James O'Brien

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What’s next for Ovechkin?

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It happened again; the Washington Capitals fostered high hopes, but Alex Ovechkin & Co. fell short of the conference finals.

That doesn’t mean he’s getting the same heat he once did for a playoff exit, however. Mike Milbury and Keith Jones believe that he didn’t have the same burst in Game 7, yet they acknowledged his hard work, as many others have:

(Meanwhile, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz was downright effusive about his high opinion of the work from Ovechkin and Washington’s other top players.)

Perhaps deep down it’s all about the humanizing affect of some gray hairs?

Will the returns diminish?

Of course, that graying hair brings up a troubling question: what if Ovechkin’s best days are behind him?

He’ll turn 30 during the offseason, and as blogger-turned-front-office-employee Eric Tulsky once pointed out, things tend to really slide when you pass the big three-oh:

In addition, we now have an estimate of how even strength scoring ability changes through a player’s 30’s. On average, players retain about 90% of their scoring through age 29, but the drop from there is pretty sharp — they hit 80% at age 31, 70% at age 32-33, and 60% at age 35.

The easy counter is that Ovechkin isn’t like other snipers.

He’s a special player who could very well live off of his ridiculous power-play shooting. Then again, there’s also the wear-and-tear of being one of the most physical star forwards of his generation. It’s estimated that Ovechkin has thrown 1,224 hits since 2009-10; that’s a ton of extra collisions, even if his opponent received the brunt of the impact in every instance. His reckless style might lose some of its appeal as he goes grayer.

What we know happens next and what we don’t

For one thing, it’s clear there will be no rest for the weary:

That might be a bit challenging for a guy who seemed spent after Game 7:

Anyway, the biggest question marks revolve around the makeup of a Capitals team that may look very different in 2015-16. The impression is that one or more of key free agents such as Joel Ward and Mike Green may not return. It’s also clear that RFA Braden Holtby’s impending raise could make Washington’s estimated $21 million in cap space look like an illusion.

As much as Barry Trotz may request even more defensive prowess, Washington would be wise to focus on giving Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom a little more support. Just look at the drop-off in production after those two:

2013-14:

Ovechkin – 79 points
Backstrom – 79 points
Joel Ward – 49 points
Marcus Johansson – 44 points
Troy Brouwer – 43 points

2014-15:

Ovechkin – 81 points
Backstrom – 78 points
John Carlson – 55 points
Johansson – 47 points
Mike Green – 45 points

It’s plausible that Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov might make big strides next season, but one could argue that the Caps should still shop for more offensive help.

***

Long story short, Ovechkin is likely to remain a star for some time, yet Washington has to hope that he defies broader stats about snipers falling sharply after they turn 30. It should be fascinating to see if all the talk about growth ends up being justified, especially for “The Great Eight.”

WATCH LIVE: U.S. vs. Switzerland (2015 World Hockey Championships)

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Hockey fans grumbling about having to wait until Saturday for the next round to begin should put their chins up: there’s some great 2015 World Hockey Championships to fit the bill.

You can watch Jack Eichel and the U.S. team take on Switzerland in a quarterfinal matchup on NBCSN and also stream it online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Need a quick preview for the game? The IIHF has you covered.

Update: Want to watch Canada vs. Belarus?

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PHT Morning Skate: Back to School starring Johnny Hockey

Columbus Blue Jackets v Calgary Flames
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Johnny Gaudreau is continuing his studies at Boston College. Apparently he’s studying communications, which is probably less taxing than dealing with the Anaheim Ducks and getting cross-checked in the back. Probably. (Flames)

A daring proposition: should the Montreal Canadiens try to trade for … Phil Kessel? (The Hockey News)

One argument in favor of trading for Kessel: Montreal’s big guns let them down. (Sportsnet)

Looking for a CapGeek supplement? General Fanager is probably the best thing that’s come along so far. (General Fanager)

The Rangers feel like they have a lot in common with their upcoming opponent, the Lightning. (NHL.com)

Apparently it’s Alain Vigneault’s birthday. One would imagine his (waking up going after a Game 7 win) is happier than P.K. Subban’s (a day after Montreal was eliminated from the playoffs), eh?

Rangers’ praise for Stepan extends beyond OT winner

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Seven
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New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan had his, erm, “Stepan Matteau” moment when he scored the 2-1 OT winner against the Washington Capitals in Game 7.

Still, if you ask his Rangers teammates, he’s done more than score a memorable goal. The praise goes high for his larger body of work in that tight series.

“I thought Stepan was the best player all series,” Kevin Hayes said, according to WFAN’s Sean Harnett.

Hartnett reports that Chris Kreider backed that up, pointing out that Stepan was making “little plays” before this huge one drew all that attention.

It’s no surprise that Stepan received “The Broadway Hat,” although one wonders if some of the logic follows that the Rangers probably get tired of handing it over to Henrik Lundqvist so often:

Here’s Stepan’s take on Wednesday’s big Game 7 win.

Ovechkin believes Washington deserved better

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Dejected and exhausted. That’s probably the best way to describe Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin after his guarantee didn’t come true on Wednesday.

Ovechkin didn’t have much of an explanation for why the Capitals fell just short against the New York Rangers in Game 7 and in the series overall, although he did praise Henrik Lundqvist moments after Washington’s season came to a crushing end.

The tone of Ovechkin’s comments more or less parallel the reactions from teammates and head coach Barry Trotz. In short: the result stings, yet the Capitals seem happy about their efforts (and optimistic about the future).