Alex Ovechkin’s commitment to hockey ‘a lot better than it was’, according to Capitals GM

Like nearly everyone associated with the Washington Capitals not named Olie Kolzig, GM George McPhee has done a soft-shoe around criticism of captain Alex Ovechkin.

When Kolzig infamously stepped up and said Ovechkin should "maybe not get wrapped up too much in the rock-star status that comes with being Alex Ovechkin," McPhee said that he didn't "disagree with anything that Olie said." That's about has harsh an indictment as you'll hear.

But that doesn't mean GMGM doesn't at least hint at criticism. In an interview with SportsTalk 980 in DC on Wednesday, McPhee discussed Ovechkin's return to form as both a lethal NHL scorer and in his conditioning.

Reading between the lines, the Capitals' GM indicates that Ovechkin's commitment to the game hasn't always been satisfactory.

Via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post's Sports Bog:

Late in the interview, McPhee said Ovechkin is close to "being a 50-goal guy again. You know what, every athlete has a stretch in their career where the year isn't as good as the other years. You can't have a great year every year, and not many do. He was off a little bit last year. I like the way he's going right now."

"His commitment to the game, you have no questions about?" Czaban asked.

"Um, well, it's a lot better than it was," McPhee answered. "He's in terrific shape right now. And guys do different things in the summer. Ovi's usually gotten by by just being a great athlete. Show up and play. And we've talked to him, that doesn't happen in this league. At some point it has to kick in, you have to train, and he's at 224 right now. And he hasn't been at 224 in a few years."

(Nothing like a story about conditioning accompanied by a photo of Ovechkin Cake, via his Twitter.)

Again, it's easier to find nuclear launch codes in Washington than on-the-record comments critical of Ovechkin's leadership or commitment. This wasn't a stinging indictment by McPhee — he put over his captain pretty well here, too — but it's an indication that the Capitals agree with their fans they need more from Ovechkin to thrive. That he's got to find a way to succeed.

In fact, that's exactly how Bruce Boudreau put it last November. He was fired 13 days later.