your fantasy pool doesn’t count penalty minutes, he was an owner’s dream pick and an easy choice to win the Lady Byng trophy.

Player Goals Assists Points PIM
R. O’Reilly, COL 28 36 64 2
P. Marleau, SJS 33 37 70 18
M. St. Louis, NYR 30 39 69 10

Best Blueliner

What makes a good defenceman? An even bigger question – what makes someone the best NHL defenceman? Just ask Zdeno Chara – the man that should win this year’s James Norris trophy for the league’s top blueliner. He’s certainly up against some stiff competition this year with the position’s goal leader Shea Weber and two-time Cup champion Duncan Keith.

But Chara deserves it – in my mind – much more than the other two. For starters, the big man is fighting Father Time. At 37, he played in 77 of the team’s 82 games and recorded 40 points (17g-23a) while posting a plus-25 rating.

Not only that, but Chara also played in the Sochi Winter Olympics for Slovakia – more ice-time than any regular season for the Bruins defenceman. Chara recorded 10 powerplay goals and three game winners and helped his Bruins win the Presidents’ trophy. Let’s not forget, Keith and Weber did record more points than Chara this season, but the award is for the best defenceman, not the best offensive blueliner (flashback to P.K. Subban beating the clear favourite Ryan Suter). But hey, people enjoy the offence more than they like defensive play – maybe that’s why the judging is so subjective.

Player Goals Assists Points Plus/Minus
Z. Chara, BOS 17 23 40 +25
D. Keith, CHI 6 55 61 +22
S. Weber, NSH 23 33 56 -2

An All-Around Star

The Selke trophy – for those that don’t know – recognizes the league’s best two-way forward. While Pavel Datsyuk won the award three straight years (from 2007-08 to 2009-10), Chicago’s captain Jonathan Toews is the current holder of the Selke and nominated again this season. Along with Toews, Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron and Kings’ Anze Kopitar are also nominated for the award.

Kopitar would seem like the sure favourite having recorded 70 points (29g-41a) in 82 games this season with a plus-34 rating. However, it’s Bergeron – in my mind – that will come out on top of this year’s award voting. The Bruins’ centre posted a plus-38 rating this season with 62 points (30g-32a) over an 80-game span. It’s the third time the 28-year-old has been a finalist for the award and if he indeed wins, it will be his second Selke.

Player Goals Assists Points Plus/Minus
P. Bergeron, BOS 30 32 62 +38
J. Toews, CHI 28 40 68 +26
A. Kopitar, LAK 29 41 70 +34

Following Front Office Trends

It seems the Carolina Hurricanes have bought into the trend of hiring and promoting former players. On Monday, the team announced that former captain and long-time Hurricane Ron Francis would take over as the team’s executive vice president and succeed Jim Rutherford as the franchise’s next general manager.

As a player, Francis recorded 1,798 points in 1,731 career regular season games with four franchises including six with the Hurricanes. A good move by the team who are looking for answers after two straight disappointing seasons. Francis always saw the game well and was a leader on and off the ice.

Fleury: Not The Finest

All I can say when I think about Marc-Andre Fleury and the playoffs is: Yikes! Certainly the entire Pittsburgh Penguins team should be disappointed after their ups and downs in their first-round playoff series with Columbus, but when they needed a big stop from their tender, Fleury was behind the net trying to play the puck.

His shaky performance throughout the series brings back memories of past playoff meltdowns, including being replaced by Tomas Vokoun who stole the job away from Fleury. Even with the series win, Pens’ fans should be eerily awaiting this pending breakdown of what some once considered to be an elite NHL goalie. All I know is that no matter who they play in the second round, both the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers have the same approach as the Blue Jackets while packing a much bigger offensive punch.

Post-Season Obituaries

Goodbye St. Louis. After what seemed to be an outstanding start to the playoffs, a Backes injury and some inconsistent play by your star tender, Ryan Miller, has left you with an early exit and on the outside looking in.

There, there Dallas. You snuck your way into the playoffs and intrigued your fans by almost pushing it to seven games against a tough Anaheim Ducks team. But anytime you give up a 4-2 lead with less than six minutes to go, you deserve to call in a tee time.

