Alex Ovechkin was awarded his third Hart trophy on Saturday night, a feat accomplished by only eight other NHL legends: Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke, Eddie Shore, and Howie Morenz. Fine company for Ovi, a point not lost on our friends in Canada.
Speaking to The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera on Saturday night, Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates heaped a truckload of praise on the Capitals captain for his willingness to change positions, especially after playing on the left side his entire career in the NHL and Russia.
“We’re talking about a guy who won the award twice as the best player in the world [as a left wing], and he was willing to change his game, his position, his security blanket for the organization,” Oates said. “He believed in it enough that it would help him, and for the good of the organization he took a shot at it. He didn’t have to, but he did, and that’s why I’m glad he got rewarded. He checked his ego at the door to do that.”
One month into the season, the Capitals had the worst record in the NHL while Ovechkin struggled to adjust to the change. At times, the Russian machine seemed lost, crashing into Marcus Johansson and Wojtek Wolski. He even played alongside fourth liners Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb, the latter of whom spent the final part of the season in the American Hockey League.
But once Ovechkin got acclimated (and reunited with Nicklas Backstrom), his season turned magical, with 23 goals in his final 23 games to capture both the Richard and Hart trophies.
Early on Sunday morning, Ovechkin spoke to reporters from his hometown of Moscow. Here’s his entire discussion with reporters.
What does this Hart Trophy mean to you compared to the previous two awards you won?
This means a lot. It’s means, again, it was a hard year for me, for all the Caps in organization because it was middle of the year. I went to the right wing. It was especially hard for me. You know, it works.
Again, first of all, how I said on Twitter, thanks to everybody, thanks to my teammates, my coaching staff, my family.
Again, it’s big pleasure for me to have this award. You know, it means a lot. I think I’m pretty happy. It means a lot.
Alex, I talked to Adam a little bit this week and last night after your win. He talked about now that you’re on top, it can be easier to keep working to get better. Do you feel that way? How do you want to improve your game?
100% I feel I’m back on track, especially with him. Last night I called him right away. He was the first person I called after my family, of course. Then I talked to George [McPhee] after that.
I told him, “Thank you very much.” I’m just happy because, again, it’s history. It means a lot for me. It’s history. It’s kind of situation when sometimes you’re upstairs, going down, because coaching staff, was different system.
Again, I’m just happy. How can I improve my game? I tell Adam I’m going to go along with you starting the first day. I tell him, “I trust you.” He said, “Okay, just listen to me and you are going to be okay.” I listened to him. Right now almost — I’m okay.
Of course, I just want to be in position. I still want to play hockey. I look at the series, I just want to be right there to play for Stanley Cup. You win, you win. But sometimes you lose some.
I think I win this one and we lose Stanley Cup. Again, situation, it can be different. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
I’m pretty happy right now. I’m going to work hard. Again, it’s a pleasure. I’m pretty happy.
Alex, we talked about the right wing. You credited Adam. Do you think you would have won the MVP if you had not switched to right wing?
First of all, it’s pretty hard to say if I win, if not. Switching position was pretty hard for me. The situation, I kind of go back to left wing. We tried to find the best way for me.
Again, it’s all about Oatesy. Oatesy tell me you have to do it. I talk before. If situation was working left wing, it was work. But situation on the right wing, power play, of course it’s a different position.
Of course, it’s my work, but it’s all about everybody, you know, coaching staff, my partners, everything. Right wing was hard, but it’s working. So I’m pretty glad. I’m pretty happy.
How is the foot healing?
Foot is okay. Right now I’m working fine. I’m going to start playing tennis soon. I’m going to be in good shape.
Maria right now, she’s out of town. I’m going there and I’m working. It’s kind of getting better, so I feel pretty good about my foot.
Regarding the switch to right wing, how much better do you think things will go for you next year now that you had that 48-game season to work out all the kinks and get familiar on that side?
Well, the whole position, you know what, I play in KHL, and I play in the left wing. Since I came back to NHL, Adam put me on the right wing.
If something happens, something bad happens, I always can go back to left wing and play there. The good thing is nothing bad happened and I always play on right wing.
It’s kind of position, you understand you have to be there for you, to switch the positions, to change at the end, change your style, play for team. Adam tells me everything. It’s all about Adam. I can tell about like everything. If it was not him, I never go to right wing and I never go to that kind of position I have right now. It’s unbelievable.
Again, right wing is right wing, and I’m pretty happy.
How much did the foot fracture affect you at the end of the playoffs? How much of a factor were any other injuries that you had during the year?
Well, to be honest with you, I never knew I had broken my foot until after World Championship, first of all. I blocked a shot. The puck broke my foot. I never ask if I hurt something. I just play the game because it’s the playoffs. It doesn’t matter what happen. You have to be there and you have to play the best that you can.
After losing Game 7, coming back, I come back from Russia, my Russian national team, we took an MRI and show I have a broken foot.
The position, I was feeling like it was okay. I can still play hockey. If you hockey player, if you play for Stanley Cup, doesn’t matter what happens, you just going to play. You can see right now how many players from L.A., Detroit make a surgery right now because they play with injury.
You play for Stanley Cup. That’s it.
Another injury question. George said you were dealing with some other injuries during the regular season. How much pain were you playing through during the regular season?
Well, it was major. It was major problem. I don’t know how many games I missed for all my NHL career with injury. Probably like maybe 10, maybe 12, I don’t know.
But I know [they have] made me have some injection and I know I can play. I’m never going to say, “I’m not going to play.” It’s not my style.
It’s good when you have kind of trainers like we have in Washington. They treat me well. They understand all my bodies, they know all my bodies. They know you a team bodies.
If I feel bad, of course they’re not going to put me on the ice. But situation was like that. If I have a major injury, I’m never going to say, I’m not going to play. If I can play, hold my stick, if I can skate, of course I’m going to play.
I feel pretty good all year. It’s thanks for them.
How much pride do you take in playing through injuries?
Again, it’s just injuries. You know, if you hockey player, you can play, you’re going to play. It was the same position like me. If I have some major injury, I’m not going to say I can’t play it. I’m not that kind of person. I’m not the type of person that says, Sorry, guys, I can’t play, I have to be ready for next game. I’m going to play. Everybody knows that.