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The Ovechkin Project, Gare Joyce and Ted Leonsis

"The Ovechkin Project" - the first book-length look at Alex Ovechkin, advertised as "a behind-the-scenes look at hockey's most dangerous player" - is reaching Canadian book stores this week, and will be on U.S. shelves soon thereafter. But while most U.S. readers - me included - have yet to read the book, it's already managed to create some measure of controversy, with one of its authors and Caps owner Ted Leonsis trading barbs on Twitter, in columns and in blogs.

I don't know Toronto Star hockey columnist Damien Cox, nor do I really know his co-author, longtime hockey writer Gare Joyce, though we broke bread together one night in South Florida. (And no, Joyce didn't blame Ovechkin for breaking the bread.)

Cox's name has already turned radioactive among a great many Caps fans, especially after he accused parts of the Caps blogosphere of being mouthpieces for the front office. So I figured I'd turn to Joyce to ask him what impression of Ovechkin readers of his book would be left with.

"He's an evolving character," Joyce told me. "He's a young man. He's growing into a role that, physically, he's equipped for. Is he emotionally or psychologically equipped for it? I don't think it'd be reasonable to expect someone at 24 to be completely ready and equipped to be the franchise player, the star out in front of the league, the national hero, all of those things. There's a learning curve there, and he's handling it pretty well, with some slips, sure."

One of the main contentions between Leonsis and the book's authors has been the owner's claim that the authors didn't get access to Ovechkin for their project, and that they're taking out their frustrations on the franchise.

"He is just mad because he didn't have access to Alex Ovechkin when he wrote his book," Leonsis wrote in response to a Cox column.

Joyce would dispute that point - he said the authors had the same access all credentialed media members did to Ovechkin, just not in one-on-one interviews - but he said the matter of access didn't color their opinions. He said they used Grant Wahl's brilliant book The Beckham Experiment as a model for chronicling a star and a season without special access, and that he "thought all along that there was really so much you're going to get from [Ovechkin] anyways."

But here again, there seem to be some differences of opinion.

"I guess the presumption would be that if we don't have access, we're gonna trash this guy, and I don't think we did that at all," Joyce said. "I think he comes out as a sympathetic figure in a lot of ways, and someone who wants to do the right thing and has occasionally struggled to know what the right thing is."

"I read the galleys of the book, and I don't recognize the person who is being written about here," Leonsis said in an interview with Japers Rink Radio. "And I cooperated with the writer, I sat for an interview, and I gave dozens and dozens of examples and stories and vignettes about my view of what Alex means to people, the community, how he acts. And when the book came out there were just a couple of inferences that I had mentioned....I didn't think I was heard or what I said mattered, because it wasn't in the book. And so that's why I got turned off a bit."

Joyce said the authors tried to pursue two storylines: one about Ovechkin's youth in Moscow, and the path for a superstar growing up in post-Soviet Russia; and the other about his professional life in America, his place within the Caps organization and the NHL as a whole. Together, they've covered him at two Olympics, at World Juniors, at the scouting combine and the draft, in addition to his NHL career. They talked to people who coached and scouted Ovechkin in Russia, members of that Caps team whose awful record brought the No. 1 pick to Washington, and current and past players and officials.

Joyce praised the Caps organization, telling me they were "an open door" and "were great" to deal with, and that the authors "don't think we have anything to be bitter about." While the book wasn't written exclusively for a D.C. audience, he said he hopes Caps fans would come away learning things they didn't know about Ovechkin, the franchise and the league.

"It's not gonna be the last word written on Alexander Ovechkin," Joyce said. "We just wanted to show him at age 24. The last word that's gonna be written about Alex Ovechkin, he's gonna write it. It might not be the written word, but he's going to author his career going forward. We're trying to provide context for people that are going to want to watch him here on out."

Indeed, several people - including Leonsis - have suggested that Ovechkin might one day write his own book, an authorized one, that delves into his view of the world and his career. That book, though, won't likely arouse passions like this one has.

"We don't agree with his point of view in his book and we won't have anything to do with him and his book now," Leonsis wrote of Cox. "He is on his own."

