Caps may be winning, but at what cost?

40 Comments

Last night at Madison Square Garden, Alex Ovechkin spent just 13:36 on the ice, a career playoff low.

But Ovechkin wasn’t the only Capitals star that saw reduced playing time during Washington’s 3-2 victory over the Rangers: Nicklas Backstrom (16:18), Alex Semin (12:27), and Mike Green (18:14) each sat longer on the bench than they’re used to.

All told, those four account for over $28 million in cap space.

Meanwhile, career third- and fourth-liners like Jay Beagle (19:58) and Matt Hendricks (15:26) have become coach Dale Hunter’s go-to guys, particularly when the Caps are leading like they did for most of yesterday’s game.

“You need them players. They play hard every night,” Hunter said. “The press don’t write about them a lot. They’re the foot soldiers of the team. These guys come up and come playoff time, that is how you win games like tonight. It is a grind out there.”

With that in mind, here’s a question I’ve got for Caps fans – is winning the only thing that matters to you? Or, is there something to be said for the entertainment value of the product?

I’d also ask Caps owner Ted Leonsis that question. Because if he hasn’t noticed, there aren’t many fans sporting Beagle jerseys at the Verizon Center.

For all those who say Ovechkin is overpaid, maybe he is from a pure hockey perspective. But he’s more than earned his salary from a business perspective.

According to Forbes, Washington’s franchise value has risen from $115 million in 2004, the year Ovechkin was drafted, to $225 million today.

Without Ovechkin, is it anywhere near that level?

All I know from living in Vancouver is that the Canucks didn’t become a license to print money until 2002 when Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison came together to form the West Coast Express. It wasn’t just about winning in this city — it was about winning and scoring lots of goals at the same time.

Clearly style matters when selling tickets. Just ask the New Jersey Devils, one of the most successful teams on the ice the last 20 years. Yet the Devils have rarely been a hot ticket. There are other reasons for that (arena location, less-than-fantastic marketing, etc.), but being associated with boring hockey didn’t help their brand.

Nor was the NHL’s brand shining particularly bright during the dead-puck era, which is why the decline in scoring should have it concerned enough to explore ways to encourage offense, not defense.