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A little commotion in hockey’s rumour mill erupted early this week with the publication of an Edmonton Journal story by Jim Matheson on Alex Ovechkin.
Matheson speculated that Ovechkin — who hasn’t been the offensive force he once was and hasn’t fully made the transition to a better defensive player — could be moved by the Capitals and the Canadiens could be a place where he fits.
While admitting Ovie is the face of the franchise, one of hockey’s most marketable players, carries a big contract and is loved by owner Ted Leonsis, Matheson suggested, “Trading Ovechkin is not as farfetched today as it was a few years ago.”
He added, “His coaches have tried to get him to be a more well-rounded player, to play safer, to learn how to play when he doesn’t have the puck, but there is still some push-back there….It was very telling, also humbling, that in games when the Capitals were trying to protect a lead during these playoffs that Hunter kept Ovechkin on the bench.”
And an unnamed former NHL coach told Matheson, “I think it’s possible. I think it would have to be a New York or maybe even a Montreal with the owner (Geoff Molson) there.”
Asked on Tuesday afternoon by Mitch Melnick on TSN 990 radio (audio) if he thought this was a possibility, Pierre McGuire — who is regularly in touch with Capitals GM George McPhee — scoffed at the idea. “Not that I know of,” McGuire said. “I don’t know. Former coach in the league that goes unnamed? I don’t know. I don’t think they’re basing that on any conversation with George McPhee, I can tell you that.”
On NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk blog, Jason Brough (who, along with his colleague Mike Halford were co-authors of the Vancouver Province’s very funny “Orland Kurtenblog”), wrote on Monday, “Personally I don’t see it. Not yet anyway. Let’s not forget Ovechkin still scored 38 times in 2011-12, the fifth most goals in the league. And he did it without Nicklas Backstrom for half the season.
“More importantly, for all the criticism he’s faced, Ovechkin’s still the main reason the Capitals are a thriving franchise. Before he arrived in 2005, Washington was an afterthought in the NHL. The team was bad. Attendance was miserable.
“Today the Capitals are one of the league’s showcases. If they trade Ovechkin, they risk becoming just another team again. (No offense to Backstrom, who’s good but has one tenth the star power.)
“That said, I could see a point in the somewhat near future where Ovechkin moves on. Clearly he’s been unhappy at times the last few years as the Caps made the sweeping transition from run and gun to dump it in and fall back.
“If that’s the way the team is going to play from now on, i.e. a style that diminishes his strengths and magnetizes his weaknesses, it’s not hard to picture him requesting a trade. Again, these things can escalate quickly in professional sports.
“But that’s a big if. For now, an Ovechkin trade seems inconceivable.”
Now, for the opposing view, which holds Ovie to Montreal makes lots of sense, check out Rick Keene’s Le Forum du Montreal blog.
Getting back to Matheson’s story, he also had at item gleaned from talking with Glen Sather, his buddy from Sather’s days running the Oilers. Matheson wondered how the Rangers traded Scott Gomez to the Canadiens when nobody else wanted him?
“I was at a sports banquet in New York and ended up sitting beside (former Habs GM Bob Gainey) and asked if he was looking for a centreman. I knew he was,” Sather told Matheson. Sather didn’t think Gomez’s whopping contract, which he signed as a free agent, was an impediment.
“Everybody is moveable in this business. You just have to find the right partner. Not everybody sees players the same way.
“We’d seen Gomez a lot in New Jersey and he was great there. Maybe when he got to us, he thought it was a retirement contract. Maybe in Montreal he still thinks that way. Some guys just won’t do it. He shouldn’t be at the end of the line. He’s not old (32). He can still fly,” said Sather.
Matheson asked Sather how Gomez could get that back?
“It’s very complicated,” said Sather.