However long Alex Ovechkin wants to continue his NHL career, the Capitals will do whatever it takes to accommodate their captain and put a competitive team around him, general manager Brian MacLellan tells 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier.
"We're working through things," MacLellan said of contract negotiations with Ovechkin, who's negotiating on his own behalf and told reporters Tuesday he's confident they'll get a deal done "soon."
"I think we still have a lot of time," MacLellan said. "I think he wants to finish his career in Washington. Ownership and management want him to finish in Washington. I think we'll get it done here. Both sides want to accomplish it and I think it's important for our franchise that he does do that, and he wants to, too. I think we have a lot of time left here. We weren't in a rush to do it. We had playoffs to get through. We had a lot of stuff to get through this year and I think it'll get done before the start of next season."
MacLellan is striking the same tone on Ovechkin negotiations as he did with Backstrom a year and a half ago — saying to whoever will listen that it's important to the franchise that he finish his career in Washington — just before reaching a new five-year, $46 million deal with Backstrom in Jan. 2020.
The Capitals, who have made the postseason 13 of the last 14 years and won the Stanley Cup in 2018, are wise to want to keep the two together for as long as possible. Some critics, however, look at that same sample of success and, tacking on their three consecutive first-round playoff exits since winning the Cup, view it as a sign the duo's best days are behind them. MacLellan seemed to dismiss the idea of blowing the team up and starting over.
"Well I mean, I think if people think that you should blow it up, you're also making the decision not to bring Backstrom and Ovechkin back into the lineup," he said. "You're making the decision not to have them finish their career here, which, in my mind, would be a mistake."
"Part of signing Ovechkin and Backstrom is that you're gonna put a competitive team [around them]," he said. "I don't know that they want to sit here, finish their career and you're blowing things up. So if someone was saying to make that decision, you would be saying I would rather have those two not finish their career here, and go through a painful five, six years of finishing as low as we can and getting as high of picks as we can. I don't know that, in my mind, that we're at that spot."
"My recommendation would be to have those two guys finish their careers here," MacLellan continued. "And I think it's important for our franchise that Ovi finishes here. I think he put our franchise on the map and I think we owe it to them to put a competitive team as long as he wants to play. If it's two years, three years, five years, whatever he wants to do, I think we're gonna accommodate."
The Capitals potentially face difficult decisions with two other stars this offseason, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. With another expansion draft coming, the Caps can only protect so many players from being plucked by the incoming Seattle Kraken. By leaving high-priced players of their caliber exposed, Washington could alleviate some of the financial woes that will come along with whatever Ovechkin's next contract ends up looking like.
Oshie has said he hopes that doesn't happen. But that decision ultimately won't be up to him to make.
"We're gonna try and resist exposing Osh," MacLellan said. "I think he's a big part of what we've done and he's had a good year here. He's a big part of our locker room. He's a big part of our on-ice team. He brings energy every day. He brings a compete level. He makes everybody better that's around him."
"And I think it's gonna be a difficult decision, if we ever chose to go that way, which I think is unlikely," he continued. "We'd really miss him if we did. I mean there would be a big hole to fill and it would be tough to fill it."
MacLellan also addressed the elephant in the room, the up-and-down performance of Evgeny Kuznetsov, who, when he's at the top of his game, is a top-15 player in the league and can lead a team on a Cup run, as he did with the Caps in 2018, delivering an incredible 32 points on 12 goals and 20 assists in the playoffs. But Kuznetsov has also largely been a non-factor in three straight failed playoff runs for the Caps since.
"I think it's difficult to evaluate his year. I mean he had COVID twice," MacLellan said. "What effect does that have on a player? I don't know how much it affected his play this year. Started the year with COVID, came out of COVID and does it affect their play or doesn't it affect their play? It's tough to evaluate the season he had doing that twice."
"Inconsistent year? Yes. I get it. It's just, I don't know health-wise how that affects," he continued. "You see other players in the league that had COVID early, struggled through a good portion of the season and found it late. It's tough for me to evaluate how his year went, the results of his year. It definitely was inconsistent and frustrating at times, but what effect does that all have on his season? It's tough for me."
Paulsen lasered in on Kuznetsov's off-ice issues, which included a team-issued suspension just prior to his latest stint on the COVID list leading up to the playoffs. Kuznetsov was also a part of a protocol infraction — along with Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov — earlier in the season that landed the Caps a $100,000 fine from the NHL.
"For a lot of us, the act is tired," Paulsen said. "And I guess I'm wondering, for you, if you guys still feel like the juice is worth the squeeze with him."
"Obviously we're getting at an inflection point where, is it worth it to try it again?" MacLellan said. "It was a point earlier we made that the center ice position is huge. We won a Cup because of our depth at center ice and he was a big part of it. He was probably our best player throughout the playoffs."
"I think at some points we want that guy back and we've seen him back," he said, "and then there's been huge inconsistencies throughout the last couple years. So it's frustrating on everybody's level and we're trying to figure it out as we go."