The Washington Capitals Need To Be Careful With Ovechkin’s Next Contract

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Washington Capitals are Alexander Ovechkin‘s franchise. It has been since his rookie season where he scored 52 goals and 106 points in 81 games. It will remain his franchise long after he has retired. Likely, in twenty-five years when we mention or think about the Washington Capitals Ovechkin will be the first person you think of. Similar to Wayne Gretzky with the Oilers, and Mario Lemieux with the Penguins.

It’s not often that happens. All teams have great players and great past players. But players that represent franchises long after retirement usually only happens to guys like the Gretzky’s and Lemieux’s, and eventually Ovechkin.

The Capitals are currently in a bit of a sticky pickle situation however. In more ways than one quite frankly. The obvious pinch they are in right now is the one everyone is talking about, that would be the salary cap issue they find themselves having. That issue coming at a time where the team is still very much trying to stay competitive.

Currently, the Capitals have a little over $9m in cap space. You expect Ovechkin to take up all of that and then you have no money or space to sign Ilya Samsonov. Some will question whether that’s an issue or not. That’s a discussion or argument for a different time.

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The other potentially ugly situation is the climbing number that is Ovechkin’s age. At the start of next season Ovechkin will be 36-years-old. It is usually not a great idea to have a guy on the wrong side of 35 taking up a ton of the cap space. Now Ovechkin is no normal human. He is one of the few you don’t mind having a big cap hit late in his career.

Unfortunately, that last thing I said is a fact. We are late in the Ovechkin era. Next season will be the 17th season for Alex. The odometer is still running, and the miles are still going up.

There are basically two things in this world that are undefeated. Mother Nature, and Father Time. Both things can be pretty annoying, and when they team up it can be pretty devastating.

In terms of hockey, Ovechkin doesn’t have to worry about the Mother too much. Father Time on the other hand is getting closer and closer to finding “The Great Eight”. Something that could be potentially troublesome is the thing we mentioned earlier, that climbing odometer.

Ovechkin has played in 16 seasons. It will take him just three games next season and he will have played 1,200 NHL games. If you take this latest season and the COVID shortened last season out of the equation the least amount of games he has played in a season was 72 in 2009-10. He played in 68 of 69 games in 2019-20 and this season he played in 45 of 56.

Ovechkin has played in 78 games or more in 12 of his 16 seasons. It’s been talked about and praised before, but he is incredibly reliable, and you know the saying, “The best ability is availability”.

At some point the miles will catch up to Ovechkin. Did we start to see that this past season? Eleven games missed this season was the most games missed in his career and I’m betting if the playoffs were further away he would have missed more games. It should be noted he missed four games this season due to COVID protocol, so not all games were missed because of injury.

My question and bet still stands. If the playoffs didn’t start when they did and Ovechkin didn’t get hurt when he did I’m thinking he misses more than 7 games. He missed more like 8 games, he tried to return vs the Islanders late in the season but played only thirty-nine seconds or one shift.

This wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in sports. A guy who stays relatively healthy for a lot of his career then gets one injury and a bunch follow. It happens, you get older, the body is gradually getting weaker and injuries take longer to heal, that’s just the way life goes.

A guy I think of who ended up this way a little bit was the late great Kobe Bryant. Late in his career he played a lot of basketball, he played in a vast majority of his teams games. From the 2005-06 season through the 2012-13 season Kobe missed just 26 games. The next and his final three seasons he had injury issues and ended up missing 139 games.

Father Time comes for us all.

I’m not going to come out and say, “it’s all downhill from here!”, what I’m saying is Ovechkin is getting older, injuries could become a factor (thanks to the amount of games he’s played) and if you are not careful with future contracts it could hurt this franchise going forward.

It could also be an issue thanks to his buddy Nicklas Backstrom who also has a cap hit over $9m and who will be making that well past his 35th birthday. If Backstrom can’t stay productive and healthy late in his career then you could potentially have two contracts over $9 million that could hamper your franchise.

But I said the two key things earlier. This is the sticky situation. Alex Ovechkin is the Washington Capitals. What he asks for is pretty much what you have to give him. Ovechkin, as we know, works very hard and trains very hard. Maybe that helps him stay healthy throughout his career? The Capitals and Caps fans certainly hope so.

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Regardless, going forward, Ovechkin’s contracts are something the Capitals have to be careful with.