There was a time when, projecting out to the offseason, it looked like priority No. 1 for the Capitals was going to be getting a contract extension done for Alex Ovechkin. Well, a lot has happened since then. The team is suddenly in need of a head coach, there are questions about the strength of the roster and a flat salary cap and a pandmeic are both making everything more complicated.
Considering this, it should perhaps come as no surprise that talks with Ovechkin seem to be on the back-burner for now.
On Sunday, general manager Brian MacLellan said he had spoken with Ovechkin in the past few days, but talks are on hold for the time being.
“I think Ovi, we’re going to talk to when we come back to training camp, continue our conversations," MacLellan said.
Really? Not until training camp?
Considering we are talking about the best player in franchise history and someone who continues to produce at an elite level, this initially seems surprising. Given the salary cap situation, it would also seem to be in the team's best interest to get this done as quickly as possible for planning purposes. Ovechkin's current contract was for 13 years and carries a cap hit of over $9.5 million. His next contract won't be for 13 years, but it will probably be in the same range in terms of cap hit.
The salary cap is going to remain flat for the next two seasons at least so knowing exactly what Ovechkin's cap hit will be and for how long will be important to know when planning the cap out into the future.
But still, there's no reason for Caps fans to be concerned.
With Ovechkin entering the final year of his contract in the 2020-21 season, there has been a lot of hand-wringing from fans over possible pitfalls to an extension. Will Ovechkin want to play for another team? Will he get frustrated after a disappointing postseason and the team moving on to a new head coach? Does he want to return home and play for Russia?
I don't buy any of this. Maybe he will return to Russia after he decides to walk away from the NHL, but he's not doing that after a 48-goal season and a ninth Rocket Richard Trophy. The fact is that Ovechkin has not done or said anything to make me believe he is thinking about leaving Washington in the foreseeable future and I do not believe the team's first-round exit or Todd Reirden's subsequent firing has done anything to change that.
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The most likely reason for the delay is the uncertainty that remains even in the near future for the NHL. Sure, the bubble has been great and it certainly looks as if the league is going to be able to award the Stanley Cup in 2020, but no one is quite sure what the world is going to look like in the fall and early winter when the league wants to begin the 2020-21 season.
What if the start of the season is delayed or played without fans? Would the further loss of revenue force the league to flatten the cap further into the future or even perhaps lower it?
The fact is, when two parties are on the same page in a negotiation, you can afford to wait a while until you can gain some clarity on what the next few seasons of the league and the salary cap structure will look like.
Plus, it's not like MacLellan was under oath. He and Ovechkin could always decide to get a deal done before training camp and I don't think anyone would really hold it against them.
The Ovechkin deal is going to get done, it's just not going to get done as quickly as most people assumed it would be.