Alex Ovechkin’s unwavering support for Putin clouds his pursuit of NHL history

One can still appreciate and perhaps even marvel at Alex Ovechkin’s on-ice exploits as the 37-year-old relentlessly chases Wayne Gretzky’s NHL career-high 894 goals that for a very long time seemed as untouchable as Hank Aaron’s 755 major league home runs. .

But the thrill is gone.

Because, at least for me, while it’s intellectually possible to distinguish between Ovechkin the hockey player and Ovechkin the political commentator, it’s a leap too far to do so on an emotional basis.

It is impossible to celebrate Ovechkin the man, who for years not only publicly aligned himself with genocidal Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies, but tried to lead a movement in his support until 2017.

It is impossible to invest in this race for hockey history which will probably come to fruition after another 93 goals at the start of the 2024-25 season. It will be documented. But it won’t be romantic. There is a veil on it. Again, at least here.

It’s not just about the profile picture, in which Ovechkin poses with Putin, remaining on his official Instagram account, maybe (and maybe not) due to fear of recriminations for deleting it.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin (r.) poses with Russian President Vladimir Putin (l.) on May 27, 2014.
Getty Images

It’s not just that Ovechkin was basically fed words of hope for peace that he regurgitated at a press conference following the invasion of Ukraine in February. last, which gave a way out for those who want and have been able to separate the political and social beliefs of the player since his time on stage as an artist.

This is about Ovechkin in 2017 creating PutinTeam, a social movement planned in conjunction with the 2018 Russian presidential election.

It’s about Ovechkin in 2014 expressing his support for Putin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea while posting a photo on social media in which the player was holding a sign with the message: “#SAVE CHILDREN FROM FASCISM”.

Would a German-born baseball player have been celebrated in the United States in the 1940s if he had been an ardent public admirer and supporter of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s?

How many of you laugh just as hard (or actually not at all) when Michael Richards makes an appearance playing the character “Kramer” when an episode of “Seinfeld” pops up on your screen?

Alex Ovechkin holds a jersey next to Vladimir Putin on May 27, 2014.
Alex Ovechkin holds a jersey next to Vladimir Putin on May 27, 2014.
Getty Images

I loved “Lethal Weapon” 1 and 2, but, sorry, I just can’t watch Mel Gibson. So those movies are out of my queue.

Ovechkin has been pretty much the league’s most compelling player since entering the NHL with the 2005-06 rookie class that also included Sidney Crosby and Henrik Lundqvist. The two most expensive and unique real estate properties in NHL history are Gretzky’s office behind the net and Ovechkin’s office in the left circle.

And Ovechkin’s mix of talent and physique is rare. There was Gordie Howe, of course, and Peter Forsberg. But he is a player who will beat you on the scoreboard and beat you against the boards.

Once again, he has been as entertaining a watch and as unstoppable a force as there have been in his last 18 seasons on the ice in which he barely lost a beat. The first nine years, from 20 to 28, Ovechkin scored 0.621 goals per game. Over the next nine years, No. 8 posted .602 GPG. It is a distinction without difference.

Alex Ovechkin celebrates his 802nd goal, passing Gordie Howe on the all-time list, December 23, 2022.
Alex Ovechkin celebrates his 802nd goal, passing Gordie Howe on the all-time list, December 23, 2022.
PA

Once upon a time, teams would assign checkers in the shade of Ovechkin like the Red Wings did long ago when Bugsy Watson followed Bobby Hull around the ice and the Devils would ape Jay Pandolfo on Jaromir Jagr when the No.68 played for Rangers. The way the Red Wings did it with Paul Woods against Mike Bossy when No. 22 was going 50-50 in 1980-81.

“It doesn’t happen that much,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said hours before his side faced Ovechkin and the Caps at The Garden on Wednesday. “Of course, you give him special attention, but you don’t have the one [checker] who would be very close to him as at the time.

“I never liked it. I don’t think it’s right, but when a guy scores like he scores, it’s not a bad idea. But everyone pays attention to it. You try to take him away .

“He’s hard to stop. He shoots the puck better than everyone.

Alex Ovechkin (c.) celebrates his 802nd goal on December 23, 2022.
Alex Ovechkin (c.) celebrates his 802nd goal on December 23, 2022.
NHLI via Getty Images

Ovechkin entered the Garden with 22 goals, seventh in the league and eight over Connor McDavid’s lead. He had scored nine goals in his last nine games, five in an empty net, three with a two-goal lead. His 54 career empty goals are the second in history behind… Gretzky’s 56.

Ovechkin pursues history and an icon. It should be a wonderful journey that all sports fans can share in. But it is not that simple. It is not so easy. What is worthy of adulation?

Ovechkin the hockey player is Ovechkin the man. Ovechkin the scorer is Ovechkin the strong supporter of Putin.

He’s not a hero.

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