Wearing a T-shirt and reclining in his home in Northern Virginia, Alex Ovechkin logged online to answer reporters’ questions in a teleconference arrangement that’s fast becoming part of the “new normal” in the sports world.
Ovechkin, joined Thursday by representatives of three other teams and an NHL public relations rep, discussed the league’s hockey hiatus and said personal goal-scoring milestones aren’t on his mind at this “scary moment for people all around.”
When the NHL season was suspended March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Washington Capitals star stood at 48 goals on the year, two shy of becoming the third player in league history to record nine 50-goal seasons.
“Of course, you want to score 50. But right now, like everyone is saying, the most important thing is stay safe and to get this thing done,” Ovechkin said. “It sucks to not score 50 and to not get another milestone, but you have to think about your family, people and fans to be more safe. I’m pretty sure the sooner this is going to be over, the sooner we’re going to start back playing hockey.”
If the remainder of the NHL season is eventually canceled because of the pandemic, or if the league decides to forego regular-season games and skip straight to the postseason when play resumes, Ovechkin will fall shy of the 50-goal milestone he reaches so regularly. Perhaps more importantly, he could lose another 13 games to chase down Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals — Ovechkin has already lost one full season in 2004-05 and another 32 games in 2012-13 due to lockouts.
Ovechkin is spending his unexpected down time with his wife, Nastya Ovechkina, and 1-year-old son Sergei. Nastya is pregnant with the couple’s second child, who is due in a few months.
“First week (of self-isolating) was kind of good thing, relaxing, we chilling, and now it is kind of getting boring right now,” Ovechkin said.
Ovechkin said he was grateful to have a small home gym at his house; he’s also staying active by playing with his son, biking and kicking around a soccer ball. His personal trainer, who usually comes to town to start helping Ovechkin train before the postseason, is in Washington now, too.
“He’s with me and sometimes I don’t want to do it, but he says, ‘OK let’s go, we have to work out,’” Ovechkin said. “It is always a good time to sit on the couch and watch TV and play with the kid, but you never know when the season is coming back and you have to be in shape, so again, try to do my best.”
On the call with Ovechkin were Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, Islanders winger Anders Lee and Blue Jackets center Nick Foligno. At one point Lee said Ovechkin hadn’t “given us any reason to doubt” that he could catch Gretzky’s record. Ovechkin, perhaps too flattered, soon jokingly waved his hand and tried to get the league’s PR representative to wrap the question up.
The players were also asked what they would do if it were up to them to create the NHL’s revised schedule.
“First of all, we don’t know when this coronavirus is going to end, right?” Ovechkin said. “I think we have 13 games left until the playoffs, I don’t know how many for you guys. For (the Capitals), it’s better if the playoffs start right now. We don’t want to play those extra games. But for different guys who fight for a playoff spot, some guys want those extra games.”
Foligno added that the safety and longevity of veteran players needed to be taken into account if the Stanley Cup Playoffs were rescheduled, for example, to July and August.
“Ovi’s logged a lot of miles in the postseason the past few years,” he said. “You’ve got to think about the health and safety of our star players as well. And when you’re playing that many games a year, and now they’re gonna try to push it into that late in the summer and then possibly right into another season a few months later, and then postseason again for some guys — that’s a lot of games in one year that we’re not used to.”
While the NHL may seek input from teams and individual players, ultimately it won’t be up to Ovechkin to decide when the Capitals and the rest of the league return to the ice. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said no one knows yet how long the suspension will last, and the league has asked teams for their arena availability dates through August.
For now, Ovechkin told fans the most important thing is take care of themselves and their family and friends.
“Help each other just to be safe because right now is hard time,” he said. “We all miss you, we all miss that atmosphere. It’s always crazy when we play hockey. You guys always been tremendous to us. … Try to help if somebody needs the help. Because right now we are together and we have to fight through it together.”
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