Did Ted Leonsis Make A Promise To Alex Ovechkin He Will Not Be Able To Keep?

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

The Washington Capitals have been one of the NHL’s top teams for well over a decade now. Making the playoffs has almost been a guarantee for this franchise since 2008. While they have not seen a ton of postseason success they did finally break through in 2018 winning the Stanley Cup.

The Capitals have been a team towards the top for a long time. Getting to the top is hard. Staying there for nearly twenty years is almost next to impossible. That’s why most teams can’t do it. It’s what makes teams like the New England Patriots, and the San Antonio Spurs and the Pittsburgh Penguins so impressive. A very long competitive streak with multiple championships.

Can the Capitals stay in this competitive state? Well, no one will be able to tell us this answer, as much as they and I may want to. Even those in control, such as Peter Laviolette, Brian MacLellan and Ted Leonsis won’t be able to tell us with much certainty.

This is why I have some issues with an apparent promise that Capitals owner Ted Leonsis made to Alex Ovechkin. I don’t think you can make promises in sports. To much changes, and it can change pretty fast.

I want to point out the tricky situation the Capitals and Leonsis are in here. Ovechkin has apparently said that he has no interest in being a part of a rebuild. Understandable. He is 37-years-old, has just one Cup, and is on a historic race. Being on a bad team is not something that those three things can agree with.

When your team’s star, no. When one of the greatest of all time comes to you and says that he does not want to be on a bad team what are you supposed to do?

Do you turn to him and say, “Tough!” I doubt that. Upsetting the best player that will likely ever suit up for the team you own is not a great strategy.

Another thing that could happen is understanding what Ovechkin wants. Know that your team will need a rebuild, and then explore trading Ovechkin.

How do you ever sell that to your fanbase? Ovechkin is a sports hero in D.C. He has delivered a championship to that city as the team’s captain. And, as we mentioned earlier, he is chasing a record that a lot of people have said could be unbreakable. If Leonsis comes out and says that the team may need to trade him I imagine the reaction from the fans may be nuclear.

There is the Capitals tricky spot. The Capitals may need a rebuild, and it may be very, very soon. But you cannot upset your team’s star and one of the teams only hopes right now.

In that way, I don’t have a problem with Leonsis’ promise to Ovechkin, because what else is he supposed to do or say. Leonsis is a little cornered here.

The problem I have with the promise is this. Can this promise lead to the Capitals being in a very ugly spot for longer than they need to be?

The thought in the sports world is simply this. You are either competing to win championships, or you need to be bad. There should not really be an in between. The in between is kind of good, not really that bad. That really ugly spot is you are not good enough to win championships, but not bad enough to land high in drafts and pick high potential prospects.

With Leonsis potentially making this promise to Ovechkin I think the odds of the Capitals being that in between team is scarily good.

Just look at the current team. You cannot really call this team awful. They just are not that good either. This is a team that needs a pretty big shake up, at least in my opinion.

Ovechkin is 37, if he has slowed down it’s marginal. It’s not him you have to worry about so much. It’s his surrounding cast. Nicklas Backstrom is 35 and will be 36 early next season. He is someone who hasn’t looked great for a couple of seasons now. You hear the name and get excited, but he seemingly cannot do what he did earlier in his career. Understandably so. Time gets us all one way or another.

T.J. Oshie is 36-years old. He will turn 37 in the middle of next season. Every time Oshie gets up a little slow you tense up. He is an incredibly important player for this team, but an injury always seems like it is right around to corner.

John Carlson is still is his good years, just barely, but he is. He just turned 33, he’ll be 34 not long before the 2024 all-star break. He is still very good, at least offensively, but his decline may not be far off either.

Then you have Evgeny Kuznetsov. He is at a pretty good age at 30. He should be the one you look at and say he is helping extend the Capitals competitive window. Then again, to me, he is just one of the most unreliable stars I think I’ve ever seen. All the talent in the world, not much motivation apparently.

Tom Wilson is maybe the only guy on this team right now that you are really confident can be a really good player for this team for a lot more years. The 28-year-old, while he has also had an injury plagued season, has had a really good year when he has played. He has 10 points in the 16 games he has played in and 7 of those points are goals. If he had that pace over an 82 game season Wilson would be on pace for about 35 goals.

The Capitals do have some promising young guys. Of note is Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroshnichenko. That being said, McMichael has shown his potential, but hasn’t proven he can be a very good NHLer yet. Lapierre was scratched in the AHL a couple of weeks ago. Miroshnichenko has potential, but who knows if he will be successful in North America.

And there are young guys on this team that I like. Fehervary seems like he will have a good career. I like the additions of Dylan Strome and Sonny Milano. I absolutely loved the Rasmus Sandin pick up. He could be huge for this franchise and he is just 23-years-old.

I’m obviously not saying this team is doomed.

What I am saying is simple. Without some bigger change I don’t know how this team gets back into a competitive state. To get back into contender status and not make a big move or two I think will require a lot of luck.

They are going to need McMichael and Lapierre to take a step up and pretty quickly. If they are not bad they are going to need to get lucky with some mid first round draft picks.

I understand the insanely tough spot that Leonsis and Capitals management are in right now. You have one of the best to ever hit the ice not wanting to be a part of a rebuild. There is really only a couple of options then.

Trade him. Unacceptable.

Go into a rebuild anyways and potentially upset him. Which would likely result in you losing him.

Or tinker around and hope you get lucky.

Luckily, in this instance I am not a billionaire. I do not own the Washington Capitals and I don’t have to make this decision. But making a promise to stay competitive is a promise I don’t think you can keep.

You just never know what is going to happen. What’s to say the Capitals don’t have a similar season like this next season as well? Can you rely on your aging stars to remain productive and healthy? If your prospects do not come in an produce then what? If Ovechkin got hurt what chance does the team have?

On top of all the questions your team faces what about the other teams? If you need to convince players to come to your team, can you convince them to not join others. If you’re a player who wants to win would you sign with the Washington Capitals right now? Wouldn’t you rather sign with the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils? Younger teams that will probably stay towards the top for years to come?

What about teams north of the border? Toronto and Edmonton. Do you want to play with 37-year-old Ovechkin and 36-year-old Backstrom or younger Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews? The Hurricanes are still good and young, as are the defending Cup champion Avalanche and the Kings are a team on the rise as well. If you’re trying to get good players can you convince those good players that they will have a better chance in D.C. than in those other cities?

Promising to stay competitive in sports is just something I can’t agree with. Too much can change too fast. Can the Capitals turn this around quickly? Maybe. I will not sit here and say they can’t do it.

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What I can sit here and say though is that I think what they are doing is risky. I don’t think Leonsis promising to stay competitive is a promise he can keep. At the end of the day though, I’m not sure what else he is supposed to say.