The year 2018 saw Alex Ovechkin go from the guy who could never win it all to almost a living legend. He won his seventh scoring title, he led the Capitals to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and led the city in an epic party that seemed to last all summer. He then returned from the summer at the age of 33 and defied all the assumptions of a Stanley Cup hangover to score at a pace faster than even he had ever produced to lead the NHL in goals again as the calendar turned to 2019.
But Wednesday’s announcement that Ovechkin had elected to skip the 2019 All-Star Game despite being named the captain of the Metropolitan Division is a reminder that no one is ageless and Father Time is always undefeated.
“He's been wrestling with this for a while, and he knows the honor of being voted in by the fans and all that,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “He's thinking about our team and what gives our team the best chance to have success after what we did last year.”
In 2016, Ovechkin pulled out of the All-Star Game due to a lingering lower-body injury. The NHL suspended him one game anyway. That was not the reasoning behind Wednesday’s announcement.
“There’s not an injury there,” head coach Todd Reirden said.
Make no mistake. This is not about some sort of lingering injury that is hampering his production, it’s about one thing and one thing only: Rest.
“I like to be part of all the events, but right now I think that time of the year and my age we decide to take a one-week break,” Ovechkin said. “It’s hard, but it’s better for me, I think, at this point.”
As disappointing as Monday’s news may be for fans, it is important to remember everything Ovechkin has gone through over the course of the past year. In addition to playing all 82 regular season games in the 2017-18 season—a feat the incredibly durable Ovechkin has managed to do three times over the course of his career—he also played an additional 24 playoff games when the game is being played at the highest level. Those games are more intense, more physical and more demanding. The added bonus for going deep into the postseason is a shortened offseason to recover. For a power forward like Ovechkin who plays a physical style and logs heavy minutes, the 2017-2018 season was almost certainly the most grueling of his career.
"It's his decision, and organizationally, we support him on that,” Reirden said. “I think the benefits from it are he's played a lot of minutes, he's had a lot of wear and tear for the last year and a half for the most part. I think that allows him to get the type of rest that he needs in terms of pushing us forward in the second half of the season. He knows his body and what's best for him, and I expect him to come back stronger than ever."
Sure, other players win the Stanley Cup and end up playing in the All-Star Game the following season. It’s not like winning the Cup suddenly gives players a pass to opt out. In fact, Ovechkin’s decision almost certainly ensures a spot for John Carlson as every team has to be represented. As a defenseman, Carlson plays more minutes than Ovechkin does.
But not many players remain the offensive focal points of their team at the age of 33. Plus, Carlson is 28 and even was not definitive if he would participate if he was selected.
“I don't know,” Carlson said. “I haven't had to make a decision. Everyone's got their own opinion, everyone knows what's best for them and I would hope that everyone in this room just like we do every day, whether you take a day off here or there, whether you take a maintenance day, whether you don't work out at one point or whatever it is, I think we're all making the best decisions for ourselves. That's what's most important to me and I'd hope that all my teammates do that whether they're sitting on a beach or playing in the game.”
Ovechkin plays some of the heaviest, most physical minutes in the NHL. Skipping the All-Star Game is the difference between having four days off before a Feb. 1 game against Calgary or—if Ovechkin’s one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game is set for that Feb. 1 game—having 10 days off between Washington’s games on Jan. 23 and Feb. 3.
It’s easy to think of Ovechkin as ageless as he continues to sit atop the league’s goal-scoring race and with a Cup ring on his finger, but he’s not. He’s a 33-year-old player in whom the Caps are built around who sees his team could be in position for another deep postseason run.
If an extended midseason break could provide him with the boost he needs to lead the Caps on another championship run, it’s hard to argue against that.
“We want to do the same exact thing like last year,” Ovechkin said. “I like to be involved, I like to be in those kind of games when there’s all the best players out there, but I think my body needs a little rest and I want to take a week off and get ready [for the rest of the season].”
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