Ovechkin's chat, team auctions, and the NHL's little town flirt

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Coach Bruce Boudreau has Alex Ovechkin's ear about being a better leader. (Mark Goldman/Icon SMI)


By Stu Hackel

Reading the item today that The Washington Post's Tariq El-Bashir wrote for the paper's hockey blog about Alex Ovechkin's new desire to be a better, more serious captain and leader reminded me of when a downcast Steve Yzerman approached Scotty Bowman after Detroit was defeated by the Devils in the 1995 Stanley Cup Final. Yzerman asked for Bowman's advice about how he could become a champion. That turned out pretty well for Stevie Y, Scotty and Hockeytown fans. It doesn't necessarily mean that Ovie will be holding the Stanley Cup as the Capitals parade through the streets of DC next June, but it does signal a new, more mature player who is willing to change for the benefit of his team.

Back in '95, Yzerman had an impressive array of stats on the back of his hockey card, but he had not won the Cup. There were questions about his ability to really be a leader and whispers that he was more concerned with piling up points than putting his team first. He had butted heads with Bowman, who wanted more responsible two-way play from him, and there were rumors that Scotty was ready to have him traded, with Ottawa as Yzerman's destination.

But Yzerman sought out Bowman for a talk and thus began a new era as Yzerman sacrificed numbers for victories and, starting with the Cup win in 1997, the Red Wings became the most successful NHL club of recent times. Yzerman often credited Bowman for teaching him and his teammates learn what it took to become winners.

In the case of Ovie, he sought out Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau in July for a similar sit-down. “He asked, 'What do I have to do? What do you want me to do?' He threw out some ideas,” Boudreau told El-Bashir. It's not an exact parallel to Bowman-Yzerman. For one thing, by all accounts, Ovechkin and Boudreau have an excellent relationship; for the first couple of years, the Bowman-Yzerman relationship was strained. But what the Wings may have lacked in on-ice dedication to a team concept, the Caps have lacked in perhaps fostering too-chummy an atmosphere around the club. Boudreau has long been perceived as a players' coach, and not much for cracking the whip except as a last resort. No one would confuse him with Scotty Bowman. And Ovie has apparently functioned similarly as a captain, unwilling to get in the faces of his teammates if they need their faces gotten into.

While Boudreau wasn't long on providing specifics, El-Bashir believes the coach asked Ovie to be more assertive and vocal with the Caps, and less concerned about hurting feelings. “The whole leadership role is taking on a different [meaning] to him now,” Boudreau said. “It's hard sometimes to go up there and criticize your teammates.

“His English is getting better," Boudreau added. "His knowledge of North America is getting better. That's going to have an effect. They'll follow his lead.”

Ovechkin also is training more seriously this offseason, obviously hoping to return to the scoring levels he reached before last season when he always hit or approached the 50-goals and 100-points plateaus and was one of the top vote-getters for the Hart Trophy. Unlike the situation with Yzerman, it probably wouldn't serve the Caps well for Ovie to cut back his scoring further for the sake of team defense. But a little sacrificing elsewhere might be in order -- and it makes you wonder if the recent chat might portend a different demeanor for lovable Bruce Boudreau as well.

SALES DEPARTMENT: Of the three NHL clubs currently in the process of changing owners -- Dallas, St. Louis and Phoenix -- the Stars seem to be the furthest along, but actually may not be.

Tom Gaglardi has a "stalking horse bid" in for the Stars and is going through lots of legalities and financial hoops to secure the loans needed to make his bid official. As Mike Heika blogging for The Dallas Morning News wrote earlier today, the current world financial turmoil is apparently slowing that process down. After it is all completed, Gaglardi's bid goes in front of a bankruptcy judge. From there, others who are interested in buying the Stars can make competing bids. Heika's information is that the soonest the bankruptcy hearing will take place is in September, and if another bidder (or two or three) exceeds Gaglardi's bid by $10 million, an auction would ensue, pushing the timetable even further back.

Heika adds that this information is contrary to what Robert Caporale of Game Plan LLC, the group that was hired to sell the Blues, told Jeremy Rutherford of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for his story on Wednesday, namely that the Stars' sale "is going to happen any day." Caporale's interest in the Stars' sale stems from his claim that two of the parties looking to buy the Stars would supposedly move quickly to buy the Blues if their hopes in Dallas were dashed.

Game Plan is has set a deadline of Aug. 22 to receive non-binding offers from potential bidders, but judging from Heika's post, those two Dallas bidders best not wait on the disposition of the Stars sale if they're serious about getting a bid down on the Blues.

As for St. Louis, Rutherford reported that Game Plan sent 10 invitations to bid to parties who expressed interest in buying the club.

"We'll review (the offers), make judgments, make comparisons and then we'll go back to everyone and give them a reaction to their proposal," Caporale said. "We don't want to slow down the process, but until we get these detailed proposals, it's hard to predict how long it will take to get a binding contract with a buyer. But we hope that we could get it done within a couple of weeks" after the bids are received.

That seems like a very optimistic timetable, given how long and drawn out these sales can be, including having the league review the offer. The goal is apparently to get a new buyer in front of the NHL Board of Governors for its Sept. 20 meeting or, failing that, the December meeting.

In case you're interested, in their pieces Heika and Rutherford identify some of the suspected bidders for the two franchises.

Speaking of long and drawn out, the Coyotes' sale of the century (it seems to be taking that long) does not seem near resolution. Blogging for The Arizona Republic, Lisa Halverstadt reported on Monday that Mike Nealy, the team's chief operating officer, said that he's still talking to two prospective buyers, but would not identify them other than to say they "aren't new to the sporting world, but they don't want their names out there as they work out details."

Halverstadt writes that these parties may be named when Glendale City Council returns from its summer break; they have a workshop next Tuesday and a regular meeting on Aug. 23. But Mike Sunnucks of The Phoenix Business Journal reported late Thursday that one group is Canadian-based, led by a minority owner of an NHL franchise, and their bid involves "a seven-year out clause that would allow the new owners to sell and/or move the team out of Arizona if market conditions do not improve." (And thanks to Paul Kukla of Kukla's Korner for posting that link.)

The other group? Fan blogger Jodan Ellel of Five For Howling writes, "It has been widely speculated that one group is led by the seemingly ever-present Jerry Reinsdorf."

No kidding. Jerry Reinsdorf. What a surprise. This franchise's stalking horse who seemingly has no intention of ever running in this race, Reinsdorf is the NHL's version of redheaded comic book high-schooler Archie Andrews, who has flirted for 70 years with Veronica and Betty and never popped the question to either one, taking us all for Jugheads.