Should the Washington Capitals trade Alex Ovechkin?

May 10, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) looks on from the ice prior to game seven of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
May 10, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) looks on from the ice prior to game seven of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Capitals are at an important and critical crossroad after another season without winning a Stanley Cup. Should they trade Alex Ovechkin? Let’s look at both sides of the argument. 

The Washington Capitals have been a bit spoiled with Alex Ovechkin. With him, they’ve been a perennial Stanley Cup contender. In all but three of his 12 seasons (two of those with the team recovering from a scorched earth rebuild), the Caps have made the postseason. Even though they haven’t won a Stanley Cup with him, this is an impressive accomplishment in today’s NHL which is ruled by parity. But after another season without a title, the Capitals face a critical offseason and they’ll have to address some changes. One of them could involve Ovechkin.

Washington has had their captain for the past 12 seasons. Regardless of how you feel about Ovechkin, you can’t deny he’s one of the top goal scorers in NHL history. No other player today could score 33 goals and have people question if he’s declining. But for all of Ovechkin’s impressive accomplishments, he has never gotten past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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To blame Ovi for this is a bit silly. Hockey is a team game. You win as a team and you lose as a team. Calling out individuals is rarely the right move, especially when the individual in question is 38th all-time in playoff points per game among his peers with at least 95 career postseason games played. At first glance, this doesn’t sound great. But Ovechkin also ranks sixth among active players with at least 75 postseason games.

Putting this in context, The Great Eight produces more points per game in the playoffs than everyone in the league right now except for the following players.

  • Sidney Crosby
  • Evgeni Malkin
  • Ryan Getzlaf
  • Jaromir Jagr
  • Patrick Kane

That’s it. Four virtual locks for the Hall of Fame and another guy who has a darn good case. Three of the top 100 players of all-time (excluding Malkin who should have been on the list anyway). The Capitals have their issues in the postseason, but Ovechkin sure isn’t one of them. But even if you think as the captain he should be inspiring guys, consider this. If you need anything more than the prospect of winning a Stanley Cup to inspire you, that’s an issue with you, not the captain.

Each time the Caps lose in the postseason, people take advantage by talking about how they need to trade Ovechkin. But this issue isn’t black or white because of what he means to the franchise, to the fanbase and to Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland. It’s not a stretch to say Ovechkin saved the Washington Capitals. They needed a face of the franchise and by winning the 2004 NHL Draft Lottery, they got one.

The sport of hockey is growing in DC, Maryland and Virginia. It’s hard to think the success of Ovechkin and the Capitals hasn’t played a significant role in this. Combined, just 11 NHL players ever have been born in the trio. This doesn’t include people like Jarred Tinordi. And Scott Darling of the Carolina Hurricanes is the lone active player of the bunch. But thanks to an increase in youth hockey participation, the future looks bright.

After over a decade of playoff failures with Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals need to at least entertain the idea of trading him. But likely not for the reasons that you think. Let’s take a look at both sides of the “trade Ovechkin” argument.

Why they should trade him

Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals /

Washington Capitals

No, the Washington Capitals shouldn’t trade Alex Ovechkin because they aren’t winning with him. It shouldn’t be for reasons such as “leadership” or other intangibles. Ain’t it funny how often critics turn to things you can’t measure when they want to call out a player?

The real reasons the Caps should at least entertain trading Ovechkin revolve around his age, salary cap and production. He had a down year in 2016-17, appearing mortal for the first time in his career (we’ll just ignore the shenanigans from Dale Hunter in 2011-12). But it’s worth noting every time people think Ovechkin is done, he proves everyone wrong. Still, considering he turns 32 in September, his decline is concerning. Couple this with his $9.538 million annual cap hit over the next four seasons and the Capitals would benefit from losing his cap hit if they spend it wisely.

The strongest reason the Caps should trade Ovechkin might be this could be the last time they could get a strong haul for him. Even after a 33 goal season, there are some encouraging signs. Ovechkin made adjustments to his game, passing more than he had in the past. The end result? His highest five-on-five assist/60 and points/60 rates since 2010-11.

Ovechkin is a marketable star, which matters a lot in the NHL. Owners are looking for ways to make money and having marketable stars is one way to do it. Ovechkin and his team remain a consistent draw on national television. He’s the biggest name, so he plays a huge role in this. The Capitals should trade Ovechkin if and only if they think they can improve the team (whether this be short-term or long-term) by doing so. So obviously the return would have to reflect this.

Why they shouldn’t trade him

It’s one thing to get rid of Alex Ovechkin’s cap hit. Taking advantage of it, however, is a completely different animal. How do the Washington Capitals use their new found cap space? Re-sign T.J. Oshie, who’s coming off his two most productive seasons while playing alongside Ovechkin? Bring back Kevin Shattenkirk, who would likely require an eight-year deal? Extend John Carlson?

This is a pretty darn weak free agency class. Also, trades are less common than people think and the Capitals don’t have many draft picks to offer. Their prospect cupboard is fairly barren as well. One has to question how much the Caps would improve their team by trading Ovechkin.

Also, trading Ovi would likely be the equivalent of waving the white flag, especially for the fan base. How do you field a Stanley Cup contender without Alex Ovechkin? It’s possible, but it’s certainly not likely. Trading a player who means so much to the franchise is never easy. If the Capitals trade Ovechkin, they likely lose fans. At the very least, they certainly lose ratings (and therefore money).

It would be one thing if Ovechkin was no longer a great player. But he still is. Is Ovechkin worth just shy of $10 million right now? On the ice, no. Factor in his marketability and the money he gets the franchise and he’s most likely worth right around $10 million. But is Alex Ovechkin still valuable to the Washington Capitals? Absolutely.

Maybe the Capitals don’t need to trade Ovi. After all, this is the same team that just won two straight President Trophies. Fans might not care about it, but they should. It’s hard to be the best team in the NHL from October to April. Doing it in consecutive seasons is quite rare. Maybe this team doesn’t need a huge shakeup. It might be wiser to continue to tinker or trade someone else than the most important player in franchise history.

The Verdict

The Washington Capitals would be negligent if they didn’t consider each and every offer they get for Alex Ovechkin. However, trading him is very complicated. A lot of factors have to be weighed. Trading him for anything less than a premium price would be a slap in the face to Ovechkin. A trade would signify a significant change within the organization.

Next: Capitals Trade Value Power Rankings

This would be a very hard thing for Capitals fans to accept, and rightfully so. Most Caps fans probably fell in love with hockey because of Ovechkin. He’s been a player to be proud of on the ice and a model citizen off of it. Ovechkin might be getting old, but he’s still The Great Eight. Regardless of what the Capitals decide to do, they likely have to make a decision on Ovi. Their answer will determine the outlook of the franchise.