Experience is everything. While the young Detroit Red Wings were able to extend their consecutive playoff streak, a tougher, older, and more experienced Boston Bruins were an unfortunate first round draw. Better luck next year.

What in the world went wrong in Tampa? I mean besides a late season injury to their Vezina candidate, Ben Bishop, and a few questionable calls in their first-round series. How about a four-game sweep at the hands of the pesky little Canadiens? At least you have two Calder candidates.

Finally, the Blue Jackets. Holy cow you put on a show. The standing ovation at the end of Game 6 alone should tell you just how important this playoffs were to the fan base in Columbus. Todd Richards has them on the right track and we should see them back again next season.

Tape2Tape, Amy MacKenzie, The Hockey Writers, THW, NHL

Tape2Tape – a weekly column – brought to you by The Hockey Writers. (Logo by Amy MacKenzie)

Have some thoughts about this week’s column, let me know on Twitter @AndrewGForbes or on Google+.

Tape2Tape is a bi-weekly column looking at some of the biggest story lines from around the world of hockey. It will discuss a few topics in short, but detailed, snippets and focus in on one larger story from the past few days. Agree or disagree, writer – Andrew Forbes – would love to hear what you have to say.

Andrew Forbes
I am a graduate of Western University's Master of Arts in journalism program. I have done work with CBC's Hockey Night in Canada - both in radio and television. I'm a host on Rogers London Television for the show Giving Back. You can find more of my work at http://andrewgforbes.wordpress.com/ and follow me on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.
Andrew Forbes
J. J. Watt HAS to be considered the front runner for #NFL MVP. 3TDs 3FumRec and just crazy defensive numbers. #Texans - 9 hours ago
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9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Tape2Tape (003): Introducing Alexander Ovechkin, The Coach Killer | Andrew Forbes

  2. I have to appreciate your quick response, Andrew. I went and re-read your article and I still cannot understand an undertone of OV-bashing! I live in DC and have been a season ticket holder and watch many games. But, have never (I mean NEVER) seen OV publicly comment negatively on any Coach or any player for that matter – no matter what they said. I can pretty much tell you any star player on any team WILL NOT put up with the amount of crap people throw at OV. A coach-killer is someone who refuses to play (can you say Jagr when he was with Caps). OV never refused to play. If anything, he is the only consistent player in spite of everything that happened to caps. That is not an aberration – go back and look at his stats. The only thing he is blamed for is his D – he is not a D-man and he did not come into the league to play D. You can say all you want but if he had good team mates, he is fine with the D that he plays. Many games, he is not only the leading scorer but the leading hitter for his team. How can someone who does everything he can (I said HE CAN and D is not one of them) every single day without complaining be a coach killer? That’s where your journalism fails. A journalist doesn’t only express an opinion but supports it with rational thought. Otherwise, there is no difference between any poster (like myself) and a journalist (like you claim to be). Based on this article and some others I felt like commenting on, I see that you are more of a poster than a journalist at this point. The following paragraph from your opinion piece proves my point:
    “The truth is, Leonsis can bring in coach after coach. Heck, he line them up and give each of them a trial season wit the the team they have – they won’t hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. As the saying goes, defence wins championships. Well, let me add to that – 50-goal scorers with minus-35 ratings don’t win Cups”. The next paragraph goes on to spit more venom that I won’t reproduce here.

    That is not journalism but just bashing based on incomplete information. If you are a hockey journalist -35 is not an individual stat – it is a flawed team stat. Are you saying that his skill diminished so much from the 2009-12 seasons during one of which he was something like +50 or so and Jeff Schultz (know him?) was +60 or something – that should make him an MVP in your books then! I will tell you what, it is not OV who needs to play D to win the championship, it is the Caps org that needs to get solid D to complement OV. In that next paragraph, you noted that OV needs to be a complete player – I say not necessary. He needs a complete team – D wins championships doesn’t mean your offensive weapon, arguably the best goal scorer of his generation, needs to play D. It means the Organization needs to put the pieces in place that can play Championship D. Is Kane a complete player or does he have a complete team? Ask yourself and tell me if Caps have anyone that resemble the support that Kane has.

