Washington Capitals: The Future of Alexander Ovechkin

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Washington Capitals: The Future of Alexander Ovechkin
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The Great 8

Should the Capitals Trade Alexander Ovechkin?

The easy answer is the also the shortest one; No.  Many Capitals fans may insert a particular four letter expletive before that answer. 

But take a glance at history and Caps fans as well as hockey fans in general may be whistling a different tune. 

I compiled a review of four different reasons that the Caps may have for trading Ovechkin with a response to each. 

Hopefully, by the end of this story, Caps fans won’t want to check me up against the boards as badly as they did when they first read this headline.

 

The Stats

There is no doubt that Ovechkin has had stellar stats through his six-year career, arguably the best in the league during that stretch. 

Ovi didn’t light the lamp nearly as much in his most recent season, which got me thinking; how have the 15 best wingers of hockey’s modern era performed after their sixth season? 

Here are the players that I am using to compare Ovechkin with since they were all centerpieces of a franchise at some point, and like Ovechkin, were the most elite wingers in the NHL:

Pavel Bure Brendan Shanahan
Theo Fleury Luc Robitaille
Joe Mullen Jari Kurri
Alexander Mogilny Brett Hull
Steve Larmer Jaromir Jagr
Lanny McDonald Teemu Selanne
Mike Gartner Mike Bossy
Mark Recchi  

Who was the Best Player out of these Wingers?

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This list is just supposed to be a modern-day sample of the league's best wingers.  Don't be offended if I left off your favorite star.

 In reviewing the stats of all these wingers, I noticed that age affected some differently than others.  A few players faltered noticeably after their sixth season (where Ovechkin is now).

For example; Pavel Bure had back-to-back 100-point seasons in his second and third seasons.  After his sixth season, Bure never reached 100 points again but did have three 90-point seasons. 

Mark Recchi scored 102 points in his sixth season, but only racked up over 80 points once in his career afterwards. 

Alexander Mogilny had two 100-point seasons in his first seven, but like Recchi, only scored over 80 points in a season one more time afterwards. 

Theo Fleury had two 100-point seasons in his first six years, but never returned to that kind of scoring form again.

On the other hand, some players showed continued high-performance past their sixth season and deep into their careers. 

For example; Steve Larmer was solid all the way through his 11th season (101 points), and Jari Kurri earned six 100-point and two 90-point seasons in his first 10.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
"No-no it's ok, I can get up on my own thank you."

Mike Bossy’s fifth season was his best but he still hit for seven 100 goal seasons in a ten-year career. 

Jaromir Jagr is definitely a statistic anomaly.  Jagr scored 149 points in his sixth year and had four more 100-point years afterwards!  We all know how that experiment worked out for the Caps, though; it blew up like a microwaved potato.

In summary, the seventh and eighth seasons were usually the end of a winger's best years in the league.  So judging by these statistics, Ovechkin could give the Caps two more really stellar years before they consider sticking him on the Zamboni out of town.

Ovechkin’s Style

The only thing that Ovechkin does more than score is hit.  The last three years found him ranked 10th, 30th and ninth in the entire NHL in total hits. He also plays as much as any other winger in the league and is always among the NHL offensive leaders in ice time.

Ovechkin hits just as hard and just as often as every one of those other wingers on the list.  Will this hard-checking, ice-sprawling, 110 percent-style serve Ovi well in the long run, or does he need to turn the intensity down a notch to prolong his career?

One could make the argument that he is already seeing the effects of this style in his most recent season.  Did Ovi’s aggressive style take a toll on him to the point where his numbers decreased significantly?  Or was this the result of a shift in the Capitals style of play?

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Only time will tell, but in the meantime, it would be nice to see Ovi’s numbers return to their pre-2010 form.  Other than his hits, the only statistic that Ovechkin saw increase last year was the amount of commercials he starred in per air time.

 

Past Trades

So could a trade still be the answer?  I researched some of the biggest blockbuster trades of the modern era to see if I could locate teams in the Capitals position who moved a star and improved their situation. Here is what I found:

In 2001, the Ottawa Senators traded away moody superstar Alexei Yashin to the New York Islanders for three players.  Monstrous defenseman Zdeno Charra and a draft pick that turned out to be Jason Spezza were part of the deal. 

