McPhee disagrees with Ovechkin suspension
When Bruce Boudreau was asked this week about Alex Ovechkin's two-game suspension for that knee-to-knee hit on Tim Gleason, he sort of punted. Apparently the whole "reckless" thing had already given Boudreau enough headlines for the week.
"He made a play that I thought, you could compare it to an awful lot of plays in the NHL so far this year," Boudreau said. "As [General Manager George McPhee] told me, 'It was a good hockey play that went wrong.' That's, to me, where it should have stayed. But I'm not the boss."
The man who represented the Caps' point of view to the league office went further. McPhee was on DC101's Elliot in the Morning on Thursday, and while he was polite and respectful to the league's decision-makers, he left no doubt where he stands on the issue.
"In my mind the player was trying to make a hit and it went wrong," McPhee said. "And that's ok. When you're trying to hurt someone, if you're trying to do something where a player is vulnerable or he doesn't see you coming--you hit him from behind, you hit him from the blindside--I want those hits punished. But in this instance, it was an open-ice check, and it was a good attempt at a hit that went wrong, and sometimes they're gonna go wrong.
"You have a player in Ovechkin who is one of the league leaders in hits, and they're not all gonna go right. But if it's an attempt at a legal hit and it goes wrong, it doesn't mean it's suspend-able. And in my mind, when there's no intent to injure, and there is no injury, you can't suspend the guy. And the league's concern is that Ovi's really been physical lately and he's going to hurt someone. I said, 'Well, if he hurts someone, suspend him.' But you can't suspend someone for something that might happen."
(It occurs to me: are all local GM-types this persuasive, and reasonable, and articulate in their radio appearances? Not for me to judge. Ah, hell, I'll judge: no, they're not.)
McPhee was then asked about his relationship with NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell, and he said nothing but good things.
"I have a lot of respect for him," McPhee said. "We have great discussions. I really like the way that he handles these things. The process is very comprehensive. And we had a lot of discussion about this. And he called me when he reached his decision, and we talked about it for a long time. He got off the phone, he went back and consulted his staff again and then came back and talked to me again. That's a very difficult job, he's not wrong very often, and we have a difference of opinion on this one, but down the road we might look back and this and say he was absolutely right.
"Right now I don't completely agree with him but I'm not sitting where he is. He's sort of trying to look at the welfare of all the players in the league, and I understand his concerns, but in this case, I though that the referee made the right call on the ice. It was a five-minute major, we had to kill off a five-minute penalty, and we lost the best player in the game for the rest of the game. We only had him for three minutes of ice time, and I thought that was enough, that it should have been left there. And to tack on two more games I thought was excessive."
Which, finally, leads to the larger question: Should Ovechkin change the way he plays. Many have argued yes in recent days: for his long-term welfare, for his team's well-being, to protect Ted Leonsis's investment, and to win games, Ovechkin should dial things back. McPhee here echoed what Boudreau said on Wednesday: "I don't want him to change the way he plays at all."
"Time will tell on all of this obviously, but we searched the world over for talented players who play with passion, play with intensity," McPhee said. "And we've got one here. He is the most unique, and he is, in our minds, the best player in this league right now, maybe one of the best ever, for what he can do on the ice in terms of goal scoring and physical play. And then you add the great character, the respect that he has for everyone in the organization. We've got one of the best. And if you get one of those players that play with that kind of intensity, and then try to start pulling back on that, it's a difficult thing to do.
"And we've always felt that he'll learn how to do all of this just with his experience in the league. And what we've always said is, go out and play the game--to all of our players--go out and play the game, play the game hard. If a hit's there, take it, but don't go out of your way to try to throw hits, because one of two things happens: it takes you out of position, or you might wind up taking a penalty. And so if the hit's there, take it, if not, play the game, play the puck. You want puck possession....
"I'm glad he's not pulling back. He'll learn to pick his spots a little bit, but I'm glad in a lot of ways that he's defiant in saying this is the way I play, and who is anybody to tell me that I shouldn't be playing this way? So I'm glad he's defiant and wants to keep playing the way he's going to play. And he doesn't want to hurt anybody, but every once in a while, with all the hits that he delivers, you know, some will go off-track."
Earlier in the segment, McPhee also addressed the earlier Ovechkin hit on Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta, which had also earned him a game misconduct. This seems to be a considerably more absurd situation, with McPhee asking the league to rescind the penalty, and the league explaining that Ovechkin got the five-minute major because Kaleta was cut, regardless of what did the cutting.
"We believe it was the player's own shield that cut him, and it was, and the league's position was well that's a moot point, he was hurt," McPhee explained. "And I said, well that doesn't make sense. If it was a legal check, who cares if he's hurt or not? If it's legal, then that's gonna happen from time to time. It's a physical sport. If it's a clean check, if he gets hurt, we're a contact game and players assume the risk that that might happen from time to time. So I did disagree that he should be kicked out because he was cut, because the player's own shield cut his face from Ovi's shoulder. It wasn't Ovi's arm, it wasn't an elbow, it was a shoulder check....The problem was it's a 237-pound guy hitting a 195-pound guy. And that's basically what happened."
(And no, you couldn't pay me enough to transcribe McPhee's thoughts on Michael Nylander's future. Put it this way: He said words that won't impact your life in any way.)
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