WASHINGTON — The Capitals organization has reached a critical point in its identity after another second-round playoff elimination.
With drastic roster construction changes surely on the horizon, many fans and media pundits are beginning to wonder if the Alex Ovechkin era will ever lead the Caps to a Stanley Cup, a notion which once seemed preordained 12 or so years ago.
Slava Malamud, a reporter who’s covered Ovechkin — with and without access from the Capitals — for Ovechkin’s entire career gained attention for a lengthy Twitter screed after Washington’s Game 7 elimination Wednesday.
Malamud took aim at Ovechkin for being more of a star than a winner, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis for being complicit with a decade-old marketing strategy to build up the Capitals fan base at the expense of playoff success.
Malamud expounded upon his Twitter screed in an interview with 106.7 The Fan’s Chad Dukes on Thursday.
“I don’t want to appear as I’m tooting my own horn, but I’ve been saying this all year long,” Malamud says. “This is a team that’s not going to advance past the second round because this is a perfect regular season team, and this has been the story with the Caps for a few years now.
“It’s a great regular season team custom built to appeal to the fans long term, to sell lots of t-shirts, lots of jerseys. I mean, you know as well as I do, you go to any rink here in the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. area, every other kid is wearing a No. 8 jersey. And this was the not the case before Ovechkin came here — hockey wasn’t very popular.”
“So this business model that they’ve built here, it worked,” he says. “It worked to a great degree thanks to Ovechkin, thanks to Leonsis, but it’s not very well suited for producing playoff winners because Ovechkin is not the type of guy who carries you to the playoffs. And what I said is not really anything new, really.”
This perspective of Ovechkin, while disguised by his public persona in the U.S., has long been a topic of discussion among Russian reporters, Malamud says.
“Everybody knows this about him in Russia because we know him from an angle that you guys probably don’t see and he’s not the guy who’s going to carry the team on his back,” he says. “It’s never been the case.”
Malamud says he’s covered Ovechkin and seen every international game he’s played since 2004, and notes “he has never, ever been the best player on any Team Russia that he’s ever played for. Ever. It’s bizarre when I say that, but it’s true.”
Because of his clout as a respected player in the NHL, Ovechkin’s been able to skate by the reputation he’s gained in international competition, Malamud says.
“If he just tags along and doesn’t spoil the atmosphere, they can win,” he says. “And if pouts like he did in Sochi, it’s going to be a disaster.”
“I’m not saying he doesn’t care like [Alexander] Semin,” he adds. “He plays hurt obviously, all of that stuff, he just doesn’t have that in him to be that guy on the ice the way that [Sidney] Crosby can be. Even when Crosby isn’t scoring, he carries the team.”
Ovechkin’s star power is just as strong back in Russia, Malamud says, adding “everybody says he’s the greatest Russian player to come about from as far back as anyone can remember.” Despite the prevailing sentiment, that’s not reality, Malamud says.
While playing for Team Russia, Malamud says Ovechkin hasn’t had to carry the workload, and has often been outplayed by other stars, like Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Semin.
“I think he loves the way things are,” Malamud says of Leonsis. “I mean, he’s built this team as a business around a very marketable face of the league and everybody loves that face. Everybody’s crazy about it. When I say things that I say, half of the people are going are going to agree with me; half of the people are going to think I’m an idiot. But it’s because this strategy has worked.
“He’s loved by the people. He’s very charismatic. I sometimes jokingly say he’s the Donald Trump of hockey, because half the people love him, half the people hate him, but those who love him are extremely loyal to him.”
Overly image conscious, the Caps organization pulled Malamud’s credential, he says, for criticizing Ovechkin and his former teammate, Semin.
“In the very beginning of my [Twitter] thread, I said this is Leonsis,” Malamud says. “These are the choices that he has made. Leonsis wants to create a certain image. Ask any beat writer who’s worked on the Caps for any period of time, they’ll tell you, it’s an extremely image conscious organization. Their messaging about their product, they’re very, very serious about it and they don’t tolerate criticism.”
“I’ve been threatened on Twitter and by emails by at least two different members of the Caps organization,” he says. “The first was when I criticized Semin and then when I criticized Ovechkin for his political statements. They are extremely serious about it and I’ve covered this team since 2002. I probably had more tenure with this team than anybody in that press box, but they pulled my credential because of that.”
Malamud insists he’s not on any sort of vendetta against Ovechkin or the Capitals organization, but rather, he feels it necessary to share the long-held opinion of many Russian reporters that’s been squashed stateside.
“This is the type of player he is,” Malamud says. “We’ve seen him since he was a teenager. I’ve seen him happy, I’ve seen him extremely sad, I’ve seen him mad, I’ve seen him dead-drunk — which probably covers the emotional range of most Russian males. I’ve seen him in many situations.”