    I do like to see OV improve and for that matter everyone has to improve everyday (you and me and everyone around), but that doesn’t mean you blame someone for doing his job and expecting him to do things he individually cannot accomplish without support. It’s like tying your hands at the back and asking you to respond to my “opinion” in writing – you get the point!

    • Again, I agree that the organization is in complete need for change, but you’re arguing the same point but for a different person – essentially saying that Leonsis is right in blaming Oates and McPhee for how the team played?

      In this article by NBC’s Jason Brough (http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2014/04/04/ovechkin-i-think-everybody-quit-on-the-play/), it’s subtle, but Ovechkin responds to Oates’ comments. No I don’t agree that Oates should have thrown Ovi under the bus, but to come back and say ‘You can’t blame one mistake on our game.’ As I said before, you can’t make it public. That’s something that should be discussed within the coaches room or the dressing room a day later or whatever the case may be.

      I understand your frustrations being a season ticket holder – and it’s good to see the passion from the fans. I still believe Ovi is an exciting player to watch. Don’t get me wrong. As for my credibility, I’ve written for other publications as well and big organizations north of the border. If you want to have that discussion feel free to email me. I’d love to chat some more. I love the passion Rags.

  3. Jeez Andrew – you call once in a generation player “coach killer” and what not, discounting the fact that he had to single handedly carry a pathetic team over the years, but, when someone calls you lazy journalist, your antennas go up! You are likely no where in the field of journalism close to what Alex is in the field of hockey and are quite liberal with your scathing attack without even paying attention to how he plays and what he does day-in and day-out! Let me put some simple things out for you as it is obvious that you have been quite lazy to look up these facts:
    1. Plays against the opposing teams best D and best players, every single game and every time.
    2. Every opposing coach plans to contain OV and he still produces
    3. Plays with AHL players on his line (not every one but there is at least one every game – go look up if his team mates will even make the top notch teams).
    4. Scores a large percentage of his team’s goals (does his job)
    5. Played for Rookie coaches all his life – imagine what happens if he actually played for an experienced coach!
    6. Never complained once during his time in NHL – no matter what any coach asked him to do.
    7. At an NHL level, it is hard to change your style of play, especially being a forward (don’t compare with other positions if you know hockey). He played a horse under Boudreau, a shot blocker under Hunter, and played RW under Oates. Each of these positions takes a life time to learn at an Elite NHL level.
    8. Hits like a bull! Have you ever watched any Caps game – see OV barreling through and see how quickly the opposing player gets rid of the puck.
    9. the list can go on – but you cannot be lazy and join the “bash OV” wagon!

    All it takes is to get some solid D and a solid Center to the team and you will see this team dramatically turn around. Those who make stupid remarks about OV being a problem are nothing but lazy and hate him for one reason or the other.

    • Rags, you make some very interesting and good points. I’m in no way saying he’s a bad player – not sure where you’re all getting that from. He’s a sniper – I said it myself. He has no trouble putting the puck in the opposing net and yes, you’re right, he can lay the body big time!

      I do, however, disagree that Washington is a C and solid D away from a turn around. Both would certainly help and Ovi would certainly be given an upgrade in terms of line mates, but still need a goalie that is consistent (something many teams are looking for) and a solid player to play alongside Ovi on a regular basis. Although Sundin is not comparable in terms of offensive dominance, it was the same thing for him in Toronto all those years. He never really had GREAT wingers to play along with.

      Again, that’s why I fully support the lack of renewal for McPhee. I do however believe that there were issue with coach at the end of each of their tenures. And it’s not only his fault – but it’s something that happens with every team. Oates was just in the news which is why this became a topic of conversation.

      As for the ‘lazy’ comment, it’s not about me only noticing that. I read every comment I get, I like to interact with my readers. It gets me thinking more and allows my readers into my head a bit. It’s important to talk to those that you’re talking to – at least for me. But a column is opinion driven. I don’t call people ‘lazy’ parents for having different opinions on how to raise their kids. I may not agree, but they aren’t particularly lazy. That’s the only reason I addressed that.

      Thank you though Rags, both for raising your interesting points and sharing your thoughts. As I mentioned I’ll always chat back – I love talking hockey and hearing what others think. Appreciate the feedback and hope you come back!

