Would the Capitals actually trade Alexander Ovechkin? Here’s GM Brian MacLellan with a roundabout but not particularly subtle way of saying “Make me an offer.”
With a lot of qualifiers, that’s definitely still a “maybe.”
It was a pretty instructive news conference from MacLellan. Among the highlights:
- Ovechkin will remain captain.
- Barry Trotz will remain coach with one year left on his contract, but there’s been no talk of an extension yet, which likely means he’ll be coaching for his job.
- With all the free agents to resign, it appears the Caps expect not to keep defenseman Karl Alzner, an eight-year veteran in Washington.
But it’s the comments on Ovechkin that are sure to garner the most attention, and justifiably so. The rumors about trading Ovechkin (well, rumors of rumors, to be more accurate) pop up every couple of years when the Capitals underperform in the playoffs, because he is their best scorer. And while it’s a little unfair to saddle them with that evaluation this year—they outplayed but lost in seven games to the team that’s probably going to win the Cup—changes are on the horizon. Depending on where the salary cap lands, the Caps simply won’t be able to bring back all the players they’d like, and their young stars are in line for big paydays.
MacLellan said the team is necessarily going to get younger, and that will mean some regression in talent, at least at first. I can think of one way to clear the decks of a more than $9.5 million cap hit in each of the next four seasons, and I bet MacLellan is salivating at what he might be able to do with that space.
Alex Ovechkin is coming off one of the worst scoring seasons of his career, and while you can point to a slightly altered role on a more offensively balanced roster, he’s still going to be 32 years old on opening night. His best days are not ahead of him. He remains a singular talent but will very soon be, if he is not already, underplaying his contract. (That’s a function of what it takes to sign a player in his prime to a long-term deal, and it’s fine. That piper has to get paid eventually, though.)
So yes, if MacLellan can get a good offer for Ovechkin—that means an elite talent on a team-friendly deal, or a boatload of picks, or a mess of cap space, or more likely some combination of the three—of course he’d do it. It’d be malpractice not to. “Maybe at some point,” MacLellan said. That means he’s open for business.
The real holdup here, though, is on the other side of any potential deal. What team would want Ovechkin? Just about every one. What team would want Ovechkin at $40 million through 2021? Fewer of them. What team wants Ovechkin at $10 million a year through his age-35 season and is willing to give up talent and/or flexibility to get him? Well, now we’re down to some hypothetical team that believes Ovechkin is the one piece needed to put it over the top as a Cup contender, opportunity cost be damned. Look around the NHL; that team might not exist.