Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin calls his body ‘perfect,’ signs endorsement deal with Bauer

While many justifiably blamed his perceived beer belly at least partially on bad posture, it was still easy to be a bit concerned about Alex Ovechkin’s physical condition during this off-season. That being said, even if those images were as bad as they looked, they surfaced in July – giving Ovechkin plenty of time to sand that supposed gut down into a bump (at worst). Ultimately, I think that Washington Capitals shouldn’t be too concerned with their superstar captain’s fitness level.

Apparently Ovechkin agrees that everything will be OK. When asked about his weight, he told reporters that his “body is perfect right now.” If you take his comments at face value, then it might be safe to believe that Ovechkin will return to the beast-like form he exhibited in each of his seasons before (a notably unlucky) 2010-11 season. Here’s the full quote from Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com.

“People were a little bit scared about what happened to my body, but my body is perfect right now,” Ovechkin told reporters after announcing a six-year agreement with Bauer Hockey. “It was interesting for me because that’s never happened to me, people saying I’m in bad shape.”

While Mr. Big candy bars might be a bit obscure to American chocolate eaters (at least personally speaking), Ovechkin keeps adding more high-profile endorsements to his portfolio. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Ovechkin would boost Nike products. Now it’s clear that he will team up with Nike’s former partner Bauer.

There are two interesting things about the Bauer partnership. The first is more on the heartwarming side, as hockey programs in Ovechkin’s native Russia and his home-away-from-home will both benefit from donations.

To that end, Bauer Hockey and Ovechkin have agreed to donate 108 sets of equipment to the Dynamo Hockey School in Ovechkin’s hometown of Moscow. Another 108 sets of equipment will go to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex and the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association in Washington.

One program that will benefit from the equipment donation will be the Fort Dupont Hockey Club, which was founded in 1977 in the driveway of Neal Henderson’s home in Springdale, Md. The club, which now has 65 players, teaches hockey and life skills to children in Washington’s poorest districts.

As Gormley points out, the goal isn’t just to benefit others with free equipment. Ovechkin seemed to quietly struggle with his previous skates and sticks, which means that the endorsement changes might not be for money-related reasons alone.

Ovechkin hopes his switch to Bauer produces more than just good will. Notorious for breaking sticks like toothpicks, Ovechkin is counting on Bauer to provide him with a sturdier product, which in turn should produce more goals.

“He’s been trying his hardest to break a stick and so far they seem to be indestructible,” Leonsis said, “and that makes us all smile.”

As long as he’s healthy, Ovechkin should have a much better campaign in 2011-12 by the law of averages alone. Most hockey players would consider selling their souls for a 32-goal, 85-point season, but for a phenom like Ovechkin, it was a down year. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though; Ovechkin took 367 shots in 10-11, just one less than in 09-10. He just wasn’t getting the bounces that went his way for most of his career. Ovechkin connected on just 8.7 percent of shots, well below his career average of 11.9 percent.

The change in equipment will probably only make a subtle difference, if any at all. Yet if he feels more confident shooting with different sticks – and gets the bounces he should – then it’s easy to picture a 40+ or even 50+ goal season for Ovechkin … whether he has a “perfect body” or not.

Trade deadline: Caps only need to ‘upgrade on the fringes’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Caps senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals speaks with the media prior to the game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The way the Washington Capitals have been steamrolling their opponents in 2017, it was no surprise to hear GM Brian MacLellan say he doesn’t expect to make major changes ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline.

“This year, I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “We’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes, we might do it.”

The Caps have already added some defensive depth, acquiring Tom Gilbert last week in a trade with the Kings.

Gilbert is currently with AHL Hershey but could be called upon soon after Matt Niskanen was forced to leave last night’s win over the Flyers.

MacLellan said today that Niskanen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, adding that it wasn’t anything “serious.”

“We’ll make sure he’s 100 percent before he comes back,” the GM said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

The Caps’ next game is Friday at home to the Oilers. On Saturday, they’re in Nashville to take on the Predators.

Gaudreau wasn’t demoted for missing team bus, says Gulutzan

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 08:  Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates up to a face off during the second period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 8, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Calgary head coach Glen Gulutzan set the record straight about Johnny Gaudreau missing a team bus for an outdoor practice in New York earlier this month, and Gaudreau’s subsequent fourth-line demotion a week later.

“I can tell you this — it wasn’t a big deal,” Gulutzan explained, per the Calgary Sun. “We were in a gong show that day — we were dressing in a hotel ballroom, it was a real mess.