"The only reaction we can have to that is hey, you didn't offer and we didn't ask," Joyce said. "It's weird how this has all gone down. I'm sort of slightly removed from it. It's guilt by association with Damien and me, but I don't know that it's good for business, and I don't know that it's bad for business. I don't know how it reflects on all the people involved. I could say safely that Damien and I were here a long time before Ted Leonsis was, and I think there's every shot that we'll be here a long time after Ted Leonsis is gone. There's no one left in the league from when Damien and I started in the early '80s, and there's been a lot of changes in ownership. If someone's unhappy, they'll probably be gone before we are."

(You can read excerpts of the book here and here, and the first couple of chapters here.)

By Dan Steinberg  | September 21, 2010; 5:33 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Comments

I am not gonna lie, if I had heard this account 2 weeks ago or earlier I would have been less put off by the interweb war between Ted and Damien. I have to say though that although it appears that Ted possibly reacted a bit hastily Damien's completely unprofessional response and use of social media is a black cloud on a so called "professional" journalist. He attacks bloggers as not being real media yet he acts immaturely and unprofessional publicly. I don't like people who are two faced, and he's got two heads on a small body in my opinion. Thanks Dan, this was balanced piece demonstrating journalistic integrity...which is amazing considering you posted it on a blog ;-)

Posted by: Puddin_an_Semin | September 21, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

"Is he emotionally or psychologically equipped for it? I don't think it'd be reasonable to expect someone at 24 to be completely ready and equipped to be the franchise player, the star out in front of the league, the national hero, all of those things."

How can he make this assertion having never actually interviewed Ovechkin? Based on the excerpts, this book is nothing more than a long, speculative hockey column cliche. The guy basically admits it here.

I got two words here: cash. grab.

Posted by: ThisGuy | September 21, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Japers' Rink posted two excerpts from the book. Read them and I think you'll understand why people, including Ted Leonsis, are so up in arms.

Posted by: RedBirdie | September 21, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

It seems like journalism is being used more and more to create controversy and drama for a "journalist's" particular agenda rather than fact.

Also, this guy being an old-time hockey Canadian guy, just reeks of Ovechkin and Russian disdain (pro-Crosby, etc.). I hope Caps fans aren't bamboozled into purchasing this book simply because the name "Ovechkin" is on it.

Posted by: LloydChristmas | September 22, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Japers claims they are representative, but the intro is on the publisher's website which has a different tone.

Cox's original column which the the overly sensative owner of the Caps did have a rightful objection to implied that Ovechkin's lengthy contract was like the salary cap evading contracts in the news lately. Cox has two points that Ted has not addressed which was made clearer in a later post.

Bettman was not happy with the length of the Ovechkin contract or similar contracts. This has nothing to do whether the league would find them legal or not. Secondly Cox claims the Capitals have been (even recently) receiving league subsidies of $10 to $14 million.

One further point on Ted is his increasing inabiliuty to appreciate criticism of the team and its make-up. He is so quick to rave about a Japer Rink column talking about how good our defense is and attack bloggers who complain about the team's lack of action. He complains about a NY Times article on Ovechkin that called last season disastorous by running up some stats but ignoring the suspensions, altercations at the Olympics and the failures of the teams Ovechkin was on. He ignored a Toronto Sun article that spoke about Ovechkin training with his fellow Russian Moneygrubbing friend Ilya Kovalchuk.

Some of us are viewing as Ted as acting like Dan Synder and despite his claim to transparency, many of us see him slowly acting more and more like Dan Synder.

Posted by: rbluesw | September 22, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

I generally stay away from most of the "Caps Fan Crusades" about things like this, but this just feels different. Honestly, the simple fact that it's being advertised as "a behind-the-scenes look at hockey's most dangerous player" negates any claim to validity it had in my mind.

There are guys like Steve Downie who intend to injure every player he gets a chance to make physical contact with, but Ovechkin is hockey's MOST dangerous player?

I'd say I don't get it, but I understand that people like to make money, and controversy and character assassination sell.

Posted by: Goat_74 | September 22, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

...He said they used Grant Wahl's brilliant book The Beckham Experiment ...

-------------

It's insightful at times and a decent look at how uterlly depressing being on an MLS team can be, but brilliant? Not at all. He's a decent magazine writer, but he ain't Malcolm Gladwell.

