As the Pittsburgh Penguins take a 2-0 series lead over the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, there’s a little bit of a buzz out of Washington regarding the future of Alexander Ovechkin. It certainly doesn’t sound like anything major at this point, but Washington GM Brian MacLellan made a statement recently that shows that he’s willing to test the waters with regard to trading Ovechkin.
“People are looking for a major solution to what we have going on,” MacLellan said (quoted at NHL.com by Tom Gulitti – May 30th). “I think part of it is they watch certain things in [Ovechkin’s] game, and then it shows up, and they say that’s not acceptable. But he’s a big part of our franchise, a big part of our history. He’s been a big part of where we’re at as an organization and just to casually say, ‘Let’s trade him?’ For what? For who? I don’t think it makes sense from an organizational point of view.
“Maybe at some point if there’s a legitimate hockey deal that came available, but I don’t know if that’s where we’re at right now.”
Ovechkin has been in Washington for over a decade now. The franchise has a whole lot of regular-season wins with the Russian in their lineup. However, any kind of significant playoff run has eluded the franchise over the years. A first or second-round playoff elimination seems like an annual event with the club. Playing in the same division as Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins certainly hasn’t helped Ovechkin’s career either. Perhaps therein lays part of the solution for Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
But the trade rumors have to be called weak at best based on MacLellan’s statements. It seems like he’s throwing the idea of trading Ovechkin out there to see what kind of offers he might get. As for trade value, I think that Washington would be the one that would have to take a hit to offload Ovechkin. According to Spotrac, the center is set to make $10M per season from now until the end of the 2020/21 season. That price tag makes Ovi a tough pick-up for any club unless the Caps keep paying some of his salary.
However, you kind of get a sense out of MacLellan’s comments that he wants something of substance in return in a potential Ovechkin trade. The truth is the GM might be over-rating Ovechkin’s trade value given the Russian’s handcuffing salary. After all, Ovechkin isn’t a proven winner in any forum except for regular season NHL games. That would make him a commodity for a team that really wants to cement their playoff-qualifying aspirations but not one that wants to go deep in the playoffs. However, there’s also a question of where Ovi is right now in his career.
He’ll be 32 before the start of the next season, and he had a below-average season in 2016/17 for his standards. His goal production dipped big time, and he has rarely been an assists-heavy guy. 32 years old certainly isn’t over the hill and a guy who might score 30 goals next year would be more than just helpful for any team.
But if I was trading to get Ovechkin at $10M per year, I’d be thinking about grudgingly paying that salary out at the tail-end of the contract when his numbers might start becoming average. If Ovechkin’s dip in goal-scoring punch is age-related then it’s going to dip further: someone that acquires Ovi might end up paying $10M for 18 goals in a few years here. If MacLellan is going to trade Ovechkin and get something of substance back, then the Washington GM would have to swindle someone.
For Washington, I think this last season was a kind of a final straw in some ways. They were the Stanley Cup favorites for the umpteenth time in the last decade and fell in the second round again. At some point, the weight of all the past disappointments has to kill optimism for the future. The 2017 playoffs might have been a kind of nail in the coffin when it comes to hoping that Washington finally do something under Ovechkin.
The Pittsburgh factor is certainly huge. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren’t exactly over the hill for the Penguins as they lead the Conn Smythe Trophy hunt. Washington might be smart just to wave a white flag on this entire generation of NHL hockey. They got the 2nd-best skater in something like a five-year window for birth years, but he simply bumped into the best player too often. With Washington, I think they should trade Ovechkin away with plans to build their franchise up to contend in four or five years’ time, a time when Crosby and Malkin would be expected to be on the decline.
The focus for Washington should be on the future, especially with Barry Trotz at the helm for the moment. I have no idea what they saw in Trotz when they signed him, but a hypothetical Washington Stanley Cup would likely come after his coaching tenure is over in the American capital.
For Ovechkin, I think he’d do well to get into the Western Conference or at least out of the Metropolitan Division. However, MacLellan’s attitude toward an Ovechkin trade needs to change. He has to view a potential move as a salary dump to get some draft picks back. If he’s thinking Edmonton will part with someone like Leon Draisaitl or something like that then forget about it: if that’s the expectation then Ovi will just serve his contract out in Washington, decline little by little each year, while eating up so much salary that Washington will just have to sink as he ages.