Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin thinks very little of plus/minus


Alex Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the fourth time last season with 51 goals, but perhaps the statistic that sticks out most from his 2013-14 campaign is his minus-35 rating.

It was the worst in Washington by 14 points and third from the bottom in 2013-14. He also joined Toronto’s Phil Kessel as the only members of the top-10 goal scoring list to finish with a negative plus/minus rating.

He used that as ammunition when he was recently asked how he felt by the end of last season.

“I am very happy that I didn’t become the worst in the plus/minus category,” Ovechkin told SovSport in an interview translated by Puck Daddy. “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!”

The interviewer brought up Sergei Gonchar’s past criticism about the use of plus/minus and Ovechkin took that opportunity to expand on the point.

“With the help of the plus/minus contracts can be obtained,” the 28-year-old forward said. “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.”

While plus/minus might not always be a great reflection of how a player performed, it is fair to say that the Capitals as a team had defensive issues last season. They hope some of that will be addressed by allowing goaltender Braden Holtby to play a style that he’s more comfortable with, the additions of defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, and bringing in Barry Trotz to serve as the team’s head coach.

That last change will impact Ovechkin, but for now he’s taking a wait-and-see approach. He acknowledged it’s difficult to change, but he’s been through this several times over the last few years, so he knows what to expect.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado