This season was one full of history for the Washington Capitals. They had the best record in the league, tied franchise records and could not be stopped. However, the entire season, including a star-studded, Vezina-worthy performance from Braden Holtby and another 50-goal season from Alex Ovechkin, was forgotten when they again exited the playoffs in the second round.
With talks of what went wrong, many are unfortunately putting the blame on the captain’s shoulders. The team has been through multiple coaching changes over the years and has made many changes to build the Capitals franchise that they have now. However, with still no results in the form of a Stanley Cup, many are asking if Ovechkin, the dynamic Russian face of Washington’s hockey club, is in fact the problem.
ESPN Insider columnist Rob Vollman recently covered the topic, making a case for Washington to trade Ovechkin. Since it requires an Insider subscription to read, I will sum the article up to the best of my ability. Vollman claims that although Ovechkin’s impact on the Capitals has been tremendous, and has led them from a bottom-ranking team to one of the best NHL clubs in recent years, he is getting old (he will turn 31 in September) and his ability may start to decline.
Vollman continues on to argue that a Washington trade with Ovechkin would trigger a Post-Ovi era, one in which the Capitals can trade away their superstar in exchange for top prospects and draft picks. That way, they get a new glimpse at the future, and the team on the other end would then get a dynamic goal-scorer. With no Ovechkin, Washington would be able to build and develop a young team, and Ovechkin would get the opportunity to go for a Cup elsewhere. It’d be a win-win…at least that’s what some people think.
However, this would be the biggest mistake that the Washington Capitals franchise could ever make. First off, Ovechkin may not have brought home a Stanley Cup yet, but he has taken Washington to eight playoff appearances, six division titles, two conference titles and two Presidents’ Trophies. He has won six Maurice Rocket Richard Trophies and three Hart Trophies (out of five nominations), while also having seven 50-goal seasons for Washington. His lowest number of goals? 32. He is not the problem.
Not to mention, if Washington were to trade Ovechkin, it would take away not only the face of the franchise, but the team’s leader. They would be left with no captain, no high-scoring player and no fun, loud personality that the franchise, as well as the fans, admire and adore. This has the potential to lead to a complete collapse, from the inside out.
Also, if you trade away Ovechkin for picks and prospects, and put all your faith and pressure onto the shoulders of brand new, still developing and learning NHL prospects, they will not turn into good players.
How do we know this for sure? Take a look at one of my favorite teams: The Edmonton Oilers. Over the course of many years, they have relied on prospects and picks to turn their franchise around. However, the team has put pressure on many, including Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and most notably, Nail Yakupov. Yakupov was made the first-overall pick, and given the chance to take Edmonton on a journey back to the playoffs. It has since ruined Yakupov’s development, as well as his relationship with the team.
The Capitals’ failure to bring home a Stanley Cup is not unmatched. Teams like the Vancouver Canucks have not been able to pull off a Cup championship, but the Sedin twins aren’t to blame. It took Chiago 49 years to finally become a Cup champion.
Scapegoating the stars of the ten makes no sense, especially when there are over 20 other players, a head coach and an entire team.
General Manager Brian MacLellan recently commented on the situation:
“I think he can play a lot more if he doesn’t feel that pressure he needs to win the games,” MacLellan told USA TODAY. “I think he play longer given a good team, a deep team. I mean, if you’re going to put pressure on him every night to carry the team, he’s not going to be more excited about playing.”
I think the team has some things to figure out, but trading Ovechkin would only make matters worse.