Here’s hoping Troy Brouwer, one of the Capitals’ primary offseason pickups, spares Alex Ovechkin from having to be Wyatt Earp all the time. Let’s face it, Ovie wasn’t Ovie last season. His goal total dropped from 50 to a career-low 32, and part of the reason might have been the continuing physicality of his play. Does it really make sense for one of the greatest scorers in hockey history to be beating himself up as much as Alex does?
Enter Brouwer, a real banger who finished fifth in the league last season with 262 hits for the Blackhawks. (Ovechkin was 10th with 241.) With Troy, a right wing, around to do some policing – and Matt Hendricks doling out his usual punishment – Ovie might be able focus more on his offense now and get back to the 50-goal level.
I asked Brouwer about this the other day at the Caps’ development camp at Kettler Iceplex, asked him if he was brought in, as much as anything, to be Alex’s stunt man. His reply:
“For a player who plays 20-plus minutes a night, the way Alex does, that physical play can wear on you night in and night out. I was near the lead in hits last year, and I want to continue that this year. It’s part of my game. And if that helps relieve a little bit of the pressure on him, enables him to focus on scoring goals and leading the team… . I’ll do anything I can to help out.
“He’s a great player, and obviously a big element of his game is to be physical. No one wants to take that away from him. But if you can share [the responsibility], sometimes it’s a little easier. Now maybe he won’t need to focus on making that huge hit to try to turn the team around – and then try to score the goal [too].”
When puckheads are debating the merits of Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby et al., not nearly enough attention is paid to No. 8’s, well, uniqueness. You just don’t see goal-scorers throwing their bodies around the way Alex does. Indeed, since he joined the Capitals in 2005, no player who has ranked in the top 30 in hits has scored more than 33 goals – besides him, that is. He’s done it five times.
● 2005-06 – Ovie: 172 hits (14th in the NHL), 52 goals (T-3rd). Other top 30 Hit Men with 30-plus goals: Shane Doan, Coyotes (30, plus 164 hits).
● 2006-07 – Ovie: 184 hits (21st), 46 goals (4th). Other top 30 Hit Men with 30-plus goals: none.
● 2007-08 – Ovie: 220 hits (T-9th), 65 goals (1st). Other top 30 Hit Men with 30-plus goals: Dustin Brown, Kings (33, plus a league-leading 311 hits), and Brenden Morrow, Stars (32, plus 260 hits).
● 2008-09 – Ovie: 243 hits (9th), 56 goals (1st). Other top 30 Hit Men with 30-plus goals: David Backes, Blues (31, plus 204 hits), Doan (31, plus 188 hits).
● 2009-10 – Ovie: 185 hits (29th), 50 goals (3rd). Other top 30 Hit Men with 30-plus goals: none.
● 2010-11 – Ovie: 241 hits (10th), 32 goals (14th). Other top 30 Hit Men with 30-plus goals: Morrow (33, plus 225 hits) and Backes (31, plus 213 hits).
Only three of last season’s top 10 goal scorers, by the way, had even 100 hits. Here’s that short list:
● Jarome Iginla, Flames: 43 goals (3rd), 103 hits.
● Ryan Kesler, Canucks: 41 goals (T-4th), 124 hits.
● Bobby Ryan, Ducks: 34 goals (T-8th), 156 hits.
Ovechkin, of course, has routinely registered 200 or more hits. So, yes, bringing in somebody like Brouwer to (potentially) relieve him of some of the heavy lifting would seem to be one of the wiser moves George McPhee has made.