Реклама в Интернет * Все Кулички
|Ovechkin, Crosby at crossroads.
29.05.2014. "Toronto Star". Damien Cox.
For years, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have been linked in many of the same conversations, which makes it particularly interesting now that both hockey clubs find themselves at a crossroads at the same time.
The Penguins, obviously, have achieved much, much more since drafting Sidney Crosby than have the Capitals since George McPhee delivered the timely tank and won the first pick of the 2004 draft and the right to select Alexander Ovechkin.
Still, because Crosby and Ovechkin were at one time seen to be well above the fray as the NHL's 1-2 punch for marketing and marquee value, it seemed like these were franchises travelling on parallel tracks.
That was never more so the case than in the spring of 2009 when they met in a terrific second-round playoff joust, with the Pens prevailing four games to three.
Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Caps, meanwhile, have spun their wheels. After their noteworthy playoff clash with Pittsburgh punctuated by dueling hat tricks, they were stunned in the first round by Montreal the next spring, and haven't made it past the second round since, or ever with Ovechkin as a member of the hockey club.
This season, the Caps missed the playoffs, and that ended McPhee's run as general manager and snuffed out Adam Oates's brief career as Washington coach. The Pens, meanwhile, considered a second-round loss to the Rangers a devastating setback and removed GM Ray Shero. The status of head coach Dan Bylsma is unclear.
While there are other players involved, and some significant ones, the Caps and Pens are still defined in a major way by Ovechkin and Crosby, respectively.
Indeed, in Washington, the choices of Brian MacLellan as GM and Barry Trotz to coach were immediately accompanied by the same question: What in hell are they going to do about Ovechkin and his maddening minus-35 inability to lead this team forward?
That's what this is about, now. It's no longer the unmentioned elephant in the room. Bruce Boudreau worked with Ovechkin, Dale Hunter benched him and Oates tried to change him, or at least the side of the ice he played on.
Oates, an analyst for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada these days, told an Edmonton radio show this week that he enjoyed coaching Ovechkin and didn't fight with him, but acknowledged changing the not-so-young-anymore Washington captain - set to turn 29 before next season starts - won't be easy for anyone.
"The biggest challenge is you're fighting a lot of years of habit," he said.
Trotz, with support from MacLellan, has never, ever had to work with a player like this, certainly not during his 15-year association with the Nashville Predators. Will he change for Ovechkin, or will Ovechkin have to change for Trotz? That's the question that matters because more of the same from No. 8, despite the big goal numbers, will keep this team mired in the second half of the NHL.
This has been evident for some time. It was sketched out by Gare Joyce and yours truly when we collaborated on a book about Ovechkin after the painful spring of 2010, but some tried to portray it as an anti-Russian attack from pro-Crosby writers, while pom-pom waving owner Ted Leonsis preferred to pander to his star.
Only now, after a decade of watching his hero fall short of expectations, is Leonsis willing to listen to a new message. Before, he was apparently unaware MacLellan even worked for the team, let alone was in possession of opinions contrary to Caps orthodoxy.
The fact that the Caps are hosting the Winter Classic next January and will thus have HBO 24/7 cameras following them around next fall will only accentuate this as the NHL story to watch.
In Pittsburgh, the challenge is different, although Crosby, for really the first time, absorbed some withering media criticism this spring. That said, he won the scoring championship and was the captain when Canada won gold at the Olympics, so he still has a stronger resume than Ovechkin (sorry, the worlds don't cut it) when it comes to his combination of personal and team accomplishments.
The bigger issue for the Pens, who have yet to decide on a new GM, is dealing with some serious salary-cap issues and the fact Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are moving into the second half of their careers. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Rob Rossi pointed out this week that neither Mario Lemieux nor Wayne Gretzky won a Cup after their 28th birthdays, and this summer Crosby turns 27 and Malkin 28.
Depth and goaltending are particular problems in Pittsburgh, and the contracts of Crosby, Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang complicate the club's ability to address them.
You certainly get the sense that this may be the point at which the Penguins and Capitals aren't really linked any more, or at least not as much. They're as different as they are alike.
Players like Steven Stamkos, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Anze Kopitar have caught up to Nos. 87 and 8 when it comes to the best and brightest of NHL stars.
Beyond that, nobody sees Pittsburgh and Washington as teams with limitless futures any more.
The golden talents of Crosby and Ovechkin allowed these two clubs to exist above the muck for years. Now they're in it with most everybody else.