For the Ovechkin book, c'mon even the title is a giveway that this is an outsider book. Would him or his people put out a book called The Ovechkin Project? He's a fascination to the Candian's like Beckham was to a lot of Americans.

Posted by: M__N | September 22, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

No!?! Ted overreact? Seriously? You mean the owner who actually took a swipe at a Caps FAN?

Leonsis reminds me of Pat Riley, don't agree with him and you're apparently just stupid. Oh, and he's upset that all of his lovely grandiose stories weren't used. Let's add ego-maniacal to immature over-reactor.

Posted by: soloman5000 | September 22, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like a pretty reasonable guy and his hockey credentials are beyond reproach. Maybe Leonsis is overreacting a tad here. Just being overprotective of his young star. I agree, sitting down with him wouldn't have yielded much -- he's not particularly open and of course his english is very poor.

Posted by: dbunkr | September 22, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

I don't know about this guy. But Cox is pretty much known as a low life. Which doesn't mean that Leonsis was right to get into this urinating contest with him. Even though Leonsis had some valid points and Cox was being sleazy, why did Leonsis bring the book into his blog post? Wouldn't he know that the columnist versus owner feud would be picked up and give publicity to the very book he condemned? That is precisely what happened. Let's face it. Leonsis is remarkably thin skinned and often that gets the best of his judgment. By the way Steinberg, nice that you went out of your way to publicize the hatchet job on Ovie too...........

Posted by: poguesmahone | September 22, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Japers' Rink posted two excerpts from the book. Read them and I think you'll understand why people, including Ted Leonsis, are so up in arms.

Posted by: RedBirdie | September 21, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

And follow it up with listening to JRR's interviews over the past month or so with both Ted Leonsis and Damien Cox...just a little self promotion. :)

Posted by: freakinandpeakin | September 22, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

@rbluesw
"Cox's original column which the the overly sensative owner of the Caps did have a rightful objection to implied that Ovechkin's lengthy contract was like the salary cap evading contracts in the news lately. Cox has two points that Ted has not addressed which was made clearer in a later post.

Bettman was not happy with the length of the Ovechkin contract or similar contracts. This has nothing to do whether the league would find them legal or not. Secondly Cox claims the Capitals have been (even recently) receiving league subsidies of $10 to $14 million."

First, Bettman may not have liked the length of the Ovechkin contract because it ties one of the top players in the league to one team for most of his career, but it is not like contracts that circumvent the salary cap, thus Ovechkin's contract shouldn't be used as a comparision by Cox.

Second, Cox should also have been aware that the Caps receive league subsidies because they have been operating in the red for years. Part of this is because of the team rebuild and subsequent drop in attendance and another contributor is that Leonsis and the Caps did not receive revenue from the lucrative club seats or consessions at Verizon Center. That money went to Pollin. Ticket prices were also in the bottom third in the league. Economic recovery takes time even when you draft an exciting superstar. Leonsis said last year that the team would soon be in the black and no longer in need of the subsidies.

The problem many have with Cox is that some of what he has written seems blatantly skewed to fit a pre-exisiting opinion, some accounts are factually wrong(a quick look at YouTube footage would have set the record straight), and other parts of his book are poorly researched. It is not a "behind-the-scenes" look at a player because he had no special access.

Posted by: pstenigma | September 22, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

The Canadian media is as bigoted and ethnocentric as any other around the world.

Hockey is 'their' sport and by and large the media there don't take kindly to the NHL being hijacked by the personality or flair of a non-Canadian.

Canadians grumble because American, Russian, Czech, Finnish and Swedish players now come into the league and compete on a more or less equal footing with their brethren.

You saw the first signs of that in the response to the Red Wings teams of the '90s that won the Stanley Cup. Non-canadian players were a significant factor in the team winning back to back and this team was a powerhouse. But it didn't get nearly the applause or notoriety that you saw Messier get in Edmonton or NY.

Along comes Ovechkin at the same time Canada is rolling out Sidney Crosby.

Crosby from the start is embued with all the positive qualities, ie he is 'hard-working', 'patriotic', a 'good teammate', etc.

Ovechkin is meanwhile viewed from a distance as being 'flashy', 'independent', and 'out to set individual records'.

That translates into how this book was conceived.

The two writers are Canadians who have been covering the NHL since the 1980's.

