Ovechkin’s game has gone through more changes than any player in the NHL since he burst onto the scene in the Fall of 2005, but when it’s all said done the Fall of 2014 may be the where we the biggest change of all.
In Ovechkins Calder winning performance in 2005 he won the hearts of fans worldwide with his explosive goal scoring and devastating hits. His strengths played perfectly into youtube highlight compilations. Big hits, big goals and bigger celebrations. Ovechkin flew into a fading NHL franchise, picked them up and so began Washington’s ascent to being a hockey power house. Ovie and the Capitals would spend years dominating the regular season but struggling to translate that success into spring hockey. As the years went on his pace began to slow done and Ovechkin entered his 3 year lull. Ovechkin slowed down and turned into more of a spot up shooter than a breakaway sensation. The critics called him fat, lazy or heartless, and the more Ovechkin got into his head the further the Capitals slipped out of the standings. The 2013-2014 season closed with the Ovechkins third straight season of “only” scoring 30-40 goals, and the Capitals President Trophy season a seemingly distant memory. Ovechkin would respond the following year with a 50 goal campaign that saw him become the NHL’s most dangerous power play threat, but even that would not be enough to push the Capitals back into the playoffs.
But, that is where the past ends and the new future begins, a future with Barry Trotz.
After years 15 in Nashville, developing defensive stars like Weber, Suter and Hamhuis to name a few, taking a new expansion team from day one and carving out an identity built on defensive prowess and tenacious play, Trotz’s time came to an end in Nashville and the Capital’s wasted little time in swooping him up.
For the majority of hockey fans that don’t follow Southern hockey, they fail to recognize Trotz rich history in being able to bring out the most in his players. It’s hard to believe, but Weber was once seen as a reckless big hitting defence men with a booming shot, something in the mold of early post lock out Dion Phaneuf. Trotz nurtured Weber into one of the top five D in the NHL, another member of that top 5 being another Trotz project in Ryan Suter. Before Weber was even playing Jr. Hockey Trotz was filling out the game of offensive defensemen, just ask the Flyers and Timmonen. Timmonen was drafted as a dynamic puck moving defensemen, the type you need to anchor with a stay at home guy, but as he would go on to do with many other players Tortz thought Timmonen how to keep his scoring ability while becoming a top pairing two-way defensemen. Trotz pieces of work aren’t only limited to blue liners either, compare the Hornqvist of 2008 with the one Nashville saw leave in 2014, and you see a long-shot prospect become one of the leagues better two-way wingers, ask any advanced stats fan about underrated players and none of them will fail to mention Hornqvist and his possession numbers. You can only say it was coincidence so many times, until you start to really appreciate what Trotz can do.
What does this all mean for Ovechkin and the Capitals? Be prepared to see a Yzerman of ’93 type of transformation. For our younger readers, Stevie Y wasn’t always a two-way force that would be considered one of the better leaders of that era. Yzerman was considered a one-dimensional scoring forward, who was leading an under performing groups of skilled players struggling to gain playoff success about to enter his first season under a new more defensive minded coach. Sound familiair? Eerily familiair? Because change the birth place, team and add a few pounds and you have the Ovechkin capitals.
If the first few games of the season are a sign of whats to come then Capital fans have a lot to be excited about.