“He was with the trainer, so he came over with him. It was a 10 a.m. bus and I said, ‘hey do your thing, everyone else get there.’ So he jumped in a cab with (head therapist) Kent (Kobelka).”

The incident occurred on Feb. 4, and made for quite the scene — Gaudreau, decked out in full gear, jumped out of a taxi at Central Park just prior to practice. He then played over 19 minutes the following night against the Rangers, tallying an assist, but two games later was dropped to the bottom line in an ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona.

The initial assumption was Gaudreau got demoted because of an offensive zone turnover at the end of a lengthy shift. But given his history — last year, he was scratched after showing up late for practice following a reported “epic” Super Bowl party — there was some speculation he’d been subjected to another team punishment.

Not the case, said Gulutzan. From the Sun:

He insists no team rules were broken and no discipline was needed.

Gulutzan and other team officials said exceptions weren’t made for the superstar, nor were there whispers on the bus about him getting preferential treatment.

It’s been an up-and-down year for Gaudreau. He missed the entire preseason embroiled in contract negotiations before inking a monster six-year, $40.5 million extension.

He’s oft been the subject of targeting this season, and missed 10 games with a broken finger from an Eric Staal slash. As a result, his production is down — just 11 goals and 39 points through 50 games — and has found the back of the net just once in his last 20 contests.

That said, Gaudreau’s still shown off his incredible offensive talent. In Tuesday’s wild 6-5 OT win over Nashville, he racked up four assists, which included a helper on Mark Giordano‘s winner in the extra frame.

Letang day-to-day, but Schultz hopes to play Saturday

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck in the first period during the game against the San Jose Sharks at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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Justin Schultz is hoping to play Saturday when the Penguins host their rivals from Philadelphia outdoors at Heinz Field.

The 26-year-old offensive defenseman was back at practice today after missing three games with a concussion suffered a week ago.

“It’s good to be back,” Schultz told reporters. “The legs feel really good. Not cleared for contact yet. Hopefully I can be ready for the game.”

Schultz is enjoying a career year with nine goals and 30 assists in 56 games, and the Pens may need him Saturday since Kris Letang is now “day-to-day with an upper-body injury,” according to head coach Mike Sullivan. 

No word how Letang was injured. The 29-year-old managed to log 28:49 of ice time in Tuesday’s 3-1 win in Carolina, but he skipped practice today.

Suffice to say, the Pens’ defense is in a real state of flux at the moment. Trevor Daley is expected to miss the rest of the regular season due to knee surgery, and Olli Maatta is out long term as well. Those two injuries likely hastened GM Jim Rutherford to pick up Ron Hainsey in a trade today with Carolina.

“I’m familiar with him because I signed him in Carolina,” Rutherford said of Hainsey. “He’s a real character guy. He’s a good penalty killer.”

Rutherford added that the Pens may be in the market for another defenseman still.

Pittsburgh has two games left before the March 1 deadline, Saturday against the Flyers and Tuesday in Dallas.

Related: Shattenkirk headlines list of UFA d-men who could be traded

‘Canes waive Bickell in hope of extended AHL stint

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Paul Postma #4 of the Winnipeg Jets and Bryan Bickell #29 of the Carolina Hurricanes head to the Carolina zone during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Busy day in Carolina — shortly after sending veteran d-man Ron Hainsey to Pittsburgh, the ‘Canes placed forward Bryan Bickell on waivers.

Bickell, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier this season, has been training and skating in advance of a comeback.

He’s been out since Oct. 30, and missed the last 48 games.

Today’s move is based on the assumption Bickell, 30, will need more than the standard two-week conditioning stint in the AHL, so the plan is for him to clear, then spend extended time in Charlotte.

“I’ll tell you what: he’s done everything he possibly can to get himself ready and get back at it, so we’ll see where it leads,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the ‘Canes website. “It’s an unreal source of inspiration, and his attitude has been fantastic through this whole thing.

“I give him nothing but credit there.”

Per NHL.com, Bickell originally aimed to return to the ‘Canes following their bye week, targeting a home date against the Avalanche on Feb. 17.

“It all depends too on what other guys are doing if they’re going on a huge streak,” Bickell explained. “I like to see them win. If they need me, I’m sure an extra week of me skating is not going to hurt me.

“We’re just going to wait until after the next treatment and after the bye week and go from there.”

Bickell’s treatment is a monthly intravenous of Tysabri, a drug which helps limit the effects of MS. The 30-year-old said he began feeling better upon taking the medication, and has steadily his skating workload to get up to NHL speed.