During that time they have seen fewer and fewer Canadian teams win the Stanley Cup and fewer Canadian players being unchallenged at the top.

Deep down Canadians and these writers are no different are a bit miffed at that and in trying to understand how things changed so quickly they reach out for the easy answers.

What are the easy answers? That the success of non-Canadians is due to genetics and talent but not 'hard work' as well. That non-Canadian players are 'party goers' and guys that are all about themselves, rarely sacrificing for the team.

So in the end result the players are recognized for their abilities but in a way that makes them seem like less than ideal human beings.

Meanwhile, the piles of roses are still being built up in front of the gate to Sidney Crosby's home for what he did for 'us' in the Olympics.

And that's just what it is - 'us' versus 'them'.

Just the way Canadians often accuse other people of being in their views of the world.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | September 22, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Canada cannot handle being inferior in creating talent. Ovechkin is a player every Canadian wants to be and they have never really produced. Cam Neely was the only one close and he broke his body. Iginla is pretty close but he doesn't have the skills Ovechkin does.

So now the smear campaign begings while they kiss that prick Crosby's butt. Second country syndrome at it's best.

Posted by: Mike4169 | September 22, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

has anyone refuted Cox' claim about Leonsis paying for members of the OFB clan to cover the 2007 WC? has that been explained away, or is three years make up enough time to regain objectivity and credibility?

Posted by: P-Mac | September 22, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

This is much ado about nothing. All that had to be said was that the writers were canadian and just ignore the book for that reason. A canadian opinion on OV is simply irrelevant.

Posted by: giscone | September 22, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

As a Toronto native, I'm all too familiar with Damien Cox (it doesn't speak well for my hometown that despite two dedicated local papers (not counting the National Post and the Globe & Mail)- the Sun and the Star (Cox's employer) - that the sportswriting profession is where it is, with Cox being part of the problem.

Frankly, I'm shocked that he was able to turn his attention away from what he does best (crap all over the Leafs) to spend time in writing a book about Alex Ovechkin.

He writes two columns:

1) The "the Leafs (the team/ownership/management) are (insert as appropriate) dumb/unskilled/meatheads/overly skilled Euros/moneyhungry/evil/wimpy Euros/mean to their fans etc. who will never win until they follow his advice".

2) The unfounded, "people say...", "I'm hearing..." column that has the relative accuracy of a broken watch that should be labeled a work of fiction.

For a guy who does stuff like this, he is extremely thin-skinned, even among his local readers (in short, don't dare be critical of him because of course he knows more than you, except that he doesn't).

Cox hates pretty much everyone. Oh, and if Crosby played for the Leafs, he'd take a massive dump all over the guy the first game he went without scoring, and tell you, in detail, why the Leafs were dumb to draft him in the first place.

Cox hates bloggers because guess what- deep down, in that place that makes him sad, he knows that there are dozens of Toronto-based bloggers who cover the Leafs better than he does. They know more, write better, and essentially do the kind of analysis that fans in the GTA are capable of digesting.

However, he's wrangled a TV deal with TSN where he gets to be a weekly talking head about sports, and this has, methinks, given him the impression that he actually knows something (much like how a carnival mirror can make you think you're slender).

Most (not all, but most) Canadians know Ovechkin is a good hockey player (he walks onto any team's first line) even if he goes over the line on occasion (as do a ton of players). Yes, we will wave the flag and support Canada during international tournaments (even cheering against the Leafs' GM and head coach when they worked for the Americans during the Olympics) but that's the rare occasion.

Put it this way- if Washington's management went brain dead and traded Ovechkin to the Leafs for a 6th round draft pick, Cox would likely trot out the "see, the Leafs are giving away draft picks" version of his "dump on the Leafs" column.

If you use the book to kill a bug, you've gotten more productivity out of it than if you read the thing.

Posted by: jcurrin | September 22, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Leonsis reminds me of Pat Riley, don't agree with him and you're apparently just stupid. Oh, and he's upset that all of his lovely grandiose stories weren't used. Let's add ego-maniacal to immature over-reactor.

Posted by: soloman5000 | September 22, 2010 9:25 AM |

thats my take too. Ted's a good guy unless you disagree with him or choose not to be his lackey. Then he'll turn..

Posted by: cstanton1 | September 22, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

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