Ovechkin: 'There will always be critics'
Washington Capitals captain chats in his native Russian on Malkin, Putin, offseason
This story appears in the Dec. 12, 2011, "Interview Issue" of ESPN The Magazine.
Editor's note: This interview was translated from Russian and conducted prior to the firing of Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau and the return of Sidney Crosby.
ESPN: I know you speak English very well. But I'd like to ask you questions in Russian.
Alex Ovechkin: Oh. (Sighs) Excellent.
ESPN: Have you ever thought about playing in the KHL?
AO: In the league, no. I have a contract. I'm happy with everything here.
ESPN: But have you thought about it?
AO: Well, I'll play out my contract, and we'll see what will happen.
ESPN: In the last year of your contract you will be 36 years old. How will Ovechkin play at 36?
AO: I don't know how I'm going to play tomorrow. (Laughs) I never look forward. I live for today. And if you think about what's going to happen in a year, in two years, then you begin to plan. And plans never come true.
ESPN: Is the success of the KHL important to you?
AO: Well, of course. It's my native league. I played in it too, and my team plays there, my friends. If there's no league, many hockey players will be out of work. The growth of the KHL is a very important aspect for the development of Russian sports.
ESPN: Should the best players be playing in the NHL?
While Alex Ovechkin has struggled this season, his dominance is clearly illustrated with a new stat from ESPN Insider's Neil Greenberg. According to the Clutch Performance Indicator, Ovechkin has been the NHL's most pivotal player since 2007-08. See how the rest of the league's stars stack up, and who makes this season's top 10.
AO: Everyone makes their own choice about where they want to play. I want to play here. If I wanted to play there, I wouldn't have come here in the first season when I was 19 years old.
ESPN: You and Evgeni Malkin have raised money for the families of the players of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl [who perished in a plane crash], right?
AO: We have. I think each player had some kind of relationship with the guys, and has made some donations. It's a difficult situation.
ESPN: You and Malkin are friends again, I see. How did your feud start? You punched his agent in a club in Moscow?
AO: Yes, that's right. But that was a long time ago.
ESPN: Let's talk about your rivalry with Sidney Crosby. What do you think about his extended absence from hockey?
AO: It's a pity, of course, that he's not playing now. Because I think he's one of the best players in the league right now. May God grant him healing, and that everything will be fine. As I said before, I never plan what will happen in the future. You don't know what will happen. You go out tomorrow, you could get body-checked and you can be in the same situation as Crosby. But that's hockey, that's life.
ESPN: You're waiting for his return?
AO: Yes. I go to sleep and I pray that he will come back.
ESPN: You're known for taking offseason trips to places like Turkey. But Caps fans see pictures of you smoking a hookah and partying in clubs. Not to mention those photos where you had a bit of a stomach ...
AO: I have it now. (Pats his stomach. Laughs.)
ESPN: Fans are worried that you're not taking care of your body. What's your offseason regimen?
AO: The season is long. When I'm off, I try to distract myself from hockey. I don't do anything for four weeks. I rest. If you train 12 months a year, you won't have any strength for the important games.
ESPN: In the summer in Moscow, you appeared in a rap video by Sasha Bely, "Champion." How did this come about?
AO: We had sung karaoke together a few times, and we came up with the idea to record a song. He told me that he had a song and he asked me to sing one verse. We gave it a try, and I sang alright, and it turned out well.
ESPN: Are you a good rapper?
AO: I'm as good a rapper as Eminem is a hockey player.
ESPN: I heard that you have Vladimir Putin's home phone number. How often do you call him?
AO: Actually, I don't have his number. But I would like to have it.
ESPN: How is he, as a person?
AO: Well, I think he is the future president of Russia. And he's a clever man, a man who knows how to conduct himself, and he has the full respect of the Russian people.
ESPN: You have an interesting relationship with your coach, Bruce Boudreau. He is often criticized for having special relationships with talented players like yourself. However, at the end of the [Nov. 1] game against Anaheim, he benched you. The cameras caught your commentary about his weight. What kind of relationship do you have with Boudreau?
AO: We have an excellent relationship. But it's a working environment. It always feels that way. If we're not pushing each other, we won't be satisfied and there won't be any results. I think it's normal. Of course, it was regrettable that the cameras filmed it all. But again, this is a working moment.
ESPN: Many people have criticized Boudreau, especially after last year's HBO series, for being tactically naive. How would you defend your coach against this criticism?
AO: There will always be critics. On one hand, criticism can be positive. On the other hand, criticism can be negative. But critics will always be watching the game. If you listen to everybody, you can go crazy. I have my own point of view, and I always try to keep it.
ESPN: You saw how your teammate Jay Beagle was knocked out by Arron Asham earlier this season. This incident, along with the deaths of a couple of enforcers in the offseason has led to a discussion of banning fighting from the NHL. What's your position?
AO: Fighting is necessary in hockey. But if you fight, you have to choose your partner carefully. If you're an experienced player and you want to fight, you can't choose a player who has never fought in his life.
ESPN: I've heard that you are the most eligible bachelor in Washington. Is this true?
AO: No comment.
ESPN: How do you spend time with girls?
AO: I have a girlfriend. That's all. I won't say anything more.
ESPN: Who is more aggressive -- an American or a Russian woman?
AO: Well, again, it depends on what. Americans have a different mentality than Russians, both men and women. Therefore, there is no point comparing.
ESPN: Could you see yourself with an American girl?
AO: Anything can happen. For now, I can't predict these events.
ESPN: The Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup. Since you've been on the team, the Caps have experienced disappointment in the playoffs more than once. Why should we believe in you and in Caps?
AO: Well, as they say, you can believe, or you cannot believe, but we do everything possible to win. Therefore, we are here for one purpose, to get into the playoffs and make it through the first, the second round ...
Brett Forrest is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine. Interview conducted Nov. 7, 2011