Did Alexander Ovechkin hand the Hart Trophy to Sidney Crosby, Henrik Sedin or Ryan Miller with his two-game suspension this week?
Perhaps it wouldn’t affect most people’s opinion of him with just one incident – applying a dangerous season-ending shove to Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brian Campbell – but his hazardous play this year might be enough to turn some voters off when it comes time to choose the NHL’s major award winners.
Based on his play alone, you’d have to think The Gr8 One would be the leading candidate to win his third straight most valuable player award. He leads the league in scoring despite missing nine games and, although he is second to Crosby in goals, he has a higher goals-per-game ratio.
There is nobody on the planet that would deny Ovechkin is one of the best and most electrifying players in the league, but his recklessness and disregard for his opponents is becoming tedious, to say the least. The latest incident, last Sunday, was a perfect example of a player having absolutely no regard for the health and safety of an opponent. Campbell had clearly released the puck when Ovechkin continued to pursue him and then, from the goal line (which is 11 feet from the boards), shoved the Chicago defender from behind and into the boards.
Ovechkin was assessed a major for boarding and a game misconduct.
Is anybody surprised Campbell sustained serious injuries that will likely sideline him for the remainder of the season? The Blackhawks are serious Stanley Cup contenders and now Campbell, in his eighth full NHL season, will have to watch from the press box as his teammates try to bring Chicago its first championship since 1960-61.
Ovechkin prides himself on being one of the league’s heavy hitters, even if a strong case could be made that he targets his opponents very selectively.
He knows full-well he’s not likely to get much grief from a player like Jaromir Jagr, whom he laid out in the Olympics, or a smallish defenceman like Campbell. Regardless, Ovechkin has crossed the line too many times.
If the Campbell shove had been a one-off, probably nobody would blink an eye. But this is not the first time Ovechkin has recklessly injured an opponent.
He hurt Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar last year in a kneeing incident and Carolina Hurricanes defender Tim Gleason earlier this year with a knee-to-knee hit.
At some point his callousness towards others is going to come back to bite him. For starters, he may soon find himself the victim of a payback cheap shot. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Also, when it comes time to vote for the Hart Trophy, there may be some members of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association who feel the NHL has been too lenient regarding Ovechkin’s unruliness and may decide to punish him further themselves.
For the record, I am not endorsing such action, merely suggesting it could happen.
Hockey has hit yet another one of those forks in the road where it must decide soon what is acceptable in terms of hitting and what is punishable.
Already this season we have seen two junior-aged players – both stars in their respective leagues – handed severe season-ending suspensions for delivering perilous head shots. Another player was booted from the Ontario Hockey League for a vicious hit from behind.
The NHL is said to be working on a new rule to punish players that deliver head shots and will introduce it as early as next week.
Hits on unsuspecting players and head shots were the two most talked about subjects on the docket at the recent NHL general managers’ meetings in Florida and the league will likely make changes to its rules that punish offenders more severely next season.
It is ridiculous that the league will allow open season on both for the remainder of this season, but that’s another story.
One of the things that makes hockey an amazing sport is the physicality of the game. Scott Stevens made a Hall of Fame career out of dishing out punishing, but mostly clean hits. Nobody wants to see hitting taken out of the game, but nobody wants to see the likes of David Booth or Marc Savard wheeled off the ice on a stretcher because of a cheap, cowardly head shot either.
Brian Campbell wasn’t carried off on a stretcher, but his season is over nonetheless.
Over because of a careless cheap shot.
A few NHLers I spoke with this week about Ovechkin were upset at his actions and offered up comments such as, "He’ll get his," and, "His day is coming."
Ovechkin is one of the most skilled players to ever play in the NHL. Let’s hope this is the last time he does anything that might make voters want to knock him off his perch and from here on in, we only talk about his amazing ability to lift people out of their seats with breath-taking plays.
Let’s hope he has finally learned his lesson.