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."
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