The Senators still haven’t won a Stanley Cup since then, but certainly came out on the winning end of this deal, as Yashin sputtered badly in New York. 

In 1992 the Quebec Nordiques were forced to move Eric Lindros, whose ego took over and told him to decline playing for the team that drafted him No. 1 overall.  The Nordiques obliged and Eric was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers

Lindros enjoyed a few years of prominence but never accomplished anything in terms of post-season success in Philly.  Meanwhile, the Nordiques moved to Colorado, and Peter Forsberg and Mike Ricchi helped win them two Stanley Cups.

Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Kelly Miller

In 2006 Vancouver moved hard-hitting but aging two time all-star Todd Bertuzzi to the Florida Panthers  for goalie Roberto Luongo.  One only needs to turn on the NHL playoffs now to see how that trade turned out for the Canucks.

The Panthers continued their disastrous stretch of losing hockey, and Bertuzzi bounced around the league with four teams over five years.   

Here is one that the Caps might be familiar with.  In 1986, the Capitals decided that it was time to part ways with their troubled star Bob Carpenter.  They sent him to the New York Rangers, and in return received center Mike Ridley and winger Kelly Miller. 

Although there would be no Stanley Cup for the Caps as a result, the pair played 1,586 games together and helped the caps to the Eastern Conference finals one year. 

Meanwhile, Carpenter only played 28 games for the Rangers before being dealt.  He would never achieve the same success that he had with the Caps. 

There are, of course, examples of catastrophic trades of stars in their prime such as, Joe Thornton, Cam Neely and Joe Mullen.  Would a deal work out for the Caps, or would it replace the Jaromir Jagr deal as one of the worst moves in franchise history?

 

The Stanley Cup

Brian Bahr/Getty Images
"Hey Buffalo, get a load of this!"

In the end, this is all that matters, and for Ovechkin supporters and jersey owners, this could come as one of the most sobering facts out there; not one of the wingers on that list first won a Stanley Cup after their sixth season with the team that drafted them.   

Selanne is the only partial exception with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, but that was after he had already been traded away and returned like the prodigal scorer.  So what happens to these wingers after they move away to other teams?

Out of the 15 players, only four of them played a pivotal role in a Stanley Cup victory for another team after leaving town.  Lanny McDonald won in Calgary at the end of his career, but was hardly an integral part of the team, scoring only 18 points in the regular season and netting one goal in the playoffs. 

Some wingers gave it a fairly decent go with their first teams before they went looking for a cup elsewhere.  Luc Robitaille whittled away at cup success for eight years with the Los Angeles Kings before leaving, and Pavel Bure spent seven years of cup chasing in Vancouver before he departed.

This means that just under 75 percent of the star wingers continued to have statistical success, but never made the team that traded them truly sorry for doing so by winning a Cup elsewhere. 

Some of them did.  Mogilny picked up his Cup with New Jersey in 2000 after being traded by Buffalo and Vancouver. 

If you did ever need to feel bad about trading a player away, then Joe Mullen would be the guy to look at.  After four and a half years with the St. Louis Blues, Mullen was traded to Calgary where he won a Cup, and was then traded again to Pittsburgh where he won two more! 

Some teams actually did better after trading away their star wingers.  The Penguins let go of Mark Recchi midway through 1991 and won the Stanley Cup that same year.  In similar fashion, in 1994 the Rangers traded Mike Gartner midseason and won the Cup.

 

Conclusion

After this analysis, I return to the first short answer of Capitals fans; no, they should not trade Ovechkin.

The Capitals don’t need to pull any triggers yet, but they need to keep in mind that Ovechkin’s style of play in addition to the numbers from other stand-out wingers of this era lead me to believe that he probably has two years at most where he is playing at the peak of his game. 

The fact that none of the other foremost wingers on the list took longer than four years to win the Cup (if they won it at all) with the team that drafted them should be seriously considered.

From an ownership perspective, the increased merchandise sales and streak of sell outs that Ovechkin has sparked would be enough to keep him around forever if they could.

Revenue as a result of the Capitals solid regular season performance aside, I think my friend Chris summarized it best when he said; “I’m glad the Caps lost in the playoffs, maybe now some of these bandwagon fans will go away and I will be able to afford to go to games again.”

Trading away Ovechkin would be a good way to get Chris back into the stadium.

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