It’s not a question of whether or not Alex Ovechkin will finish his career with the Washington Capitals. He absolutely will. Probably. After all, nobody ever thought Daniel Alfredsson would leave the Ottawa Senators, but really crazy things can happen once free agency opens. All it could take is for things to get to 12 noon on July 28, for Ovechkin to feel slighted and one call from a contending team with lots of cap space. In other words, a unicorn. So it probably won’t happen.
All right, now that we have that part out of the way, whether Alex Ovechkin is a Washington Capital for one more season or four more seasons, regardless of how much money he makes, it’s as good a time as any to reframe the narrative when it comes to both him and his team. For the past couple of years, anytime anyone has ever talked about Ovechkin, it has been within the context of goals, specifically how many he’ll end up scoring before the end of his career. It seems almost with every goal Ovechkin scores these days comes with it a detailed synopsis of which all-time great he’s hunting down in career goals. (Checks notes. Notices that Ovechkin needs two more goals to pass Marcel Dionne for fifth all-time and 11 to usurp Brett Hull for fourth.)
This has to stop, for the good of the Washington Capitals. If Ovechkin does come back the way everyone expects he will, it has to stop being about goals. You know why? Because for all of his brilliance, for all of his otherworldly and unparalleled scoring ability, Alex Ovechkin has one Stanley Cup in 16 seasons. That’s why. In fact, when you look at his career in totality, the ledger of playoff flops and disappointments is far more populated than playoff triumphs.
If I’m a fan of the Washington Capitals, nothing would thrill me more than to see Ovechkin to come into training camp in the fall and say the following: “I could not possibly care less how many goals I score this season or for the rest of my career. If I score 18 goals this season and we win the Stanley Cup, that would be the greatest thing ever. I’m done chasing ghosts. If I catch them, that’s great. But it is no longer how I will define my career. If sitting out games during the regular season to save myself for the playoffs and/or taking a lesser role later in my career negatively affects my overall numbers, I’m just fine with that as long as we keep chasing Stanley Cups.”
Think the focus on Ovechkin scoring goals doesn’t hinder the Capitals at times? In 2019-20, Ovechkin went on an absolute tear, scoring 11 goals in five games, which put him five goals shy of the 700 mark. It took him nine games to score the five goals he needed, during which the Capitals went 2-6-1. It seemed like the entire organization was so focused on Ovechkin chasing a milestone that only seven players had reached before him that it forgot how to win hockey games.
There is some speculation that Ovechkin may sign with the Capitals for four more years, which would take him to just shy of his 40th birthday. If that does indeed happen, Ovechkin is a shoo-in to pass Dionne, Hull, Jaromir Jagr and Gordie Howe for No. 2 on the NHL’s list. Needing 165 goals to surpass Wayne Gretzky, he would have to average 41.25 goals in each of those seasons to become the NHL’s all-time leading scorer. Based on him scoring 24 goals this season in 45 games, he was on pace to score 38 goals over the course of a full campaign (assuming he still would have missed only 11 games). In his three previous seasons, Ovechkin’s totals have been 49, 51 and 48. So if he does sign for four years, there’s a really good chance he’ll at least get very, very close if he stays relatively healthy.
But it’s time to just let that happen if the stars align and to not force things if they don’t. It’s never wise to bet against Ovechkin, but there has to be a decline at some point and if/when that happens, it may require the Capitals to ask Ovechkin to take less ice time and take up less oxygen in a lesser role. Ovechkin has actually been a very good playoff performer for the Capitals, but how much better could he have been had he not been so focused on playing every game and chasing the goals mark? Early in his career, Ovechkin once said, “Cups is Cups.” And whatever his new contract looks like, it’s time for both the Capitals and Ovechkin to make that, and not the NHL record book, the priority.