Alex Ovechkin’s 34th birthday is around the corner, and his contract with Washington Capitals are expiring at the end of the 2020-21 National Hockey League season. These two factors are contributing to rumours that he might be retiring shortly, but Ovechkin is adamant that he is not ready to discuss his retirement just yet. He would, for now much instead focus on the time left at the Capitals and making that count for the team.

His Health a Determining Factor

An interview ignited all the rumours regarding his future in early August with the Russian news agency TASS news. Ovechkin stated during the meeting that he had two more years left on his contract and what would happen after that would depend on the state of his health. The captain of the Capitals gave his response from Beijing on the topic stating that the future will be discussed in about two years when his contract expires. He was in China where he is currently promoting the game, as an ambassador to the sport.

A Great Career of Brilliant Hockey

Ovechkin was the No. 1 pick during the NHL Draft in 2004. He is the 13th player in history to achieve 658 goals from 1 084 games. This season, if he has been able to secure 42 goals, he would become one of only eight players to obtain 700 goals in NHL. There was a time when Ovechkin stated that the all-time Gretzky goal record of 894 goals would never be broken, but now it seems that is precisely what he has his eye set on. Not only a dream but something which genuinely looks like a possibility now.

Even though he is playing in his 15th NHL season, he remains to keep in good shape and states that his health is excellent as well. Last season he was able to bring in 51 goals, making it the eighth season on his career where he exceeded the 50 goals per season benchmark.

Committed and Motivated

The fact that Ovechkin can maintain such a long NHL career is attributed to his offseason training. He remains focused and fit with practice sessions, even with his busy schedule. Even now, during his stay in China, he took Pavel Burlachenko, his trainer, along to keep him in shape.

He mentioned that it is difficult to find the time to train between being involved in hockey clinics and coaching and doing some sightseeing, but it had to be done, so they made a plan to accommodate practice within the schedule. He also states that at his age, he can’t cut done on the importance which training has in his career. Even though he scored more than 50 goals per season for three seasons in a row, he had a dip in his performance during the 2016-17 season. For now, it seems that fans can remain calm. Ovechkin is doing all he can to stay not only valid but truly great in NHL.

As with most sports on an international level, the calls for equal pay, opportunities and resources between men and women’s sports are also present in the National Hockey League. Their plea resulted in 200 women’s hockey players standing together in May with the threat that they won’t play in any professional league again in North America unless they receive the funding and resources required by professional hockey.

The Movement

Some great names in the sport back the movement to gain equality. They are Hilary Knight and Shannon Szabados, both Olympians. These women are placing their careers on the line and are fully aware that by joining the movement, they stand the chance of never playing professionally again. One of these women willing to risk it all is Katie McGovern, playing for Scottsdale.

Katie McGovern

McGovern is a graduate from Duluth, Minnesota. She was signed for the 2018-19 season with the Minnesota Whitecaps, and during this season she played 16 games. In her position as second-line centre, she managed six goals and achieved 11 points. This was the first year that the Minnesota Whitecaps were playing in the National Women’s Hockey League and they were able to lift the Isobel Cup. The joyous moment was short-lived since not long after winning, the movement was started to improve the league for younger generations of women to come. Their plan of action is to stay out of play for the coming season. The risk for the players is rooted in the fact that NHL contracts are awarded on a per-year basis. Hence many players had to decide whether they will join the movement or return to play.

The National Women’s Hockey League

During 2015-16 the league debuted. The first expansion which followed was when the Whitecaps were included, only in 2018. Further extensions were due to include Montreal and Toronto as well, but since the movement started, these plans are cancelled. When the league became aware of the movement’s announcements, it offered the ladies many allowances which included larger salaries. The players denied their offer and stated that the concerns which they have with the league are rooted deeper than only wages. According to McGovern, the female players also have an interest that the league doesn’t treat them like professional players. As professional players, one would expect that they would receive the necessary resources during the tournament. They had no pregame meals, skate laces or tape. The teams also had to take later flights to save on cost. They had no bus to transport the group and hence had to spend hours on airports and to wait for shuttles. Due to sponsorship, the Whitecaps had a trainer, but the other NWHL teams couldn’t afford a trainer either.

