Disaster may have been averted at the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Minsk, Belarus, as the apparent injury sustained by Alex Ovechkin in Russia's preliminary-round game against Germany is not believed to be serious.
According to Russian team staff, Ovechkin underwent an MRI Sunday after taking a direct hit to his right knee from Germany's Marcus Kink. The Washington Capitals star laid on the ice for a few minutes before being assisted off by team staff and putting no weight on his right leg. Ovechkin was reportedly transported to the hospital via ambulance where he received the MRI.
The good news is that the MRI showed no tears, though Ovechkin is still experiencing pain in his knee according to Russia's general manager Andrei Safronov.
"Sasha [Ovechkin] will definitely stay with the team. Even if he couldn't play he'd still be here. He's not just a part of this team, he's a leader.
"He's OK at the moment. There's some pain, but he's working with the doctors."
He also hinted that, although the final decision on the captain's availability would be made by the medical team, Oveckhin himself was determined to play.
"Knowing Sasha if there's even a five percent chance he can play, he'll want to be out there."
He may want to be out there, but the Capitals should be urging Team Russia that their own captain stay off the ice, even if it's for precautionary reasons. Washington has been extremely lenient when it comes to loaning Ovechkin, recognizing his status in his home country and the importance of his appearance at these events. The Capitals are the ones with the most to lose, however, if he does get hurt.
The Caps issued their own statement on Ovechkin's status on Monday.
Following our review of the available medical reports, Alex Ovechkin sustained a right leg injury during Team Russia's game versus Germany. This type of injury requires rest, but based on the current information provided, we are confident that Alex will be completely healthy prior to the start of training camp. We will continue to monitor his progress and request additional tests and medical information for our review. Once our medical staff receives and reviews that information, we will be able to make a better determination of the injury. We will share information with our fans as it becomes available.
The good news is that the injury is not serious, but that scare may be enough to force the Capitals to rethink loaning the 50-goal scorer in the future for the World Championship. Contracts are often insured at the expense of the national hockey federations, but that only helps offset some of the monetary losses. It can't replace the player on the ice.
In watching Ovechkin writhing on the ice, I was reminded of the 2008 World Championship when Team USA's captain Jeff Halpern suffered a ruptured ACL after a big hit in the tournament, requiring major surgery. Halpern's injury required 6-8 months of recovery time and he missed 30 games the following year for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Though not a star player, Halpern's injury in 2008 underscores the extreme risk a highly-competitive tournament at the end of a long NHL season these players are taking on.
Imagine the league being without Ovechkin for a 30-game stretch because of an injury sustained outside of the NHL. The North American meltdown over it would be severe, as it nearly was Sunday.
The NHL as a whole may rethink how they participate in the IIHF World Championship. It is a valuable event and extremely popular in Europe. Barring players outright would likely not go over well with the European players and fans in particular, but if the NHL were to better regulate who can go or set certain criteria to best protect its players, that wouldn't be a bad compromise
With the NHL's participation in future Olympics still up in the air and the reported desire to have more NHL-controlled international events on the schedule, the Ovechkin scare could be considered a flashpoint in the NHL's relationship with international hockey as a whole.
This will be interesting to watch going forward.
Either way, the Capitals can breathe a little easier believing Ovechkin's injury is not as bad as initially feared. With the team still seeking a general manager and head coach, that would have been one overwhelming headache to deal with.