  4. Hat tip to Mike… Also, if you were to actually pay attention to the events that surround the departure of Oates and McPhee you would see that the other players (not Ovechkin) played a large role. I know that Ovechkin is not winning the Selke any time soon, but to say that one of the leading hitters in the league doesn’t play any defense, is one dimensional, or doesn’t play hard/lacks effort is ludicrous. Ovi will continue to take the heat and all of the negative publicity until the Caps are doing well, and then you will get to see all of the writers jump back on the bandwagon.

    • Pauly – thanks for your thoughts. I’m not saying he’s a bad player in any way. Sure he won’t win the Selke anytime soon. He won’t win the Messier Leadership award anytime soon either. Like I mentioned to Mike, he has fallen victim to a poorly built team. Hence my reasoning for standing behind McPhee moving on. But Leonsis’ comments were talking about the need to make a change to take a step forward. You’ve changed the coach 4 times now – what other changes can be made to the coach that haven’t already?

      I know the blame is thrown on particular players. Again, I mentioned to Mike that I see it all the time in Toronto. It’s not a slap at Ovi’s ability. I don’t think there’s any questions surrounding his offensive ability.

      I do have to say that I agree with you on the ‘other players’ talk. They moved Semin, Green has had his injury woes and you can see his frustrations from time to time. But ultimately that’s what a captain is for to rally the troops and take them into battle on his back.

      I do appreciate your feedback and understand your frustrations. Thanks again.

  5. Shocking, another member of the hockey media with no clue on the Ovechkin situation.

    Ovechkin was a 50-50 player under Hanlon, a terrible coach who’s nowhere near the NHL now. No reasonable way anyone could purport Ovechkin got him fired.

    Ovechkin flourished under Boudreau. Boudreau lasted right about 4 full seasons, which is almost double the average tenure of an NHL coach. Maybe you could make a (weak) case that Ovechkin’s production dip got Boudreau fired, but there’s absolutely no evidence Ovechkin wanted Boudreau gone or forced his ouster.

    The Caps wanted Hunter back, but he never had any intention of staying beyond that season. By all accounts, he just wanted to give NHL coaching the old college try. So Ovechkin didn’t get him fired.

    Oates was an all-around coaching buffoon to anyone paying any sort of attention, yet Ovechkin was one of the few players that actually produced during his reign of terror. The case could actually be made that Ovechkin saved Oates from being fired a year earlier, as without his torrid end to the 2012-13 season, the Caps miss the playoffs. Ovechkin is/was also an Oates fan, and didn’t want him fired. Yet another case where no one could reasonably say that Ovechkin got the coach fired.

    I know, lazy journalism is easy, and it’s fun the pile on the hockey media’s favorite whipping boy. But it’s painfully obvious that if his name were Alex O’Brien and he were from Toronto or Minneapolis, he wouldn’t get half the flak he does.

    • Mike, first off, I want to thank you for your feedback. I take everyone’s opinion into consideration and will always listen to what you have to say. In saying that, it’s not lazy journalism – it’s a column. Columns are often built not just on fact, but on opinion.

      I hear what you’re saying about each coach and agree with you on Hanlon – I don’t see him as a top candidate anytime there’s a coaching opening. However, there were some issues that were openly discussed with the other three. That’s what I’m talking about. The second issues are taken public – to ‘lazy journalists’ like myself as you’d call them – things get harder to control. Coaches lose dressing rooms and the ears of players.

      I’m from Toronto-area. I’ve seen the media wheel spin around particular players putting all the blame on them. I’ve seen it. I’m in no way saying that Ovechkin is a bad player. He’s fallen victim to a poorly built team. But there were issues at the end of Boudreau’s tenure, he didn’t like Hunter’s system (whether Hunter was going to stay or not) and even if Oates wasn’t the best coach, you’re telling me that his defensive play was ideal to help a coach stick around?

      My column is to get people thinking – voice my thoughts on particular story lines. You, too, are allowed to voice your opinion and I appreciate hearing your thoughts. I don’t however appreciate being called a lazy journalist, I take my job seriously and when I can talk to players and experts. Thanks again and I hope this one story doesn’t turn you off of THW or Tape2Tape.

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