The Washington Capitals have finished with at least 100 points in each of their last three seasons, winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team in two of those campaigns.
Yet they’ve failed to advance beyond the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in any of those seasons and haven’t reached the Eastern Conference finals in nearly 20 years, despite seven 100-point seasons and nine first-place finishes during that span.
The Caps are one of the best regular-season NHL teams we’ve seen in the last two decades but continuously have failed to reach the same level in the postseason. The ultimate goal is 16 wins in the spring, not 50-plus wins from September through April, and the Caps’ offseason decision-making process should reflect that — even if that means considering trading captain Alex Ovechkin.
Trading Ovechkin shouldn’t necessarily be a priority for general manager Brian MacLellan this summer. But why wouldn’t he be at least open to having conversations about dealing the franchise’s all-time leader in points?
The Capitals, who were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night in yet another Game 7, might ultimately decide the best version of their team includes Ovechkin. Given his standing as a generational offensive player, that certainly wouldn’t be surprising. But if a team comes calling with a fair offer, Washington should at least consider moving the three-time Hart Trophy winner.
It’s not completely Ovechkin’s fault the Capitals haven’t advanced beyond the second round since they drafted him first overall in 2004. But at the same time, it’s been 12 years and they haven’t found the right combination of players to build around Ovechkin and get over the hump. Sure, that says as much about the Caps’ team-building process as it does about Ovechkin, but he’d be a valuable piece should Washington consider other options.
The winds of change will blow in the nation’s capital summer, and we’re not talking about Pennsylvania Avenue. The Caps have a handful of key veterans set to hit the free agent market, including T.J. Oshie, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.
No matter what, the Caps will look different next season, as an overhaul of some extent appears inevitable. Now more than ever, the Capitals should be open to everything. They went all in, and now the window is closed. Gauging the market for Ovechkin should be considered due diligence at this point. He’ll be 32 in September, and he still has four years left on his 13-year, $124 million deal. According to Spotrac.com, Ovechkin still is owed $50 million and carries a $9.5 million annual cap hit.
Those pending free agents are going to command raises, and the Capitals could use the salary cap space in order to retain them. If the Caps found a trade partner for Ovechkin, it could allow them to free up some cap space and perhaps bolster a prospect pool and draft pick collection that were thinned out by recent efforts to extend their championship window. If Washington chooses to make goaltender Braden Holtby its franchise centerpiece and build out from there, that would make re-signing Alzner a priority and could also lead to re-signing Shattenkirk, especially considering the price paid to acquire him.
It’s not trolling or a hot take to say Washington should consider each and every option it has, including possible trades for Ovechkin. The Capitals have been trying for more than a decade to win with Ovechkin, and it would be hard to blame them for trying to trade in that chip before it’s too late.
And if another team wants to get stupid, let ’em get stupid. If Washington doesn’t at least take a look down that road, and we’re sitting here in four years and nothing’s changed, what good is that?
Washington is at a crossroads. Maybe the Caps’ decision-makers ultimately decide Ovechkin still is their rock. You could do worse. But he’s not getting any younger, and even some of his strongest longtime supporters are left scratching their heads after this latest playoff exit. His coach doesn’t even want to talk about the situation.
But fortune favors the bold, which is something Washington should remember as it enters a pivotal offseason.
Thumbnail photo via Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports Images