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Why the Capitals will not trade Alex Ovechkin this offseason

Why the Capitals will not trade Alex Ovechkin this offseason

Alex Ovechkin is undeniably the best player to ever suit up for the Washington Capitals. He is the greatest goal scorer of a generation and one of the best players of all time. And yet, he is still struggling to find playoff success.

In 12 NHL seasons, Ovechkin has led the Capitals to the postseason nine times but has never made it past the second round. As the team’s best player, he receives most of the praise for the team’s successes and most of the blame for its failures. It would be unfair to pin all of the team’s playoff struggles on the Great 8 alone, but with an all-time great player to build around, the Capitals have been a team with championship aspirations and they simply have not lived up to that. And that has some people wondering if it may be time to move on.

Ovechkin will be 32 years old before the start of the 2017-18 season and Father Time, as they say, is undefeated. With a cap hit just over $9.5 million and no real postseason success to speak of, would the Capitals possibly consider trading him?

Not likely.

Now let’s be clear, if Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can. I am not trying to say that it can’t happen, but here are a few reasons why it won’t:

He is still a productive player

Yes, Ovechkin is on the wrong side of 30, but with 33 goals this season he still was tied for the team lead and ranked 13th overall in the NHL. T.J. Oshie also scored 33 goals for the Caps and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Capitals likely do not have the money to re-sign Oshie, but even if they could, ask yourself this: Who is more likely to have more offensive production next season, a 30-year-old Oshie who has reached the 30-goal mark in a contract year for the first time in his entire career and who played in 68 games in 2016-17 due to injury or Ovechkin who has never scored fewer than 32 goals and has never played fewer than 72 games in a full 82-game season? He can’t keep up that pace forever, but there’s a good chance that even if Ovechkin takes a step back in 2017-18, he still may be a better offensive player than Oshie.

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His cap hit makes him hard to move

Ovechkin has the fourth-highest cap hit among active players in the NHL. Most teams do not have $9.5 million worth of empty cap space with which to plug Ovechkin into the lineup and those that do usually carry that much space for a reason, namely, they are trying to save money. I do not foresee the Arizona Coyotes suddenly getting out the checkbook to pay for Ovechkin. Sometimes teams can find a way to make an even swap for a player with a similar cap hit. Just look at last offseason when the Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban ($9 million cap hit) to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber (about $7.9 million cap hit). Let’s take a look at the top ten cap hits in the NHL to see if there is a possible trade there: Patrick Kane ($10.5 million), Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million), Anze Kopitar ($10 million), Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million), Subban, Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), Corey Perry (about $8.6 million), Steven Stamkos ($8.5 million) and Henrik Lunuqvist ($8.5 million). Do you see any trades on that list that would make sense for both teams because I don’t. That would mean teams would have to give up a significant package to Washington and I am not so sure he would be worth that to many suitors (more on that to come). There would be no shortage of interest for Ovechkin if he was available, but getting the math to work would be incredibly difficult.

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Vegas does not make as much sense as you may think

While most teams do not have the cap space to make a deal work, there is one team with plenty of cap space and they just so happen to have the same general manager, George McPhee, who drafted Ovechkin. Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights are the wild card of the offseason as they have to find a way to build an entire roster from scratch. With plenty of money to spend and plenty of familiarity with Ovechkin, some see this as a match made in Heaven. It’s not. First, if there are any people out there with the crazy notion that Washington should simply leave Ovechkin exposed at the expansion draft in the hopes that McPhee will take him off their hands, that would be the worst possible move the Caps could make. Even if you are sold on the idea that they need to move Ovechkin, there is zero compensation for losing a player in the expansion draft. You cannot give Ovechkin up for nothing. Yes, Vegas could still try to make a trade, but just what exactly could they offer? The Golden Knights have only two players currently under contract. That’s it. With all due respect, the Caps are not trading Ovechkin for Duke Reid. Based on the set up of the expansion draft, it is not likely to yield Vegas anywhere close to the kind of talent the Caps would hope to get in return for a trade. Sure, McPhee could throw a bunch of draft picks at Washington, but if the Caps hope to win now with Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby, draft picks are not going to make this team any better in the present.

