A combination of Pavel Bure and Cam Neely at their respective pinnacles, Alexander Ovechkin is incredibly exciting to watch, and he’s scored thrilling highlight-reel goal after thrilling highlight-reel goal throughout his first four NHL seasons. And now, Ovechkin has led the Caps back from a 3-1 deficit against the Rangers and into a second round playoff series against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. But there’s a dark side to the Caps’ superstar, and with each media appearance, the talented Russian forward comes further and further into focus.
When the Washington Capitals announced the signing of Alexander Ovechkin to a 13-year, $124 million contract, I questioned their sanity. Yes, Ovechkin is the most dynamic forward in the National Hockey League, but committing to a 13-year contract with the talented forward seemed to be asking for trouble. First off, success in the NHL depends primarily on goaltending and team defense, so investing such a huge percentage of the payroll in a forward can yield disastrous results (see: Tampa Bay Lightning). Secondly, a 13-year deal would have only made sense if it represented a bargain. Ovechkin is many things, but at $9.5 million/year, he is not a bargain. Third, and perhaps most concerning of all, Ovechkin’s off-ice behavior demonstrates a severe lack of maturity. And when he compared himself to seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher in an interview with Dan Patrick back in February 2007, it was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
In a recent appearance on ESPN’s E:60, after telling Rachel Nichols that he couldn’t share details about his “not for TV” nightlife (a warning sign in itself, what’s “not for TV” these days?), he said that he likes to drive at speeds up to 160 mph “in front of his house” and that he drives to the “max” when in Russia, at speeds well over 200mph. This is the NHL’s MVP, folks, showing complete disrespect for the law, for the safety of the other drivers on the road, and for his own safety. And if he was willing to share these details about his reckless driving behavior, one can only imagine the reckless behavior he chose not to share.
Ovechkin’s older brother Sergei died after a car crash, something he refused to discuss with Nichols. And he clearly learned absolutely nothing from fellow NHLer Dany Heatley’s car crash that took the life of teammate Dan Snyder, nor from Graham and Lu Ann Snyder’s incredible tour of forgiveness and awareness.
Perhaps driving video games like EA’s Need for Speed aren’t enough to quench Ovechkin’s thirst for adventure. But if car racing is something he’s intent on pursuing, it should be done in controlled environments where the conditions are correct for high-speed driving. Not on public roads.
Either way, one thing remains abundantly clear: it’s high time that someone — perhaps Caps owner Ted Leonsis — convinces Ovechkin to slam on the brakes before his star-spangled career is interrupted or ended by tragedy. See, I would like nothing more than for Ovechkin to prove me wrong about his contract, if only because his success is great for the game at large. But it’s not going to happen if he continues down this treacherous path.
Ovechkin may well go down as one of hockey’s “immortals,” but he is not immortal. Here’s hoping that he figures that out before it’s too late.