Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Will Ovechkin Ever Learn?

As I described at length in my NHL's Big Three post over the summer, Alexander Ovechkin is the most exciting player in the sport of hockey and the league's biggest draw. So far in '09 he's scored 30 points in 21 games played while the Capitals are tied with Pittsburgh for tops in the Eastern Conference.

But I also wrote in July that Ovie has earned a reputation for dirty play, which first manifested itself on a grand stage with his knee-on-knee hit against Sergei Gonchar in the Eastern Conference Semifinal.

Now, following perhaps the single-dirtiest incident of his career, the league office is finally sending Ovechkin to bed without any dinner to hopefully think about what he's done.

Ovechkin has been suspended two games as a result of this knee-on-knee collision with Carolina's Tim Gleason early in Monday night's game. While Ovechkin might have missed the remainder of the game anyway, he was given a game misconduct for the hit. This happened to be his second game misconduct in three games, as he was booted from last Friday's contest with Buffalo for this boarding major against Patrick Kaleta.

There was no fine or suspension for knocking Kaleta, but Ovie was fined $2,500 for slew-footing Rich Peverley in October. There's no doubt those two events contributed to the decision to ultimately suspend Ovechkin for the hit on Gleason.

I think Ovechkin got off pretty easy, and it's probably because he's Alexander Ovechkin. So much has been made about the NHL's Wheel of Justice, with Colin Campbell's process for handing out discipline making little to no tangible sense. One pattern has emerged; the more famous the player, the less likely they are to face major discipline, like how Evgeni Malkin escaped an automatic suspension for instigating that fight in Stanley Cup Final Game 2.

This hit on Gleason is completely detestable and one that could have garnered a longer suspension based on some recent incidents, like Georges Laraque's similar knee-on-knee on Nicklas Kronwall that earned him five games. Laraque has a longer track record of dirtiness than Ovie, but I personally think Ovie's indiscretion was worse. Laraque's hit was an accident while it's debatable what Ovechkin's intention was on his play.

Since the game yesterday, Ovechkin's been defiant, saying before word of the suspension that he wouldn't be changing his high-flying, often-dangerous style of play anytime soon. His coach, Bruce Boudreau, called his star's style "reckless" and "risky."

Two games is two games, and every one is important especially with how close things figure to be for home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Losing Ovechkin, the league's best scorer and most dynamic presence, for any period of time hurts the Capitals. But it doesn't seem like Ovechkin is remorseful for this hit on Gleason, nor does he care what people think about the way he plays the game.

This is a problem.

Ovechkin needs to know that his presence in games is vital not just for his team but for his sport. He needs to know that if he decides to tone down his physicality, and leaves these kinds of dangerous plays out of his game, nobody would fault him for it. In fact, if he replaces this brute intensity with a renewed interest in playing actual defense to help his team, he'll be lauded throughout the league.

But like I said before, he doesn't seem to care right now. And I doubt two games in the press box will make him care more about changing his style. Unfortunately for Ovechkin, the Capitals, their fans and the league as a whole, it's probably going to take a significant injury for Ovechkin to change his style. That injury could completely destroy any fun from Ovechkin's game at all and effectively turn him into the next Eric Lindros.

I don't know about you, but I think one Lindros was enough for this lifetime. Wise up, Alex.

Around Hockey Bullet Points time!
  • The much-discussed, much-theorized, much-anticipated Marc Savard extension was finalized Tuesday, with the Bruins' top playmaker now signed up for another seven years after this one. Savard will be in Boston through the '16-'17 season with an average cap hit of $4.2 million, which is $800K less than his current cap hit. As Joe Haggerty writes on CSNNE.com, this is a rare win-win for both team and athlete in today's sport. The team gets to retain the services of its best offensive player for seven years through the remainder of his prime, and at a very, very manageable price. For Savard, he has long-term security in Boston, which is where he's stated he wants to play the rest of his career. As you can imagine, I'm pretty psyched about this. Savard's return from his long injury has made a huge difference especially on the power play. How he gets to feed guys the puck in Boston for another seven years. Awesome.
  • Umm...yeah. So you may have heard about this unbelievably bizarre incident during Monday night's Panthers-Thrashers contest, when Keith Ballard, upset over allowing a soft Ilya Kovalchuk goal to be scored, inadvertently turned his goalie Tomas Vokoun's head into a pinata. Ballard didn't seem too shaken up about the whole thing, maybe because he was so shocked at his own dumbassery. I'm not sure if this warrants a suspension, but it'd be sad if Vokoun were forced to miss significant time because of this.
  • Seems like every time I write about a player or a team as the focus of one of my posts, bad things happen. The Bruins were playing well when I wrote about them, then they immediately started playing poorly. The same thing happened to the Avalanche, who were sitting atop the Western Conference when I extolled their virtues, and then they began to drop off. For the month of November, the Avs went 5-6-3, and all but two of those losses were in the Northwest Division. They're still fourth in the West, but Calgary has overtaken them for the division lead and perhaps their age and inexperience is catching up to them. Maybe that injury for Ovechkin will come sooner than later...
  • So Phil Kessel has eight goals in 11 games for Toronto since returning from his shoulder injury. That's more than the team-leading seven goals for Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler and Patrice Bergeron in more than twice as many games for each. Do the B's miss his offense? Sure. They've played an absurd number of close games and it's starting to get a little maddening for literally every contest to go to a shootout. But here's what makes me happy: the Leafs, once again, suck. They're the second-worst team in hockey so far this year and hopefully that means their pick will be a top-three selection at worst. That player could be better than Kessel. That's what I'm going to keep telling myself, anyway.
  • Finally, this hysterical link was first posted on Twitter by Tyler from the Triple Deke, and I found it via Cam. This is so funny and clever that I'll forgiven the blasphemy about Neil Young being anything other than incredibly awesome. Random fact: Young's dad, Scott, was one of Canada's most famous sportswriters and for a time was host of "Hockey Night in Canada." Neil actually had to shed the moniker of "Scott Young's son" in his home country. This also gives me an excuse to post a video of Neil engaging in some serious ass-kicking.