Alex Ovechkin on plus/minus being overrated, asking Putin for cars and Barry Trotz

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals poses with the Richard Trophy after winning the award for top goal-scorer, at the NHL Awards on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals spoke with Pavel Lysenkov of SovSport recently for another wide-ranging interview, one that covered everything from his injury at the world championships to asking Vladimir Putin for cars as gifts for his teammates to dealing with another new coach in D.C.

Oh, and he also addressed his problem with plus/minus.

Here’s the interview; the Russian language version is here.

Q. After a disappointing season the Capitals started cleaning the house, and the head coach Adam Oates and the general manager George McPhee were let go, you said ‘It’s good that I wasn’t kicked out.’ Is this even possible? Ovechkin is the symbol of the city. You were given keys to the city!

OVECHKIN: “This is business. Right now we are sitting, and suddenly I will get a call: ‘Man, you have been traded to another team.’ And I just bought a house, and haven’t made it my own yet.”

And what to do with the house then? Sell it?

“Why? I will keep it. I like living in Washington.”

One of the first things the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new coach Mike Johnston did was to fly to Moscow to visit Evgeni Malkin. Have you met with the new head coach of the Capitals Barry Trotz yet?

“Yes, in Las Vegas. I know it already that I have to carry Washington forward. But it’s not like all the pressure falls on one person. We also have Backstrom, Laich, Holtby – everyone needs to be a united fist.”

Have you spoken with Alexander Radulov about Trotz who coached him in Nashville?

“Not yet. But I will certainly talk to Alex, will find out his opinion is.”

[This is what Radulov would say, actually]

Once Trotz caught Radulov in a late night bar benching him for a play off game. The scandal was huge. Are you scared of going to a bar now?

“Listen, we are all grown up people. And experienced. What’s to be scared of? We’re not living in the 70s.”

It seems that Trotz is similar to Dale Hunter, who made Ovechkin play defense and you had your worst career season.

“We will see how it turns out. What can I say now? When Adam Oates came to the club, and everyone started saying that Ovechkin will play on the right wing. It was difficult to change yourself. And with every new coach it is a rebuild. A person with his own tactics, vision on the game.”

Washington acquired two quality defensemen from Pittsburgh.

“The defense was out Achilles’ heel before. Now it became good. [Brooks] Orpik and [Matt] Niskanen came, but we also have Green, Orlov, Alzner, Carlson. I think this is one of the best defenses in the NHL.”

In the NBA it is accepted that stars such as Lebron or Carmelo can tell the coach about the tactics and the teammates they want to play with. Is this accepted in Washington?

“I have not one spoken to the new general manager yet. But I am sure that we will talk when I get back to America. McPhee? We did talk about those things with him. My opinion was of interest.”

Is Evgeny Kuznetsov capable of winning the Calder Trophy?

“Yes, of course! If he plays his game. I have always been telling Evgeny that.”

Has the cast been removed from Dmitry Orlov’s hand?

“I don’t think so. He will only recover to the start of the season. This is the price of the World Championship in Minsk for you. I have just recovered myself.”

Can you reveal the secret what injury you sustained in the game against Germany?

“A knee ligaments tear.”

And why did you continue playing in the tournament? It was a risk.

“We did some X-rays, sent them to Washington. At first I thought: ‘That’s it. My cruciate ligaments are done.’ But thank God, nothing serious. It was just a tear. I was lucky. That’s why I decided to keep playing. Because I could.”

What feeling were you left with after last season?

“I am very happy that I didn’t become the worst in the plus/minus category. I had minus-35. Steve Ott and Alex Edler jumped ahead of me. Can you imagine scoring 51 goals and getting minus-40? I would have made history!”

At one time Sergei Gonchar spoke very negatively about the plus/minus thinking it was not objective.

“With the help of the plus/minus contracts can be obtained. Once our defenseman Jeff Schultz was plus-50. He was plus-5 in the last game. And he signed a contract for four years averaging $2.75 million [Ovechkin makes big eyes]. And then his contract was bought out, and he signed for only $700,000 a year. Jeff is a good guy. But these plus/minus stats say very little about a player himself or the game as a whole.”

You are a three time world champion. Is the Minsk gold the most valuable in the collection? You won 10 games out of 10.

“The gold of Quebec and Helsinki I value too. I don’t differentiate these wins. But this World Championships will be remembered because I was the captain. I kept two jerseys with autographs of all the guys, a baseball cap, and the gold medal.”

And the Mercedes from the President.

“Well, yes.”

And why did you ask Putin for the cars?

“The guys asked. And I, as the team captain, passed it along.”

If the Olympic Mercedeses were needed, they should have been won in Sochi.

“You think we didn’t try? Maybe our request didn’t appear to be nice to some. But we asked, and that’s all. If the opportunity exists, why not ask the question? No one would get upset if we were refused.”

Where is your Mercedes now?

“I gave it to my dad. And we sold the Lexus.”

Where is the Mercedes that you got for the gold in Quebec in 2008?

“It was sold right away. It was empty [without upgrades]. And we were given a dark blue one. Not my color.”

Are you not a fan like Teemu Selanne to have a collection of 50 cars?

“Of course not. That’s too many. There should be three cars – an SUV, a sedan, and a sports car.”

And where would you drive the sports car in Moscow?

“It’s true. You know how many times I hit potholes on Leningradka [one of the main roads in Moscow]? How many wheels I broke?”

Do you take it calmly if someone cuts you off?

“I won’t be running up with a baseball bat for sure. I would rather yield. There is a rule ‘Yield the right of way to the fool.’”

Ilya Kovalchuk had a chauffeur at one time.

“That’s not for me. Why? I love driving cars.”

How do you choose which one to drive?

“I have 44 keys on a stand [Ovechkin laughs]. I close my eyes, pick one. Here it is! I go down to the garage. Click-click. And there’s a thick stack of documents in my wallet. To all the cars.”

Would you want to try yourself in Formula One?

“It is an interesting idea. Especially since Gillette, the company I work with, announced a partnership with a Formula One team McLaren Mercedes. I would be happy to race. But a Formula One car where I would fit just doesn’t exist. I am just not going to fit in it.”

After the final in Minsk you ran into the locker room screaming ‘Where is our fish?’ Explain the meaning.

“It was [the team GM] Andrei Safronov who promised us the fish if we won gold. Some good fish. I think it was the roach fish. And we won.”

You should have been promised the fish in Sochi. A great motivator.

“Why are you still asking about Sochi?"

And what did you want? Everyone was waiting for gold.

“We were too. But lost. Why keep talking about it? What else is there to talk about?"

Maybe there was some secret?

“What kind of a secret? Flash drive with tactical schemes? I received one. Conflict with Malkin? There wasn’t one. Evgeni had his birthday recently. I congratulated him. The atmosphere is Sochi was friendly, working. Everything was good. We were handling the pressure. We slept tight at night. But lost. It happens.”

A quick Marcel Proust Questionnaire

1. Qualities you value the most in a man?


2. Qualities you value the most in a woman?


3. Your favorite thing to do (other than the primary)?


4. Your main trait?


5. What disgusts you the most?

“Strong smells.”

6. Of the people who has even lived on Earth who would you want to talk to?

“Michael Jordan.”

7. What ability would you like to have?

“To be always young.”

8. In what situations do you lie?

“In situations with no way out. And when the lie is white.”

9. Your slogan?

“Always forward.”

10. What will you tell God when you’re standing in front of him?

“Thank you.”