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After Alex Ovechkin scored his 700th career goal, the NHL’s best were out en masse to celebrate him.

“If I would be Wayne Gretzky, I would be shaking right now,” Jaromir Jagr (766 goals) said in a pre-game video feature bejewelled by stars. “Because I think you going to beat him.”

Gretzky seemed to agree. He praised the Russian and then said, “I’ll be there saying the same thing when you get to 800.”

That was four years and a lot of geopolitics ago.

Ovechkin got to 800 a couple of years later. Gretzky was not there, virtually or otherwise. Nor was anyone else who mattered. The celebration was a purely Washington Capitals affair. Anything to do with Ovechkin is now a fandom that dare not speak its name.

You head over to his official Instagram and, yes, it’s still Ovechkin standing beside Vladimir Putin flashing a V for victory.

This guy either doesn’t get it, doesn’t care or does in both instances and has an agenda. None of those options show well on hockey.

This has turned Ovechkin into a new kind of sports celebrity – the all-timer in the midst of achieving his legacy who cannot be promoted.

In baseball, it’s bad. In hockey, it’s crippling.

The NHL’s entire marketing strategy is connecting the past to the present. You will hear more in Montreal about players who have died than anyone still breathing in a Canadiens jersey. Pushing mandatory retirement, Gretzky is still the game’s most reliable brand.

No league anywhere leans more on ‘You remember when X happened?’ to drive interest in the current product.

That’s because hockey can’t reliably create stars. The ingredients are there – athleticism, youth, good nature, viciousness, but the players just don’t have that mojo.

Six months ago, Connor Bedard was going to slap the electrical paddles on the NHL and wake the league up. Quick – what’s he doing right now? You have no clue.

Bedard has done what most new hockey stars do – disappear into the league’s wallpaper. Just another jobbing pro. Just another rookie who understands his place. We may see him again when the Chicago hockey team is good, or not.

Ovechkin had that mojo. He had so much of it that he let Sidney Crosby borrow a little. He put Crosby over his shoulder and fireman carried him into a rivalry that never really existed, but was great for promotion.

Who is this generation’s Ovechkin versus Crosby? No one. On paper, that rivalry still exists, though both guys are coming up on 40 and their teams are barely roadworthy.

Hockey can no longer even get the benefit of playing Russians against Canadians/Americans for patriotic tingles. Too Don Cherry. Too close to reality.

Whatever mojo Ovechkin once had, it’s gone. Age is part of it. Hockey players are meant to mellow into their golden years. The sort of guy who would once stick you in the face for making eye contact is now inviting the rookies over for Christmas breakfast. In the NHL, the old are meant to grow gentle.

Ovechkin can’t do that because no one wants to cuddle up to a guy who’s good pals with the new Pol Pot. Nobody finds his “Russian machine never breaks” shtick charming any more.

He can’t do lengthy sit-downs or make funny YouTube videos. Too risky – for him and the league. Whenever he gets outside his hockey lane, people are going to start yelling at him about Ukraine.

He is Russia’s proxy in the North American entertainment business. So all he can do now is keep quiet and score goals. He plays. He’s still good. The commissioner will even praise him – “a joy to watch,” Gary Bettman said not so long ago.

But that’s it. No ad campaigns. No late-night chat shows. No lineups of former greats out there telling everybody what a prince of a man he is. All the usual stuff the NHL does for its living legends is out the window.

There was a moment early this year when the NHL must have thought the problem was solving itself. Ovechkin wasn’t scoring. He looked miserable. The Capitals looked worse. Maybe Gretzky was safe. But no.

Right now, Ovechkin is having a late-in-winter, middle-aged renaissance. He’s just had another 30-goal season – his 18th. That’s more than anyone in history. Not that you heard much about it.

Riding his form, the Capitals have climbed back into a playoff position. If they make it, it will likely cost Crosby his shot. How the mighty fall.

Ovechkin has 852 goals, but his pace has become a jog. He will probably eclipse Gretzky’s record (894) the season following next.

Two years is a long time when you’re a 39-year-old pro athlete, but few players have ever been more reliable than the Russian. He’ll get there. And then what?

Will the league stop to fête him? Will the wise men of the game line up behind him? Will people be able to separate the art from the artist?

Everyone makes their own decisions in life, but no one does that in hockey. The players will do whatever the league and its broadcasters tell them to. They won’t have the sense to understand how it could look later. Maybe things will calm in the European theatre of operations and they’ll get away with it.

And why not? Ovechkin’s been getting away with it for two years because no one in hockey has ever had a new idea. All problems are dealt with the same way: ‘What problem?’

That philosophy is not a courageous position. It is the foundation of every single scandal hockey has walked itself into over the past 10, 20 years. But until someone inside the game decides to change the way things are done, that’s how it works.

The NHL doesn’t have an Alex Ovechkin problem because it stopped talking about its Alex Ovechkin problem. Plus, it saves on the production cost of video tributes.

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