For the past 12 years, the Washington Capitals have written the same story. Since drafting main character Alex Ovechkin in 2004, the Caps have been a perennial playoff team, only to fall short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
After another Presidents’ Trophy season and another quick exit in the postseason last year, general manager Brian MacLellan wants answers. Rumors are floating about the improbable: trading the NHL’s leader in goals since 2005 in Ovechkin.
The thought of trading Ovechkin seems abominable based on his track record. He’s the all-time Russian-born leader in NHL goals and is third amongst active players with 558 scores. He’s the captain of the team and is the face of the franchise. However, he hasn’t taken his team to the Stanley Cup Final in his tenure. The team has only reached that spot once in 42 seasons.
Yesterday, MacLellan offered his thoughts on trading Ovechkin, per AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno:
“People are looking for a major solution to what we have going on. I think part of it is they watch certain things in this game and then it shows up and they say, ‘That’s not acceptable.’ But he’s a big part of our franchise, a big part of our history. He’s been a big part of where we’re at as an organization and just to casually say, ‘Let’s trade him for what or who?’ I don’t think it makes sense from an organizational point of view. Maybe at some point if there’s a legitimate hockey deal that came available, but I don’t know that that’s where we’re at right now. I just think he’s got a history here, he’s a big part of our franchise and he’ll continue to be going forward.”
If there’s anything to admire about his comments, it’s that he is incredibly loyal to his cornerstone player. Fans may argue that Ovechkin hasn’t taken his team to the next level, but they also would not compete in the playoffs almost every season.
He’s ranked in the top ten in jersey sales across the NHL every year, and his community service with Ovi’s Crazy 8s has brought joy to underserved children and military personnel in the D.C. area. Trading the face of the Capitals may be easy for the fans, but not for the man pulling the trigger.
On the other hand, it’s stunning for MacLellan to even admit shipping Ovechkin to say the least. Most general managers will always say that no player on their roster is ever unavailable.
Despite that, there are players that logically, would never move from another team. Pittsburgh would ideally never trade Sidney Crosby at this juncture. Toronto is not moving Auston Matthews and neither is Edmonton with Connor McDavid. The latter two players are at a different point in their careers than Ovechkin, but they are just as important to their respective franchises. Ovechkin’s earned the right to be on that same level based on his career.
While MacLellan’s comments shed light on a shocking development, it shows Washington’s management and fans’ patience is waning. Ovechkin struggled to generate shots against the Penguins in this year’s playoffs. His play was so ineffective that head coach Barry Trotz called out his “star players” and booted Ovechkin to the third line.
This comes after a season where he endured long stretches without scoring. He played his fewest full-season minutes and posted the third-lowest point total of his career, just four more than the lockout season. Alex Ovechkin did not have a great season according to Alex Ovechkin standards.
If the Capitals still performed well this season with a slumping Ovechkin, is he more expendable? It isn’t that simple. Washington received more contributions than expected from T.J. Oshie’s career-high 33 goals and 48 points from 35-year-old Justin Williams. Both are unrestricted free agents.
The Capitals will have to replace their production or resign them, which is uncertain at this juncture. To say that Washington can afford to move Ovechkin and still contend in a stacked Metropolitan division is naïve.
Even if MacLellan says that Ovechkin can be traded for a legitimate deal, the odds of finding one is unknown. It’s not impossible; Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round picks, and $15 million. Ovechkin may not earn the same value, but it could float towards that territory.
For 12 years, the story in D.C. has been Alex Ovechkin becoming a historic player in the NHL for Washington. However, the Capitals want to write a different ending than the one they’ve written in the playoffs. The front office does not wish to move their cornerstone player, but if nothing changes, then a new story, without the main character for its saga, may come to fruition.
Feature image via CBS Sports/USATSI
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