You can’t get equal value in return

Ovechkin will be a 32-year-old winger with little postseason success and a cap hit of over $9.5 million. If Ovechkin hits the trade market, he will have plenty of suitors, but the Capitals cannot possibly hope to get back anything close to equal value for him. First, considering everything he has accomplished, how long he has played for Washington, the fact that he is the team captain and the face of the franchise, he means more to the Capitals than he would to any other team in the NHL. Second, any potential trade partner will not approach this from the standpoint that they are trading for a generational talent, rather they would view Ovechkin as a star winger on the back half of his career with a massive cap hit. Whatever you think Ovechkin may be worth on the trade market, the other 30 NHL teams will have a much lower value of him and there is no point in pulling the trigger on a trade this big if you do not like what you are getting in return.

He has a modified no-trade clause

Ovechkin’s cap hit, age, postseason history and trade value are not the only obstacles the Caps would face in making a potential deal. His contract also carries a modified no-trade clause that allows him to list 10 teams in which he cannot be traded to. That further limits the team’s options. Typically in these situations, when a team intends to pursue a trade they ask for the player to give them the list before they begin talking to other teams. In this day and age, it is impossible to keep news like that quiet. Somehow, someway, someone in the media would find out that the Caps requested Ovechkin’s list of 10 teams and report that the team was shopping him. When that happens, Ovechkin’s price tag would drop significantly. At that point, general manager Brian MacLellan would essentially have to move him to prevent the story from becoming a perpetual distraction to the team. You cannot possibly expect the Caps to have a successful season if the news comes out that the team was shopping Ovechkin. At least that’s how every other general manager would view it. Motivated sellers are good news for a potential buyer, bad news for Ovechkin’s trade value.

He means too much to the franchise

Let’s turn the clocks back to a time before Ovechkin came to Washington. In the 2003-04 season, the Capitals ranked 25th in the league in home attendance with fewer than 15,000 fans per game. That’s fewer than the Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes and even the Atlanta Thrasers who later would pack their bags and move to Winnipeg. Ovechkin completely reignited the fan base in a way no player ever has in the team’s history. Of all the Caps fans out there today, a sizable number of them do not know Capitals hockey without Ovechkin, not because of their age, but because he is what ultimately drew them in and got them interested in the sport. He is a dynamic player with a fun personality that hockey fans across the league love to see play. Consider this, only 11 teams have ever appeared in the NHL Winter Classic. The Caps have played in it twice. Even the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, all three of which are original six NHL franchises, have only made one appearance. That does not happen without Ovechkin. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing in sports and teams cannot allow themselves to be handcuffed by it, but it would be a hard sell to trade away the face of the franchise when many Caps fans, perhaps even a majority of them, were not around for the pre-Ovechkin days.

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Capitals’ losing streak extends to six in stunning OT loss to Sharks

Capitals’ losing streak extends to six in stunning OT loss to Sharks

The Capitals were one second away from snapping a five-game losing streak, but instead saw that streak extended to six games as Evander Kane scored with one second left to force overtime and Tomas Hertl scored the winner in a 7-6 overtime thriller.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

1. Evander Kane’s miracle buzzer-beater

The Caps clung to a 6-5 lead late in the third when Kane found the puck on his stick in front of the net and shot it in with just one second remaining on the clock.

Just one second away from claiming two points and ending a miserable five-game losing streak, Kane’s goal forced overtime and helped extend Washington’s streak to six.

2. Hertl’s hatty

Ovechkin netted a hat trick for the home team, but Hertl matched him with three goals of his own to win the game.

Hertl scored two power play goals, including one in the third to pull the Sharks within one. He also scored the overtime winner to crush the Caps’ hopes of snapping their losing streak.

3. 12 seconds

For a team that has lost five straight and looking for some confidence, you could not have drawn up a worse start to this game. A won faceoff for the Sharks went straight to Brent Burns at the blue line. He threw the puck towards the net and it bounced off John Carlson right to the stick of Joe Pavelski who backhanded it in.

Braden Holtby had committed to the original shot and there was no way for him to recover leaving an empty net for Pavelski to shoot on.

It took just 12 seconds for the Sharks to get on the boards.

4. Too many penalties

You can’t give up six power plays in a game and live to talk about it.

San Jose tied the game at 2 in the second period thanks to a power play goal from Hertl who unleashed a one-timer from the slot to beat Holtby. In the third period Washington took two different minor penalties and the Sharks cashed in on the second. The goal came from Hertl who unleashed a one-timer from the slot to beat Holtby.

The two power play goals looked almost identical. The second made the score 6-5, pulled San Jose within one of Washington and sparked the comeback.

5. The first minute of overtime

For nearly the first minute of overtime, the Caps looked as dominant as a team can look. They would not allow the puck to get out of the Sharks’ zone and got a number of opportunities to finish the game including a 3-on-1 with Tom Wilson’s shot just deflecting wide.

