For Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, this season is one he won't fondly remember. The Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007, his father underwent heart surgery and Russia's men's hockey team failed to medal at the Sochi Olympics. The only bright spot was reaching the 50-goal plateau for the fifth time in his NHL career and leading the league in goals for the fourth time.
This disappointing season prompted some speculation over Ovechkin's future with the Capitals and the NHL. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson mused about the possibility of Washington shopping their captain. THN columnist Adam Proteau dismissed the idea, pointing out the difficulty of moving or buying out the remaining seven years and $70 million of his contract.
It's been suggested Ovechkin might follow the lead of countryman Ilya Kovalchuk by retiring from the NHL to return to Russia and the Kontinental League. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reported of rumors a KHL team could try to lure Ovechkin away from the Capitals. KHL president Alexander Medvedev told LeBrun the only way that could happen is if the 28-year-old negotiated his way out of his current NHL contract.
Ovechkin could try to “retire” from the NHL as Kovalchuk did, but only with the respective blessing of Capitals management and league headquarters. It would shed Ovie’s $9.5-million cap hit from their books at no risk of a cap recapture penalty. It would also rob the Capitals of their franchise player, hurting them on the score sheet and at the turnstiles. If they do one day part ways, it'll likely be in the latter years of Ovechkin's contract, when he'll be in his mid-30s and past his prime.
CSN Washington's Chuck Gormley, responding to a reader's question about possible moves by the Capitals, doubts owner Ted Leonsis would approve trading away the greatest goal scorer in franchise history. He also doesn't see center Nicklas Backstrom, who has six years and $43 million remaining on his contract, hitting the trade block.
Gormley does believe defenseman Mike Green could be moved. That could prove a difficult sell, however. The 28-year-old has one year at a cap hit of $6.08 million remaining on his contract and injuries have hampered Green's effectiveness as a puck-moving defenseman. The Capitals could face retaining part of his salary to move him. And his limited no-trade clause restricts the number of potential trade destinations.
The Capitals lack a true shutdown defenseman, but finding one this summer won't be easy. Gormley notes there are limited options in the free agent market, where the best of the bunch is an ageing Brooks Orpik.
He also reports pending UFA center Mikhail Grabovski seeks $5 million per season, but believes the Capitals would be more comfortable offering him $4 million annually. Gormley doesn't see trade deadline acquisition Jaroslav Halak returning after he was apparently uncomfortable about the prospect of facing his former team (St. Louis Blues) in a recent game.
Changes could be coming to the Capitals’ front office and behind the bench. For weeks there's been talk GM George McPhee and/or coach Adam Oates would be replaced. If McPhee is fired, a replacement must be found before the NHL draft in June and the start of free agency in July.
The Capitals currently have more than $58 million invested in 21 players for 2014-15. Should the salary cap for next season reach $71 million they will have more than $14 million in cap space to pursue a capable stay-at-home defense, as well as re-signing or replacing their notable free agents. How that money is invested depends upon who's in the management chair when the playoffs are over.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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