What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks will the Washington Capitals do if Alex Ovechkin stays in the KHL?
The loss of Ovechkin would be devastating to both the organization and the fanbase, especially since the Caps would not receive any compensation in this scenario. Ovechkin has been the team's captain for the last two-and-a-half seasons and the team's leading goal scorer for all seven seasons of his NHL career. His talent, personality and influence would be nearly impossible to replicate in Washington's lineup.
But the Washington Capitals would have to move on without him—if he chose to stay in the KHL. The rebuilding process would not be as difficult or as extensive as one might think.
Here is how the Capitals would rebuild.
First and foremost, the voiding of Alex Ovechkin's contract would free up a tremendous amount of salary cap space. Currently, the Capitals rank 10th in the NHL with a cap payroll of $63,594,572, according to CapGeek.com.
The Capitals have $6,605,428 of cap space, which CapGeek.com defines as "available cap dollars based on rosters or projected roster. Calculated excluding all performance bonuses to a maximum of 7.5 percent of the upper limit."
Ovechkin's contract represents a cap hit of $9,538,462, according to CapGeek.com. The website defines this number as "the player's cap hit in a given season, assuming no performance bonuses have been ruled unattainable." Ovechkin's cap hit will not change through the end of the contract in 2020-21, despite Ovechkin's NHL salary increasing to $10,000,000 during the 2014-15 season.
This nearly $10,000,000 in cap space could be used to help replace Ovechkin's position in the lineup as the first-line left winger.
Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee could attempt to partially replace Ovechkin's scoring and fill the leadership void at the same time with free-agent-to-be Brenden Morrow. The Dallas Stars captain would earn $4,100,000 during the 2012-13 season but is set to become an unrestricted free agent before the 2013-14 season. He would fit the leadership role perfectly, even if he did not eventually become the captain for the Washington Capitals.
Plus, Brenden Morrow is a bona fide scorer in his own right. In 806 regular season games over 12 seasons, Morrow has 237 goals and 517 points. He has reached the 20-goal mark five times and the 30-goal mark two additional times.
Would the Washington Capitals be stronger Stanley Cup contenders without Alex Ovechkin?
With the potential loss of Ovechkin, McPhee may finally be able to complete his team's transformation from a high-octane offensive team to a defensively responsible squad, something he has been trying to do for the last two seasons. The financial windfall from Ovechkin's voided contract would finally allow McPheee to sign an elite, stay-at-home defender to help complete the team's philosophical transformation and to possibly secure the last piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle.
Rob Scuderi is such a defender. He has played in the NHL for eight seasons and has a career plus-minus rating of 23 while accruing only 165 penalty minutes. Plus, Scuderi has won the Stanley Cup twice—with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. He would earn $3,400,00 during the 2012-13 NHL season.
But, George McPhee has one more option to help rebuild his organization.
The Washington Capitals are described by Hockey Prospectus as having "a very top-heavy system" regarding their prospects. At the top of this system is Evgeny Kusnetzov, rated fourth among the Top 100 NHL Prospects by Hockey Prospectus.
But Evgeny Kusnetzov signed a contract earlier this year to play in the KHL through 2014. To avoid losing another elite talent to the KHL, McPhee could trade the rights to Kusnetzov to a team desperate enough to take a risk on him. In return, the Capitals could still receive a king's ransom, enough to obtain a scoring winger, a shut-down defender or an elite prospect to restock the farm system—or perhaps all three.
Ovechkin staying in the KHL would be a shock to the Capitals organization. But, McPhee could use this possible misfortune to rebuild the franchise in a relatively quick manner, perhaps even making the Washington Capitals a stronger Stanley Cup contender than before Ovechkin left.