Can Ovie Return to Greatness?
Yesterday, the Washington Capitals announced that Adam Oates will be the 16th head coach in the teams history. Oates played 19 season in the NHL amassing 1,420 points - good for 16th all time. Oates was an assistant coach for the New Jersey Devils the past two years and ran their power play, which went from a dismal 24th in the league to very respectable 14th. His job was to provide an offensive spark to a dump-n-chase system that led the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals this past season. Oates has never coached in the NHL before and it will be interesting to see how he handles the dubious job of coaching Alex Ovechkin and the former most potent offense in the NHL.
Last season we saw the Caps dismiss the much loved Bruce Boudreau after he designed a more defensive system to help prepare the team for the playoffs. After that failed, Dale Hunter was brought in, although it was never officially announced, as an experiment to institute 'Hunter Hockey' to try and spark the Caps into saving their season. The Caps basically snuck into the playoffs and defeated the defending champs, Boston Bruins, in round one, but fell to the Rangers in round two. Hunter's hard-nosed-defense-leads-to-offense system however ran out of steam as the Caps could not get their big guns going. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin took back seats to Hendricks, Beagle and Ward as Hunter rewarded ice time based on play. It seemed that Ovie had bought into his new role as spectator. He was seen to be very vocal on the bench to his teammates and rooted them on when they played well. I think that was a sham.
Go back to just before Boudreau was fired. The scene when Ovechkin bad mouthed Bruce after he'd been benched went viral. A few days later, Bruce was gone. Ovechkin was heavily criticized for his words and his behavior and many believed he was the sole reason Bruce was fired. Fast-forward to the playoffs when Ovechkin is being sat to make way for the fourth line, and he's happy as a clam and the media is saying what a supportive and humble Captain he is. Bullshit.
Ovie, like any other star player, craves the ice. He wants to be out there. He wants to create plays and score the big goals. Under Hunter's system, his ice-time was fading. Ovie did score some big goals in the playoffs, but there were times when he should have been out there.
So now what?
With Adam Oates coming in as coach I believe we will see Backstrom climb back to 100 points and with the addtion of Mike Ribeiro, see Brooks Laich shine this season. I also believe Mike Green will return as the leader scorer among defenseman. But more important, I believe we will see the return of the 'Great 8'.
I have always made the comparison of Alex Ovechkin to the great Brett Hull. He's a shooter. That's all. Hull was not a defensive foward and he was never asked to be. What made Hull so great was that he got to the spots where no one was and he had a guy like Adam Oates feeding him the puck. What better coach to get Ovechkin back on his game then the guy who fed the 3rd all-time goal scorer in league history.
In reality, Ovechkin has suffered more while playing more defense. From 2007-2009 Ovechkin was a +81 and scored 331 points. When the Caps changed their style to defense, his offense took a dive, sure, but his +/- dropped to -8. 'Hunter Hockey' did not work for Ovechkin. Call it a 'funk'. Call it 'too much pressure'. But I really think the reason for Ovechkin not putting up his usual numbers was because he was asked to do too much. He's not a defense-first guy. He's been doing better, but don't push it. Let him be the 'kid in a candy store' again. Let Ovechkin be offense-first again. Let him be this generations Brett Hull.
Ovechkin's best defense is his offense. If Adam Oates can re-establish Ovie's confidence, the rest of the team will fall into place. It's an exciting time in DC again, and Ovie, while in Chicago for the new CBA hearings, had this to say (from the Canadian Press):
"It’s not blocking the shots and it’s not dump and chase. Any system that I play I learn a lot. I’m an offensive guy, it’s not a secret to anybody, and I’m pretty excited and very happy to hear the Caps signed that kind of guy who likes offense."
Ovechkin will do whatever it takes to win. He's done what he's been asked. Now it's time to let him do what he is paid to do. Score goals.