In the clips thread on Sunday, November 20, I wrote that, in my opinion, you should never, ever, ever bench Alex Ovechkin for a full game. I am not alone in my thinking, but there appear to many (a vocal some?) that disagree.
I write this from three perspectives that I believe are relevant: a parent (two kids, 13 and 16), a former coach in youth sports (seven years of hockey, five of softball), and a boss at work (for 15 of the last 20 years). I've got some experience managing and trying to get the best out of people within various team dynamics.
Before I explain my thinking, allow me to add that, if Ovechkin is hurt or nicked up, he should be pulled from the line-up, even against his will. The Capitals need a healthy Ovechkin later in the season. There is no sense playing him hurt now and risking further damage.
Benching Ovechkin can and should only be viewed as a move for the long term. Pulling a player of the caliber of Ovechkin will not make the team better in the short term. If that was the case, then we'd be talking about cutting Ovechkin, trading Ovechkin, or sending him to Hershey. We aren't.
The proponents of benching Ovechkin for a full game and not just a shift cite two primary reasons.
Argument #1 -- Benching Ovechkin sends other players a message about accountability, resulting in better play and more success in the long term.
Argument #2 -- Benching Ovechkin sends him a message about accountability, resulting in better play and more success in the long term.
Neither, in my opinion, are valid for the simple reason that benching Ovechkin is a short term punishment with no long term repercussions. When you punish a child, a player, a worker, it should be the first step in progressive discipline. You need a plan, if the punishment doesn't work. The Redskins were willing to bench Donovan McNabb last season, because they didn't really care what he thought and were willing to part ways. The Capitals, I believe, feel similarly about Alex Semin. The Capitals do not feel the same way about Alex Ovechkin.
What happens, I ask, if you bench Ovechkin for a game, he returns, and still stinks? Do you bench him again? Are you prepared to move him in and out of the line-up like Perreault, to release, trade or send him down? Of course you aren't. This makes the benching an idle threat and worthless action.
When you send a child to a corner to think about what they've done, it almost always come with a clear threat that doing the same thing again will bring a greater punishment. When you write up an employee for poor performance, there is a clear threat of termination. With Ovechkin, there is no threat of anything.
And what does the benching say to the rest of the players? It reeks of desperation and says that management is willing to make the team worse off. You can't teach a lesson to NHL'ers. You can teach a lesson to PeeWees, for a loss there is a life lesson, not a livelihood. Even in PeeWee hockey, however, players want the best teammates out in critical situations. They want to win and don't care about punishments of the best players.
Furthermore, benching Ovechkin doesn't teach the other players accountability, because they also see the future. The Capitals cannot and will not gut their team by "teaching accountability" to multiple players simultaneously. They won't sit Hamrlik, Schultz, and Erskine simultaneously, because it makes the team worse, as the players who would replace them (barring a trade) are likely less talented and certainly more inexperienced.
I'm not blind to Ovechkin's challenges. Instead of benching, I think you take other steps. You call him out in post-game press conferences. You make him skate or stay for extra practice. You meet with him and extend an olive branch. You rely on players like Knuble to talk to him. These are things you can do that don't make the team worse, don't reek of desperation to the other players, and don't paint the team in a corner in the long term, like benching does.