- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

Alex the Advocate?

In a recent interview with Russian reporter Dmitry Chesnokov, Alex Ovechkin expressed his passion about playing for his native country in the 2014 Winter Olympics, which just happen to be taking place in his homeland. The problem? There may be no NHL players at said Olympics in Sochi, Russia, because the league has not committed to letting them play.

This issue means a great deal to Ovechkin, and it is one that should be the next step in his evolution into something more than just a great hockey player. Athletes like Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan become more than superstars — they wield legitimate influence on the direction of their sports. LeBron James, like Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, is in the midst of the same development process.

Ovechkin needs to lead the push to maintain the NHL’s Olympic connection. He might care about the issue only because it involves Russia, but his stance still is the right one. Playing in Vancouver next year and not in Sochi would send a poor message to European countries, and it’s shortsighted. David Stern’s greatest contribution to the NBA is globalizing basketball — and he didn’t skip events on the other side of the world because of potentially bad TV ratings in North America.

Hockey has long been a global game, and yet there are more long-term gains, both financially and in player development, to be made — and the Olympics can help. Crosby is influential but hasn’t shown a willingness to speak out about much. Advocating for NHL involvement in Sochi can be Ovechkin’s opportunity to position himself as a true power broker.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

The defending Eastern Conference champs had a week that defined their season. In a span of seven days, the Penguins were a no-show against Detroit in a nationally televised matinee (in the United States), defeated one of the two best teams in the league (San Jose), then proceeded to yield six straight goals to Toronto in front of a national television audience (in Canada).

The Maple Leafs meltdown proved to be Michel Therrien’s final act as coach. Eight months ago, Therrien came within two games of winning a Stanley Cup. Now he’s unemployed — booted because his team, playing without several faces from last season’s run, has been a colossal disappointment.

Therrien’s massage-with-sandpaper approach did not sit well with some players, and the team seemed to stop fighting for him weeks ago. Therrien should be remembered as the guy who developed a defensive conscience in many of the young Penguins. But with their talent, the Penguins need a more aggressive guy like Bruce Boudreau.

TROPHY TRACKER

CALDER (ROOKIE)

1. Bobby Ryan, Ducks

Without Anaheim’s early season cap crunch, he would be a no-brainer.

2. Steve Mason, Blue Jackets

He’s back in the lineup with two strong outings after battling mononucleosis.

3. Blake Wheeler, Bruins

He leads the league in plus-minus (Drew Doughty is 3b on this list).

JACK ADAMS (COACH)

1. Brent Sutter, Devils

His team keeps getting hotter, and Martin Brodeur’s return is lurking.

2. Claude Julien, Bruins

Four losses in a row — and Boston still leads the East by nine points.

3. Dave Tippett, Stars

No one ever gets credit for in-season turnarounds with this award.

NORRIS (DEFENSEMAN)

1. Zdeno Chara, Bruins

His lead is smaller than it has been in months.

2. Mike Green, Capitals

He’s doing things that haven’t been done in a generation.

3. Dan Boyle, Sharks

Helped San Jose make quite a statement against Boston.

POWER RANKINGS (Face of the franchise edition)

1. SHARKS (LW: 2)

One Cup might do more for Joe Thornton than any other player in hockey.

2. BRUINS (1)

Zdeno Chara is growing into a larger-than-life figure (no height jokes).

3. RED WINGS (3)

In both demeanor and sublime skill, Nicklas Lidstrom defines this era in Hockeytown.

4. CAPITALS (4)

Alex Ovechkin could end up being the face of not only his sport but his country.

5. DEVILS (5)

On the ice, it is shifting to Zach Parise, but this is Lou Lamoriello’s franchise.

6. FLYERS (7)

Mike Richards is vintage Flyers on the ice and a calm, steady leader away from it.

7. BLACKHAWKS (6)

No front office guy has earned as much praise in recent years as John McDonough.

8. FLAMES (9)

Jarome Iginla has a successful political career in his future if he so desires.

9. STARS (10)

Mike Modano continues to be the biggest ambassador for hockey in Texas.

10. PANTHERS (NR)

Anything with a sponsor attached to represent game days in South Florida.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

NOW SHOWING

Jamie McGinn, Sharks

San Jose already boasts a group of young players succeeding in the NHL, but McGinn is part of another wave that could supplement them in the coming seasons. He was a second-round pick in 2006 and has been a scorer throughout his career.

COMING SOON

Thomas McCollum, Red Wings

The biggest question in Hockeytown is shaky goaltending at times from Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin. McCollum, a first-round pick by Detroit in June, has rebounded well from the world junior championship and was named the Ontario Hockey League goalie of the month for January.

SHOW’S OVER

Kyle Turris, Coyotes

Steven Stamkos isn’t the only preseason Calder Trophy favorite who has struggled. Turris was the No. 3 pick in the 2007 draft and left Wisconsin after one season, but he has only six goals and 16 points for Phoenix and was shipped to the American Hockey League for more seasoning.

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