There are a lot of superstar athletes out there that can wow a crowd or inspire a city with their play on the ice. However, when it comes to superstar athletes, who are also superstar people, there are far less. Vermont is just lucky enough to have one of the best in John LeClair.
There should be no doubt that the Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin can dominate a game of hockey. Leading the NHL with 38 goals this season, Ovechkin continues to put up impressive offensive numbers in guiding the Capitals to the brink of yet another playoff appearance.
Although finding a forward with a knack for putting the puck in the back of the net is on the top of most G.M’s to-do list, NHL squads must constantly evaluate just how valuable such a player is to the overall depth of the roster and whether they can shoulder the superstar contract that eats up valuable space under the $71.1 million salary cap.
Since Ovechkin inked his 13 year, $124 million deal to remain a Capital, he has eaten away approximately $9.5 million per year in cap space. This salary, which is the third highest in the league, behind only the Penguins’ Sydney Crosby and Nashville’s Shea Weber, equates to Ovechkin being compensated approximately $120,000 for each of the 76 points that he produced during his 2013-14 regular season.
With these figures in mind, the question now becomes whether Washington can continue to devote over 13 percent of their total cap space each year to an aging Ovechkin, who will turn 30 in September of this year.
As the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings exhibited last year, defense and goaltending can be a formula for playoff success. With the Capitals focusing so many of their resources on their front line, it becomes clear as to why the Capitals have not been able to break past the Conference Semi-Finals during Ovechkin’s Capital career.
This year appears to be no different as the Capitals currently sit at 21st in the league in goals allowed per contest at 2.79, while other Stanley Cup contenders sit at half a goal per game better or, in the LA Kings and Boston Bruin’s cases, even more.
Although Ovechkin may age better than other forwards who rely more on speed then their size, Ovechkin’s athletic peak has arrived. It will now become the most important decision of the Capitals’ front office to determine whether or not to stay with Ovechkin for seasons to come, or to maintain some value in building for the future by dealing Ovechkin to a team that is looking to win now.
If this season ends for the Caps like all the ones before; several big plays short of a Stanley Cup appearance, this decision may likely come sooner than many Capital fans think. With the amount of money Ovechkin commands, it may simply not make sense to keep on one star who can only do so much, while several younger stars may produce so much more for the long term value of the Capitals’ franchise.
There are no athletes who stand taller in the eyes of Vermonters then their own homegrown superstar, John LeClair. Born in the small northern town of Saint Albans, Vermont, LeClair did not travel the route that many talented Vermont hockey players do, transplanting to out-of-state preparatory schools in order to prepare them for a run at the NHL.
For LeClair, he stayed close to home, playing at his local BFA-Saint Albans high school team and then accepting a scholarship to play at the University of Vermont. After just one season with the Catamounts, LeClair was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the 1987 entry draft, showing the value NHL teams placed on the 6-foot-three-inch forward’s ability to produce solid offensive numbers.
Despite being labeled as a potential NHL star early in his career, LeClair stayed humble, continuing to produce for the Catamounts despite battling several injuries. His Catamount career was capped by a brilliant 20 goal, 25 assist, in 33 games played Senior season.
What followed LeClair’s college career was a formidable 17 year run in the NHL, accumulating four first team All-Star selections and two team USA Olympic appearances.
However, despite all of his worldwide accolades, John LeClair has never lost sight of his Vermont roots. After LeClair hung up his skates for the last time at the end of his 2006-07 season with the Pittsburg Penguins, he continued to come back to Vermont to give back to the State that raised him. The John LeClair Foundation, which works to provide grants to non-profit organizations that service children in Vermont, serves as the prime example of the type of role model LeClair is to the Vermont community at large.
Although many outside the State will point to LeClair’s five season stretch where he scored 40 plus goals with the Philadelphia Flyers as the bright spot of his career, those who know LeClair best, will point to his annual fundraising golf tournament in Saint Albans or his numerous visits to child facilities across the State to bring some cheer to those less fortunate as LeClair’s crowning achievements.
Aggressive and effective fore-checking serves as the backbone for any NHL team’s offensive success.