These are the concerns which the movement wants to rectify. They want to create a better future for younger females dedicated to promoting women’s hockey and whether they will be able to find an agreement with the league before it is too late, will still have to be revealed.

During his fruitful career of 15 seasons, Chris Kunitz held the Stanley Cup four times. Now he announced his retirement from playing and has been hired to assist with player development by the Chicago Blackhawks.

A Successful Professional Career

In 2003 Kunitz was undrafted and then signed with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim as a free agent. At that stage, he had 619 points from 268 goals and 351 assists. He played 1 022 games in National Hockey League for various teams. These included the Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks. During his career, he won 96 points from 27 goals and 66 assists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was part of the Stanley Cup Winning teams during his career at the Ducks in 2007 as well as with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, 2016 and also 2017. During last season Kunitz played 56 games for the Blackhawks ending up with 10 points from five goals and five assists. Except for the four Stanley Cups, Kunitz also received an Olympic Gold Medal playing for Canada in 2014. During the shortened lockout season of 2013, Kunitz was named for the All-Star team. He also finished 16th that year in the Hart voting and 14th in Selke voting. During 2017 he scored his most important goal during double-overtime during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. With this goal, he sent the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final. It was then when they defeated the Nashville Predators during six games.

The New Role

Head Coach for the Blackhawks, Jeremy Colliton, expressed his excitement to have Kunitz moving into his new career at the team. Not only does he feel that Kunitz is an extremely professional player, but also a valuable contribution in different regards. Colliton realized Kunitz’s potential to assist other younger players into growing into stars while coaching him in the previous season. He stood out as an asset in possible resource development of the team. He is looking forward to the contribution which Kunitz will be able to make to the lives of the players of Rockford.

Kunitz’s Farewell

Kunitz made use of his retirement announcement to express his gratitude for being fortunate enough to have such a great career. He also expressed his gratefulness towards the four great teams which taught him so much about professionalism in the game and the professional league. He felt that they didn’t only extend themselves to him, but also his children. He also mentioned the many coaches, trainers and managers whose work always exemplified the possibilities of the teams they were involved with. His fellow teammates were also mentioned. Kunitz started as a youngster in the league, but his teammates helped him grow into a player which he always dreamt of becoming. Through wisdom, humour and hard work, many friendships were formed.

In 2014, Mike Gillis was fired from the Vancouver Canucks. After many years of involvement in the sport as a former player, coach, executive agent and the lifelong student he considers himself to be, he took a five-year sabbatical from the game. This trained lawyer took it upon himself to study the success of other sports teams. He wanted to find out how they create cultures of winning and how they operated successfully, and now he is back with all his knowledge to share. In his successful career, Gillis was awarded GM of the Year in 2011; he also managed to build the winning teams of two Presidents’ Trophies. He made it clear that he is not interested in becoming a GM again.

A Journey to Expand Horizons

It seems that during this sabbatical, no trouble or effort was too much for Gillis to obtain his goal of getting as much knowledge as possible. This means that he travelled the globe to learn as much as possible. Gillis spent some time in Oregon at the Nike Sport Research Lab to learn more about cognitive awareness. He went off to Switzerland and the Campus BioTech, at the University of Michigan he participated in a business school, and he studied how KHL teams develop their players. He went to Spain, Australia and China and never stopped to research how other organizations in different cultures run their organizations successfully.

The Knowledge Obtained

The main lesson learned from his travels can be taken as the importance which other successful and modern teams put on their training environment, on a day-to-day basis. They follow a much more holistic approach towards the players and every moment is seen as crucial as part of the training, from the arrival of the player until the player departs again.

Another suggestion which Gillis feels can bring significant change within the leagues is how front offices are run. He thinks that the organizational structures need to change, and one of the ways this can be done would be through changing the workflow. Gillis is convinced that a GM has too much on his plate and shouldn’t have to oversee the entire operations department. If more people can share in the responsibility, it would ensure that GM’s don’t get worn out and then when they are tired, make poor decisions.

Another suggestion is to employ four assistants to the GM. This is much based on the models of many English elite soccer clubs. Having this structure allows for a group of people to be able to influence the club and not only having the entire responsibility rest on one person alone.

Gillis also made suggestions around the time of day when practice times are scheduled and so much more. He is very keen on sharing his knowledge and expertise, and it would be exciting to see what the future holds.