The Washington Times - December 30, 2007, 02:49PM

\ The Caps earned a well-deserved day off today after last night’s crazy, ridiculous, insert-flashy-adjective-here contest. This gives me a chance to discuss something that hadn’t really caught my attention to the other day. How is it possible that Alex Ovechkin is in FIFTH place among forwards in the Eastern Conference All-Star voting?\


\ The latest batch of voting results was released Thursday. With upwards of 445,000 votes, Sidney Crosby has about 2 1/2 times as many as Vinny Lecavalier and Daniel Alfredsson, who are in a tight battle for second. Ovechkin was more than 46,000 votes behind those two with Daniel Briere in between and Ilya Kovalchuk nipping at his heels.\

\ This might not seem like a big deal to some, and it is not like Ovechkin won’t be in Atlanta as a reserve. But I don’t think I am making a bold or inaccurate statement by saying Alex is the second-most popular player in the NHL (and this voting stuff is really just a glorified popularity contest). And he is having the best season of his three-year career. Last night only added to his growing lore. So how is he not a shoo-in to start in the All-Star game? I think most people expected Ovechkin and Crosby to be locks to start in the next say, 15 of these things after being voted in last season. They were going to be hockey’s versions of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Cal Ripken - automatics as all-star starters.\

\ Maybe this is not a big deal. I don’t even have to ask Alex about it to assume he would blow it off as not a big deal. But is there something else here, part of a bigger issue? Is this an example of a long-term problem with hockey in the Washington market?\

\ I am sure Alex is getting plenty of support in other markets. All over this country and in Canada especially, plenty of nine-year old kids and dads alike probably started their ballots with Crosby and Ovechkin and then added a hometown forward in Eastern Conference markets and another guy in Western Conference ones. I don’t think it is out of line to suggest that Ovechkin’s lack of support is at least in part because of the interest level in this town. The Caps are last in the league in attendance, at least according to the number that goes in the box score every night. Yes, they have been the worst team in the league for much of the season, but the Caps are still in the middle of the pack in road attendance, which is almost entirely because of Ovechkin and other hockey fans’ desire to see him in person.\

\ Others tell me all the time when the attendance problem comes up that people will show up at the Phone Booth when the team wins. I’ve only lived in this area since 2000, but I had no trouble getting playoff tickets when I was taking the metro in college from College Park when the Caps were still a consistent playoff contender. So I apologize if I am skeptical that just climbing to eighth or even fourth or fifth place in the conference standings will mean Verizon Center will suddenly be packed.\

\ Again, maybe this all-star thing is really nothing at all, but it something a player agent would notice. Ovechkin does not have one of those right now, but he is probably going to have another one eventually. An agent’s top two priorities are keeping the client happy and making said client as much money as possible. All-star voting is a sample of player popularity, which agents are happy to point out to potential representatives of companies for their clients to endorse products.\

\ I don’t think this a marketing issue in this city, either. The Caps do a really good job of getting their players out to public appearances and on local and national mediums. NHLPA execs Paul Kelly and Eric Lindros, who are adamant most teams need to market better, were very complimentary of the job the Caps are doing to market their players.\

\ Alex has said on many occasions that he is happy in Washington. He also does not have an agent trying to steer him to a bigger (or at least a better) hockey market. But the other day Ovechkin was sitting with members of the media while his teammates were participating in the morning skate at Mellon Arena. He asked about the attendance that night, and Paul Steigerwald, the Penguins’ television play-by-play guy, told him the building would be full, and the team had sold out 30-something games in a row. Ovechkin’s response was not something to be taken as a unilateral strike against Washington, but he did not seem to think such a feat was possible at the Phone Booth. I pointed out to him that before he and Crosby came along, the Igloo was half empty almost every night.\

\ So maybe none of this anything to do with anything, but I do not think I am making any absurd judgments or assertions. And who knows, maybe the voters will make a late rally for Ovechkin, but the voting does end on Wednesday. And Ovechkin will continue to be one of, if not the most exciting players in the league to watch, regardless of how many people vote for him or show up at Verizon Center.\

\ — Corey Masisak