Can you remember the past four or five seasons each time Washington and Toronto met all of the media coverage surrounding Alexander Ovechkin. Can you remember the over-the-top celebrations, the highlight reel goals, the out-of-this-world talent? With age all things do fade, and from what it looks like in the United States capital, the House of Representatives are not the only ones with no interest in doing their jobs. The star of Alex Ovechkin is fading fast, but the lack of production should not be the most concerning thing in the town of Mr. Smith.
Love him or hate him, the personality that Ovechkin demonstrated over the past several seasons was contagious. He looked like a guy that loved what he did, and looked good doing it. Now he looks like a guy earning $9 million each of the next two seasons before getting a $1 million dollar a year bump extending out until 2021, that hates his job. The contract might as well run to the year 2525 if this continues as he will not lead the Washington Capitals to anything. It almost feels good remembering back to the firing of Glen Hanlon when Ted Leonsis proudly and sanctimoniously declared that his master rebuild was over and his team would begin to challenge for a championship. He has written books and countless blogs about his ingenuity in the world of sports. Apparently none of his friends in the industry have the gall to ask him where all of his trophies are stored. The Wizards and Capitals have been regular season powerhouses, yet not one major accomplishment between the two. The Capitals and Leafs have competed for exactly the same amount of Stanley Cups in the past ten years. You probably won’t read that in Ted’s takes, Leonsis personal blog.
Moral of this story for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs? Be thankful that one Brian Burke used discretion in the contracts he handed out. Toronto may not be built to win a championship or even a playoff game, but they will not be hindered from working forward by an “anchor” contract. Ovechkin may or may not gain his interest in playing hockey back, and it may or may not happen in Washington, but the fact that not even halfway into his lifetime deal this conversation is happening, is indicative that the risk of the contract handed out is more often than not equalling the reward. The Maple Leafs are well equipped to acquire some assets over the next several years without any hindrance from the salary cap. They have large money coming off of their books in Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, and more young players in development in the OHL and AHL respectively. In the summer, should one of them become available, the Leafs can go after Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry. If they do and fail, it will not be the lack of cap space or cash to make a deal. It also shouldn’t be completely discounted that Kessel finds a new home by seasons end should Toronto be out of playoff contention. His skill is undeniable, but it will be difficult for David Nonis to build a team around a player that by definition is incomplete. With his cap friendly $4.5 million this year and next, this is the type of rental that could net a good package of assets from a team that is looking to compete for a championship. On to the thoughts of the game:
- The Leafs are young and inconsistent, so the result is often a surprise. The Capitals looked completely and totally disconnected from the game of hockey. They actually look like people going to work, and that has to worry George McPhee and Adam Oates equally.
- The Leafs power play is giving other teams momentum, and it’s getting worse. They have a good cycle and manage to hold the zone for around a minute, maybe slightly more. The trouble they have is holding everything on the perimeter and getting zero net front presence.
- Penalty killing must just not be a Toronto thing. They are equally as bad this year as last, and don’t appear to be getting better. Ron Wilson may deserve an apology on this as the longer it goes on the more it proves to be a personnel issue.
- It seems important to note that after a bad offensive zone turnover, Kessel was absolutely on fire coming back into his own zone. The trouble is after he got there, he did little to become engaged in the play. The issue with several of the skill players in this lineup is that while they are fast, they more often than not perform a fly by near the goal or in the defensive zone. In the National Hockey League, more goals are scored on the second and third opportunity, just ask James van Riemsdyk who appears to be taking his coaches advice to heart on going to the net. The second problem with doing this is that defense is a team sport.
- As the season rolls on, the only person in hockey that knows why Mike Kostka is on the power play is Randy Carlyle. If this is going to be a year to find out what youngsters have to contribute, that is fine. It will be challenging to watch the power play going forward, especially with a guy like John-Michael Liles on the bench, who was dynamite with Phaneuf on the man advantage last season.
- Puck protection at the end of periods and games needs to be emphasized with these kids. It kind of goes hand in hand with penalty killing, but looking for a centering pass while protecting a lead typically ends up becoming a odd man rush toward your own net.
- David Steckel empty net. Nothing more needs to be said
- Why do the Leafs, a team incredibly short on talent, have a line of meatheads. The McLaren, Orr, Steckel line does little to enhance the winning percentage of the Leafs, let alone advance the sport of hockey. Carlyle calls their minutes “safe”. I’ll let you be the judge. They spend minutes in their own zone, and far too often wind up against a top line after icing the puck.
- Finally the Maddies Mark player of the game, which was James van Riemsdyk netting a gift from Michael Neuvirth and another out of mid air, having one of his best days ever. The former Flyer has found good use of his size on an undersized Maple Leaf roster, a combination that Toronto has not had in many years. To learn more about Maddies Mark and how you can contribute to more best days ever, visit www.maddiesmark.org
- The game was a good bounce back after the thumping last night at the ACC. Next up is the Winnipeg Jets at the thunderous MTS Centre, a building that should make any hockey fan smile.