|Author: Dave Fay (Washington Times)||Date: 06/27/2004
|Ovechkin is just part of foundation|
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Washington Capitals drafted a prospect reputed to be
the best player available since Pittsburgh picked Mario Lemieux in 1984. |
But Alexander Ovechkin, the top pick in Saturday's NHL Entry Draft, is a mere
building block for a team that was razed earlier this year. In a sport that emphasizes
teamwork perhaps more than any other, the Caps hope he can be the cornerstone
of that rebuilding process. At the moment, however, he is just part of a foundation
that needs plenty of more pieces.
The Caps tore up their old foundation last season, an experiment that involved
collecting stars rather than concentrating on a team-oriented system. The endeavor
cost the Caps victories, money and fans and forced the organization to look toward
the future rather than the present.
"We have a lot of young talent, probably as much if not more than any team
in the league," Caps general manager George McPhee said. "But we have
to be patient and let them grow up together. We can't hand them experience pills.
They need a little time to develop. We'll be smart about it and build a real good
team. But the foundation's there."
Still, the Caps have to be careful to avoid the same mistakes other rebuilding
franchises made by expecting great things from just one player.
•The Tampa Bay Lightning drafted Vincent Lecavalier with the top pick in
1998 and billed him as the future of the league. Ownership called the 18-year-old
"the Michael Jordan of hockey." That, among other things, placed an
intolerable amount of pressure on the teenager, and some league observers claim
he has yet to overcome it. It took the Lightning six years to build enough support
around Lecavalier to win the Stanley Cup.
•Lemieux entered the league in 1984 and was said to be a combination of
Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe. He put up at least 100 points in his first four
seasons, but the Penguins missed the playoffs each time. It took seven years for
the Lemieux-led Penguins to win a Cup.
So even if Ovechkin is the next Lemieux, the Caps could be on the same timetable
as Pittsburgh in terms of producing a competitive team. At the moment, Washington
has only 15 players under contract in its entire system, and several of those
have never played in the league.
Washington's first move probably should be to acquire a few veteran free agent
defensemen to bridge the gap until prospects are ready to step in.
The Caps also might want to think about getting a good Russian veteran of solid
character who can guide Ovechkin and Alexander Semin through their formative years
in the league. A player like Igor Larionov comes to mind, but he retired and returned
The fans, for the most part, seem to be understanding, but the club may have needed
a show of good faith, and drafting Ovechkin was a start.
"I think [the fans] already understand [rebuilding will not be an overnight
process]," McPhee said. "I think they understand what we did last year
[unloading eight proven veterans], accept what we're doing now and are thrilled
by what we did [Saturday]. We just need to have the collective bargaining agreement
settled, and then we'll do what's in the best interest of the club once we know
what the landscape is."
Related Player Profiles: . A.Ovechkin
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