Can Dale Hunter make Alex Ovechkin a winner?

November 28, 2011 | Drew Forrester

to the fact that the team’s star player was basically allowed to run wild night after night without the coach or management stepping in to say “enough is enough”?  Or did Boudreau finally crack down on #8 and then, once the reins were put on him a little, perhaps the rift between those two grew larger and more problematic.

The team’s recent struggles aren’t only about Ovechkin’s lackluster play.  Several of George McPhee’s off-season pick-ups haven’t played up-to-snuff yet and with the exception of Jason Chimera, none of the forwards are producing at the clip that’s expected of them.

There’s an adage in sports that always holds true:  You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning and you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing.  I know the Caps looked horrible on the recent 3-game road trip that ultimately cost Boudreau his job, but the players in Washington are far better than they’ve displayed recently.

But whatever the case, there’s no doubt about two things.  Bruce Boudreau is no longer the coach in Washington.  And Alex Ovechkin either MAKES the Capitals or BREAKS them.  Yes, the goaltending has been suspect so far in 2011-2012.  The team has been offensively challenged for the majority of the season and a pedestrian defensive corps has been more cold than hot.  Alex Semin has wandered around for the first eight weeks of the season.  Those are all contributing factors to the team’s recent play and the firing of Boudreau.

But it’s always about Ovechkin.

When he’s on and trying, he’s a threat to be the difference in the game.

When he’s brooding or doesn’t have it or can’t find his sea legs, he’s just another player.

And he’s making far too much money to be “just another player”.

It could be as simple as this:  Alex Ovechkin MIGHT NOT be a winner.  Anyone who has listened to me discuss Capitals hockey on the air knows that I’ve taken that stance on The Great Eight.  It’s a tough thing to say about a dominant player, but it certainly might be true in Ovie’s case.  Perhaps he’s just not a winner.  Peyton Manning is a GREAT player.  Do you think he’s a winner? Alex Rodriguez is a GREAT player.  Is he a winner?  I’m assuming you said “no” to both of those questions.

And so, I ask you again.  Do you think Alex Ovechkin is a winner?

I don’t.

I haven’t seen him do it yet.

I’ve seen him play great hockey.  When he wants to play great hockey, that is.

But I’ve never seen him win when it matters.

I haven’t seen him carry a team on his back against Montreal or Philadelphia or Tampa Bay when the playoffs roll around and one player, one shift, one shot, one goal can mean the difference between winning and losing.

That’s Dale Hunter’s biggest challenge as the new coach of the Caps.

Can he get the best out of Ovechkin, the way I hoped Stankovic would get the best out of McIntosh 15 years ago?

It’s a tall task, frankly.  Can Dale Hunter make a winner out of Alex Ovechkin?

I’m not sure.

Bruce Boudreau couldn’t do it.  That failure wound up costing Bruce his job.

And by hiring Dale Hunter on Monday, the Caps are banking on Hunter being able to pull it off and turn Ovechkin into something more than just a guy who scores a bunch of goals and chases pretty girls around Crystal City.

It should be interesting to watch, if nothing else.