When one thinks of the ideal NHL player that fills the role of a great fore-checker, big bodies like the Coyotes 6-foot-one 223 pound Shane Doan or the Ducks’ six-foot-two-inch, 208 pound Ryan Kesler come to mind. Physical forwards like Kesler and Doan mostly utilize their sheer strength and ability to use their large bodies to control the boards when the puck is in the attacking third of the ice.
However, when it comes to those players who fly under the radar as providing a solid fore-check presence, few may fly so low as the Rangers’ Martin St. Louis, a forgetfulness that St. Louis makes a living off.
At 5-foot-eight-inches, St. Louis has never intimidated defenseman with his physical presence. However, the Quebec native uses every inch of his frame to size up larger defenders when they are playing with their heads in the boards. Although St. Louis will not regularly stand up defenders, a strategy regularly employed by larger forwards, he will instead use his lower center of gravity and quick hands to attack the defender inside their arms, making it very difficult for the defender to stay on top of the puck.
Large fore-checkers will often focus on causing their opponent to lose possession of the puck, which results in a 50/50 battle ensuing between the forward and the defender. For St. Louis, his focus falls more on gaining possession of the puck as a direct result of his fore-check. This approach has led to numerous scoring opportunities for St. Louis and his teammates, as their defense transitions to offense almost instantaneously from when the puck first touches St. Louis’ stick.
Through 49 games played this year, it is apparent that St. Louis’ style of play has stood the test of time. At the ripe age of 39, St. Louis has scored 14 goals and dished out 23 assists, putting him on a pace that could result in his ninth 40-plus assist regular season in his 17 year NHL career.
As the Rangers march toward the playoffs for a fifth straight season, there is no question as to St. Louis value. This value was no more apparent than in the Rangers 2014 run to the Stanley Cup Finals after rallying from two games down to the Pittsburgh Penguins to win in seven games. The turning point for the inspiring play of the Rangers was fueled by the team rallying around St. Louis after his mother passed away, a tribute to what St. Louis means to the team after joining the Rangers just prior to the trade deadline in 2014.
Every NHL pundit knows that the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash likes to shoot. Blue line, face- off circle, point blank, it doesn’t matter, give Nash some space and he will find a way to put the puck on goal.
Although this mindset has led to a fair amount of past success for the 6-foot-two-inch forward, 220 pound forward, the numbers Nash is putting up this year, have never been seen before in his 12 year NHL career.
At the All-Star break Nash leads the NHL with 28 goalsthrough 44 games while also dishing out 15 assists. His dominance of the offensive side of the ice has lead the Rangers to a combined 16-5 record through the months of December and January to date, after they struggled to stay at the .500 mark through the first two months of the season.
The transcendence of Nash has given the defensive minded Rangers, who scored a mere 2.56 goals per contest on their way to the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Finals, a multidimensional approach to beating teams. In the 2013-14 season, the Rangers relied heavily on All Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to keep them in most games until their offense was able to find the net just enough to win. However, as the 2014 Stanley Cup matchup with the heavily favored LA Kings showed, the Rangers were exposed for their less than inspired offensive performance, blowing two goal leads in the first two contests and scoring a grand total of zero third period goals on their way to a five game defeat at the hands of the Kings.
Although last year’s disappointment may still be in the back of Ranger’s fans’ heads, their 134goals scored to date, which is well ahead of last year’s season total of 218, has given fans a ray of offensive hope that when playoff time comes around, they will no longer have to rely on 45 save performances by Lundqvist to win games when they matter the most.
The center piece for this optimism is Nash, who has not only given the Rangers a much needed physical presence in front of the net, but also his ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates by virtue of his 162 shots on goal. These shots not only find the back of the net with regularity as evinced by Nash’s 17.3 shooting percentage, but also create rebound opportunities for Ranger speedsters like Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin who feed off of these rebounds when the Rangers are in odd man breaks.
Nash holds the keys to success for the Rangers second half push to the Cup. If his numbers match those of the first half, NHL fans should be put on alert that Cup contenders will need to navigate the bright lights of New York, and the strong wrist of Nash, if they are to stake their claim for NHL glory.