Peter Laviolette may be out as the head coach of the Washington Capitals anymore but that doesn’t mean he has stopped his praise of Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. In fact, perhaps some time to reflect on leaving DC has made the veteran bench boss even fonder of The Great Eight.
That was on full display as Laviolette sat down with former NHL player Cam Janssen and St. Louis Blues reporter Andy Strickland for an over hour-long interview on the Cam & Strick Podcast.
Laviolette was first asked how he balanced coaching a player trying to chase down one of the most prestigious records in professional sports with winning and trying to make the playoffs. He says that was a complete non-issue.
“In three years, never once was it about Ovi scoring goals,” Laviolette said. “Never once was it for Ovi about that. He is not like that. Does he want to score goals? He does and I’m glad he does and he’s really good at what he does. It was never like that. This is my first chance to really get to know Ovi. I knew him before but I think when you work with somebody you really get to know them. I have so much respect for him as a person, as a player, and for the way he plays the game.”
Lavy then went about trying to frame the sort of insane career that Ovechkin has had and continues to have. He used some pretty legendary names from around sports to prove his point. Think some of the greatest sports heroes in American culture and then the guys that are better than those guys.
“If you think about what he’s going to do in his career there’s a chance that he’ll be the number one guy in goals – he’s going to be probably top three in hits,” Laviolette started. “And, when he hits, I mean he hits. He is a physical, physical presence on the ice. He’s a good person. I loved working with him. I had lots of great times with him. I was able to coach him. He’s just a really good person and I enjoyed every single minute.
“I’ll look back at my career and there will be things that I’ll say I was really happy I was able to do this or able to do that,” he continued. “I was really happy to be able to work with him for three years. And, that’s the truth. He’s like Muhammad Ali. He’s like Tom Brady. He’s like Babe Ruth. When he’s done, I think he’s going to break a record that nobody thought could be broken or would be broken and you wouldn’t know it if you talked to him.”
As things currently stand, Ovechkin sits fourth in NHL history in hits with 3,471. Only two players ahead of him are still active in the league and they are New York Islanders forwards Matt Martin (3,703) and Cal Clutterbuck (3,756).
Ovi sits just 72 goals behind Wayne Gretzky for the all-time goals lead, but that impressive physical side of his game, that is perhaps less talked about, is what Laviolette harped on most.
“There’s hitters,” Laviolette said. “There’s guys that know how to track and know how to hit. Ovi hits. And then there’s guys that just hit. They go up and rub into somebody. And, he does not do that. He goes through you, man. There’s a lot of speed behind it, there’s a lot of muscle behind it, there’s a lot of power behind it. It’s physical. I got a lot of respect for Ovi. I really enjoyed our time.”
The only thing that seemingly could possibly stop Ovechkin in his chase of Gretzky is his health and age regression. The 37-year-old forward missed five games due to injury last season and has missed 14 games due to various ailments since April of 2021. That’s notable because he has only missed 32 games due to injury in his entire career.
“His health is good,” Laviolette said reassuringly. “I think through the course of the season everybody gets banged up. There’s times where he’s sore but I’ll tell you what, he plays through a lot. Because of the way he plays the game, you guys see it, the way he skates and the way he hits, it takes a toll on your body. He does everything he can to possibly be in the lineup every night. On a percentage, he practices 90 to 95 percent of the time. There’s a day when he’s played three games in four nights, he was physical, and he says, ‘I need a minute for this to let up. This is bugging me, I need it to let up.’ He goes out and he works hard in practice. He was awesome.”
With Laviolette gone, Ovechkin will start the 2023-24 campaign under his eighth head coach as a member of the Caps. The two may still see a lot of each other though as Laviolette is definitely not done coaching yet and could join a Metropolitan rival’s bench as soon as this summer.
Laviolette has reportedly interviewed for the New York Rangers’ open head coaching position and is seen as a finalist for the Columbus Blue Jackets job as well.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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