If the losing streak has taught Washington anything, it’s that they must take advantage of their opportunities. They didn’t finish the Sharks at the start of overtime and Hertl ended up with the game-winner.

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How a team meeting can help stop Caps’ slide

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USA TODAY Sports

How a team meeting can help stop Caps’ slide

ARLINGTON — The Capitals met as a group, the doors shut to the outside world. Not even the coaches were invited after an embarrassing 8-5 loss in Chicago on Sunday. 

You could call it a “meeting” as several players did. “A chat” was the word used by defenseman Matt Niskanen. On Monday the coaches were back for more talk and more video. Owners of the NHL’s longest current losing streak at five games, everyone has the same goal: How to get back on track as fast as possible.

“At the end of the day we’re pretty close, we’re a team. This group isn’t guys yelling,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “We’re close, we know how we need to play. We just needed to address it, we needed to talk it out a little bit, get on the same page. And then the same sort of thing with the coaching staff and the players. Go over some stuff, get on the same page, refocus, reshuffle the deck a little bit and get back at it.” 

Maybe they didn’t blister the paint off the walls in the locker room at United Center on Sunday, but these aren’t exactly genteel get-togethers, either. Video doesn’t lie and Washington hasn’t been near good enough during an 0-4-1 stretch that has it technically in third place in the Metropolitan Division and just one point ahead of fourth. That’s not a spot the defending Stanley Cup champs expect to be. 

Immediate comparison will be made to the infamous blistering former coach Barry Trotz gave his players after back-to-back blowout losses in games at Nashville and Colorado left them at 10-9-1 just 20 games into the 2017-18 season.

The Capitals returned home and responded by winning 10 of their next 13 games. But these things are rarely linear. Despite spending all of January in first place in the Metro last year, by March players and coaches were right back in the meeting room. That time it was to overhaul its defensive system after the team sleepwalked through a 9-9-4 stretch from Jan. 18 to March 8. 

“In that discussion last year, there was some major changes being made and that stuff is already in place,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Now it's just about players doing their job, executing their responsibilities within that system and being better.”

Coaches can hold players accountable by reducing roles, changing lines or scratching them entirely. Reirden has done all of that, including putting center Evgeny Kuznetsov on the third line in Sunday’s loss. In dire circumstances, coaches can go nuclear as Trotz memorably did last season. That can get a team’s attention immediately - provided the tactic is not used too often. 

But it’s the players themselves who ultimately demand the most from each other when things go wrong. Washington has a veteran locker room. These players have won a Stanley Cup together. No one was willing to speak on the record about what was said in the players’ meeting or who did most of the talking. But it’s not hard to figure out, either.

Eight players (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller, Braden Holtby, Matt Niskanen) have nine years or more of NHL experience. Wilson, Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov have all played at least six years each for Washington. It’s an experienced roster that has been together, won together, lost together and knows its own strengths and weaknesses.    

“I think we’re a pretty loose group. That’s our nature. It works for us,” Niskanen said. “I don’t think we can get too uptight, but I think we’ll have a real determined, focused effort here the next couple nights. The guys recognize the situation that we’re in, accept it, take responsibility for it and work to try to change it.”

That rebound will have to come on back-to-back games with San Jose at home tonight (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) and on Tuesday at Toronto. Both of those teams have Stanley Cup hopes and both are struggling, too. 

The Sharks (28-16-7, 63 points) have lost three games in a row, but remain in second place in the Pacific Division. The Maple Leafs (29-17-2, 60 points) have lost two in a row and seven of 10. They are in second place in the Atlantic Division. 

These are all teams who could use the upcoming All-Star break and bye week to recharge. Washington will not practice again as a full group until 2 p.m. on Jan. 31. Holtby and Carlson will have a shorter rest period because they are going to San Jose on Thursday for NHL All-Star weekend, but even they will get a few days off to recharge. 

That escape from the mental anguish of a losing streak can help. But multiple Caps players said Monday that without at least one win it’s almost worthless. They’ll just be sitting on a beach thinking about what’s gone wrong and focusing on how to fix it. They need a win – and the lessons of last season can provide a blueprint.  

"The main thing is we've got to remember, be honest with ourselves for the last two years or so, that things haven't come easy,” Holtby said. “That's something that can be lost in the fact of winning. Because things weren't easy last year. We had to grind our way through to get where we were, and that's going to be what we have to do this year.”

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