By Larry Brooks
June 9, 2018
Jun 7, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in game five of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Alex Ovechkin prvided the gravitational pull for his teammates that had been missing in each of his and the Capitals’ nine previous trips to the dance. He, and the notable contribution from Evgeny Kuznetsov, made the difference in the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in its 44-year history.
Ovechkin, the greatest goal-scorer of the generation by approximately the same margin that Bobby Orr was the greatest defenseman of his time, earned his Conn Smythe Trophy and earned his place at the top of the NHL mountain.
But though this time Ovechkin was able to survive his nemesis, Sidney Crosby, let’s not rush to rewrite history and airbrush The Great 8’s blemishes out of the picture. After losing last year’s second-round Game 7 to the Penguins, Ovechkin was told that he was fat by a player he respects. He reported this year in condition befitting a 32-year-old.
This time, the winner of the Patrick Ewing Lifetime Achievement Award for most failed postseason guarantees got it right. He scored difference-making goals, made difference-making plays. This time, too, neither Ovechkin nor the Caps had to go through Henrik Lundqvist, the way they couldn’t in successive seven-game defeats in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
But again: when Alex Rodriguez had his breakthrough postseason in lifting the Yankees to the 2009 World Series title by going 19-for-52 (.365) with six homers and 18 RBIs, that didn’t mean he hadn’t gone 7-for-44 (.159) with one homer and one RBI from 2005 through 2007 in consecutive first-round defeats.
Once the glass skates ultimately proved a bit too tight for Marc-Andre Fleury and his Golden Cinderellas, the final round became a rather routine affair, the more talented squad winning decisively. The final might have been played at a higher level if the league’s best two regular-season teams, Nashville and Winnipeg, hadn’t been bracketed into a second-round matchup, but, hey, the core mission of the NHL is to give lesser teams their best chance at winning.
And again, once the Vegas story had been told and retold, the league essentially disappeared from view during the Final’s off-days, with marquee players from both sides walled off from the press. LeBron James could talk every day during the NBA Finals, and speak thoughtfully to meaningful issues; NHL stars, not so much.
So. Does Barry Trotz pull a Johnny Keane and walk away a champion the same way the Cardinals’ manager did after winning the World Series in 1964? Does he tell the organization that sent him into a lame-duck season behind the bench that it’s too late for a new contract, and does he waltz into Lou Lamoriello’s waiting and open arms on Long Island?
Vegas, meanwhile, goes into the summer with approximately $52 million in cap space, which means with the ability to woo every meaningful free agent on the market. That means John Tavares and that means John Carlson.
And while the lesson from Vegas’ smash hit is that there is a score of undervalued players around the league who might be obtainable via Group II no-compensation offer sheets, the trick is to give those athletes the ice time and responsibility merited.
There would be little point in acquiring the equivalent to, say, Erik Haula, and then using him on the fourth line. But whereas there was no pecking order in Vegas, there is one on every other team (and now that one, too). Would a coach add a Haula, or even a William Karlsson, and elevate them over centers making $6 million a year?
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Islanders go after Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard, who has one year at just under $5.92 million remaining on his contract, rather than yield a No. 1 to get Washington backup Philipp Grubauer.
So if Ilya Kovalchuk gets around $6 million per on what is expected to be a two- or three-year free agent deal, then didn’t the Devils have it exactly right at pegging his AAV at $6,666,667 on the 15-year contract for which they were prosecuted/persecuted by the NHL?
The Rangers are working on hiring a staff of assistants — in addition to holdover goaltending coach Benny Allaire — to work with David Quinn, but we’re told that nothing is imminent. Lindy Ruff remains in the mix.
Silver lining residents of Rangerstown should be aware that when Pavel Buchnevich was preparing to make the jump to the NHL, Kuznetsov was the player to whom No. 89’s game was most likened.
And, by the way, Kuznetsov had 37 points (11-26) in his first full season in 2014-15 playing most of the year between Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer.
When the NHL Competition Committee met in New York on May 24, Slap Shots has been told there was a fair amount of discussion about Rule 48 that covers headshots. But the players in attendance were asking for clarification regarding the rule, not to change the language to outlaw all hits to the head.
To that end, Senior VP of Player Safety George Parros and his staff will meet with every team during training camp or early in the season to explain Rule 48, and the distinctions between legal and illegal blows to the head.
But the most significant takeaway is that even with almost universal awareness of the ramifications of taking such hits, there remains no constituency within the NHL that wants to ban them all. That remains the cause of former players such as Eric Lindros and Ken Dryden and of much of the media.
It is of Dryden that deputy commissioner Bill Daly said during his Aug. 9, 2016 deposition in the concussion lawsuit as provided by TSN, “I think he intends well, but he has a flair for the dramatic and he likes to grandstand.”
Wait. Isn’t that what Phil Esposito said about Dryden after the 1971 first round?
Finally, it looks as if we’re going to find out whether Ovechkin knows the words to “God Bless America,” doesn’t it?