All good things must come to an end and, at some point, the Capitals’ Stanley Cup window will close firmly shut. Washington is a veteran-heavy team and, while it may seem like Alex Ovechkin will score 50 goals forever, he won’t. What he’s doing now is already incredible, but time is undefeated and it’s not going to last. The question that sits before general manager Brian MacLellan right now is exactly when will it end?
The answer to this question will dictate everything the team does in the offseason.
Each passing year could prove to be the end of that window. The Caps are coming off two disappointing seasons in which the team was eliminated in the first round and the difficult decision now sits before MacLellan as he has to figure out if it is time to shift his focus on building towards the future instead of the present.
That closing window hangs heavy over MacLellan’s head and has added a sense of urgency to everything that he does.
“We're a team that wants to compete for a championship every year,” MacLellan said. “We have some older players in their 30s that have -- their best years are coming to a close.”
Ovechkin is 34, Nicklas Backstrom is 32, T.J. Oshie is 33, Lars Eller is 31 and John Carlson is 30. What’s more, the team does not have a large stable of NHL prospects ready to step in and take over for that core.
Timing is always critical for a general manager. You don’t want to sell away the team’s top players too early and lose out on another chance to win the Cup, but you also don’t want to hang on too long and keep selling off future assets even when the window has long closed.
According to MacLellan, he feels the window is still open for Washington, if only for a few years.
“We have a Norris Trophy candidate as a defenseman,” MacLellan said. “I really like [Dmitry Orlov]. Our top-six forwards should be as competitive as anybody in the league. We have elements that still make us a competitive team. I think the direction hasn't changed. We're making some decisions here that hopefully we can improve on stuff and continue to compete at a high level."
While MacLellan has his focus set clearly on the present, he did mention that he wanted more youth in the lineup.
“We're transitioning on D a little bit with some young guys, with a young goaltender coming in, but I think we're injecting some youth also,” MacLellan said. “Ideally we'd like to have a good blend of youth and our core players. That's our hope to accomplish that and to play at a high-level next year."
Defensemen Martin Fehervary and forward Daniel Sprong are players to watch next season who could crack the team’s lineup even while the team continues to try to compete for the Cup.
Even after two disappointing seasons for the Caps, MacLellan is not ready to throw in the towel on the team’s hopes for a second Stanley Cup in the Ovechkin era, but the clock is clearly ticking.