Murph’s Musings: Jets And Capitals Must Salvage Prime Years While They Can

Share
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

April 5 is a sad day for fans of the “Grunge” music era. On April 5, 1994 Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana took his own life just as the prime of music career and more importantly his life was beginning at the age of 27. Then on April 5, 2002, while not exactly still in his prime but way too young to leave this earth, Layne Staley the lead singer of  Alice In Chains was found dead of a drug overdose.

For rock fans in their late 30′s and early 40′s, both musicians and bands most definitely played a role in shaping your music taste and their songs bring back memories of high school and college days. I know for one when I woke up Saturday and read this brilliant column on Cobain by musician and National Post columnist Dave Bidini, I immediately went down memory lane to that tragic day in 1994 when news broke that Cobain was dead. I was sitting on the couch in the famous “Green House” on Sunset Ave. right across the street from the Southwest dorms on the UMass-Amherst campus. I was actually headed home that day to watch Cam Neely and the Bruins for a game at the old Boston Garden. That was the season that Neely — who was hampered by Myositis Ossificans — basically played on one knee and had to take every other game off. But he was still able to score 50 goals in just 44 games showing deprived Bruins fans just how good things could’ve been had he been healthy from 1991 when he suffered the injury that led to the deterioating condition. Neely would miss more and more games in the next two seasons and was forced to retire as a result in 1996 leaving him, the Bruins and their fans wondering what could’ve been?

Whether it was reading about Cobain and Staley this Saturday and subsequently thinking back to Neely and that magical season he had, it got me thinking about Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals as well as Evander Kane and the Winnipeg Jets. By no means am I putting Kane on the same level of Ovechkin, at least at this point, but both players and their teams are faced with similar crossroads right now. Will these two stars and their respective teams ever get the most out of the two players’ primes with the path their on? Ovechkin is well into his prime at 28 while Kane at 22 is still approaching the prime years. But the latter seems to be on a similar path of frustration as the former has experienced.

But the difference between the two stars right now is that while Ovechkin hasn’t won the Stanley Cup yet, he has lived up to the superstar status cast upon him when he entered the NHL in 2005 after being drafted first overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He is currently on the verge of his fifth 50-goal season, has won three Hart Trophies and has twice taken his team to within one game of the Eastern Conference finals. Critics can knock his defensive game all they want and point to his horrid plus-minus or lack of effort on some plays but the bottom line is that Ovechkin is one of the most skilled and passionate players of his generation and the reason that he and the Capitals haven’t hoisted the Stanley Cup yet or even made the finals lays more on management and ownership than on Ovechkin.

In the latest edition of “Murphy’s Hockey Law” (which can now be heard on XNsports.com) I posed the question to my colleague and good friend Conor McKenna of TSN 690 of whether part of what is expected to be a summer of major changes for the Capitals should they miss the playoffs, should be trading Ovechkin and starting over? I by no means support it but wondered what else can they do to get back on track and reach the promised land? Mckenna made some very valid points that I agree with, pointing to the coaching philosophies Ovechkin has had to play under and the surrounding cast he has had. Yes he has some skilled players like Mike Green or Nicklas Backstrom and now Evgeny Kuznetsov but more often than not he seems to be playing with third liners and not Backstrom. Furthermore as McKenna pointed out, wingers aren’t usually the cornerstones of franchises but rather centers, defensemen and goalies are. The Capitals haven’t exactly picked their goalies right have they? How’s that Seymon Varlamov guy doing these days in Colorado? Yes Green is the type of puck-moving and offensive-minded defenseman every team can use and that fits perfect with Ovechkin on the power play but where’s the complete defenseman that every Stanley Cup winner seems to have on their roster?

If the Caps miss the playoffs, owner Ted Leonsis is likely going to part ways with general manager George McPhee who has held the post since 1997. Head coach Adam Oates may just be shown the door as well giving the Capitals their fourth coach in as many seasons when a new one is hired. The onus now lies on Leonsis to back away from his blog and make sure he has the right hockey operations people in charge to not let Ovechkin’s prime years slip away without a taste of the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin is not the problem but he is not the solution either. Leonsis needs to find that solution ASAP!

The situation with Kane in Winnipeg though appears to be different than that of Ovechkin and the Capitals and talking to reporters that cover the team and those around the league it appears that as of now it is the Jets star player who may be the problem. Yes Kane reached the 30-goal mark in just his third season but unlike Ovechkin, he has been the beneificiary of management drafting and acquiring young talent to surround the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. On top of that, Kane has had some off-ice issues as well and is becoming more of a distraction than a help to an organization trying to make the playoffs for the first time since they moved to Winnipeg and only the second time in 13 seasons of existence counting their time in Atlanta.

Head coach Paul Maurice who was hired in January to replace Claude Noel, did a splendid job of turning things around in Winnipeg and getting more out of the young core that includes the ever-improving Blake Wheeler and other players starting to reach their potential and enter their prime. Maurice will likely be back and management will surely look to improve via free agency or trades but the best solution right now may be to trade Kane whose young age and potential hasn’t yet been ruined by his lack of production, attitude and off-ice issues. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff must now decide whether Kane’s prime years will ever happen in Winnipeg? Can he reach that potential as a Jet. Will he grow up on and off the ice and help his teammates like Wheeler that have entered their prime spend those years in the playoffs? Unlike the Capitals, the Jets are in a better position to trade their centerpiece and still let other key players continue their progression. While Ovechkin doesn’t necessarily have all the pieces he deserves around him, Kane does. But Kane doesn’t seem to want to take advantage of that so this will be a very interesting situation to watch come draft time in June.

James Murphy is a freelance reporter who also writes for NHL.com. He covered the Boston Bruins/NHL for last 11 seasons writing for ESPNBoston.com, ESPN.com, NHL.com, NESN.com, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine. Murphy also currently hosts “Murphy’s Hockey Law” (Saturdays 9-11 AM ET on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio and 4-6 PM ET on Websportsmedia.com. He is also a regular guest TSN 690 in Montreal and Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio.