Another playoff series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins has come and gone, and once more the Penguins won and advanced. Phrases such as, “They’ve got the Caps’ number” abounded in the aftermath, as did observations like, “Alex Ovechkin just can’t win the big one.” It is hard to argue otherwise, given the history of the Capitals over the past 10 years.
As a writer that covers the Carolina Hurricanes, a scenario that was talked about caught my interest a few days ago. But, a look at the Capitals’ frustrations over the past decade is in order, first.
History Repeating Itself
Since the 2007-08 season, the Capitals have made the playoffs every season except in 2013-14. That is quite an accomplishment by any standard. In three of those years, they won the Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team that has won the most games during the regular season. This season, they won the award for the second season in a row.
Given that the Capitals have shown consistency for a decade, particularly over the course of long seasons, one would think that there would be a Stanley Cup Finals win or at least an appearance in the mix. But, that has not been the case. Despite all of their regular season success, the Caps did not even make it to the Conference Finals during that time.
It is a seemingly endless cycle that defies explanation: “How can such a good team constantly lose in the playoffs?” A closer look, however, reveals a wild card, a common denominator in the mix. That is Ovechkin.
Melrose Weighs In
On the Mike and Mike radio program last Thursday, May 11, ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose rendered his thoughts concerning the Capitals and this common denominator after yet another failure to advance in the playoffs. Melrose said,
I think if you’ve seen the history of the Washington Capitals, I’ll use 10 years, but I think it’s been longer — Alex has been there even longer — they fired a GM, at least one in those 10 years. They fired five or six coaches in those 10 years. And the common thread through the whole organization is they haven’t gotten to the third round. They always make the playoffs. They’re usually in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy. The last two years they won the Presidents’ Trophy for the most points during the regular season. And they still don’t get to the third round.
Again, Melrose was stating the bewildering set of facts that are the Capitals’ playoffs history. It has not mattered who has been the coach or the general manager or what pieces have been placed where. Ultimately, the Caps have squandered numerous opportunities before them to either win the Stanley Cup, or at least play for it in the finals.
Melrose continued, giving his thoughts about Ovechkin and the Capitals, saying,
I’ve always been an Alex Ovechkin booster. I think he works his butt off. I think he’s a good soldier. He’s a good teammate. He plays hard all the time. But, the bottom line is it’s not working in Washington. If they’re really serious about taking a run at winning the Cup, then I think they have to explore the option of moving Alex Ovechkin. I think it’s something they got to try. They got to see what they can get for him. And they got to evaluate if it’s worth doing it. But, right now it ain’t working.
Whether Melrose actually believes the Capitals would take his advice and actually try to move Ovechkin is questionable. But, the concept does bear at least thinking about.
Show co-host, Mike Golic, asked Melrose if this type of move had been done in the past in the NHL and if it had worked. Melrose said,
In the old days, you saw that all the time. Like with Boston, they made a huge deal and got Phil Esposito. They traded stars and Esposito went to Boston and all of a sudden blossomed into one of the league-leading goal scorers. They became a powerhouse. Bobby Orr became of age and all of a sudden they were the best franchise in the NHL.
Melrose also referenced the PK Subban going from the Montreal Canadiens to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. “That’s a monster trade. Both traded their most popular player. Both traded their top defenseman,” Melrose said. “It’s hard to do in the salary cap era, and everybody’s got no-trades and no-movement clauses in their contracts. But again, I think it’s something Washington has to explore.”
Now I’m Intrigued
Melrose went on with his comments about the Capitals and said something that seriously got my attention: “You just can’t say out of hand ‘we’re not going to do it.’ You’ve got to go and approach other teams. You know, a struggling team that has attendance problems. You know, they might be willing to move a young star in order to get a guy like Alex that would fill the building. I think they’re not doing their fans justice if they don’t at least try to do something.”
The entire Melrose conversation froze in time for me when he mentioned struggling team with attendance problems and young star in a sentence. I immediately asked myself, “Is he thinking about the Hurricanes?” Of course, he did not specifically mention a team by name, but, in many ways, he might have just as well said the ‘Canes.
The Hurricanes have struggled to make the playoffs since 2009. They have the worst attendance in the NHL, averaging just 11,776 per home game. There are two of Melrose’s qualifiers. A young star is the third. On the Hurricanes, there is of course rookie Sebastian Aho and second-year defenseman Noah Hanifin. If Melrose is to be taken seriously, might the Capitals and the ‘Canes talk about moving the great Ovechkin to Carolina in exchange for a young star, (and likely a lot more)?
In my opinion, the answer is no. First, Ovechkin is still due some made cash for the remainder of his contract. Secondly, it is highly doubtful that Hurricanes GM Ron Francis would spend what it would take to get him in a ‘Canes sweater. And thirdly, Francis is building with youth. Neither Sebastian Aho nor Noah Hanifin are going anywhere anytime soon, at least not from where I see things.
So, while Melrose made me perk up and daydream about someone of the star power of Ovechkin being in Raleigh and filling the PNC Arena to capacity every home game, the euphoria quickly passed. Too much money and too great a disruption in the carefully laid plans of Francis makes this merely an intriguing thought for Hurricanes fans.
Let's be very clear, the Capitals aren't going to trade Alex Ovechkin
This is the new "Stamkos is signing with Toronto"
— NHL Hurricanes Stats (@NHLCanesStats) May 12, 2017
As to Melrose’s point, perhaps Ovechkin and the Capitals would both benefit from his having a change of scenery. Something must give for the Capitals to press through to later rounds and possibly the Stanley Cup Finals in the future.