One dilemma that every organization in professional sports has experienced is currently experiencing, or will eventually experience is loyalty to their franchise players. The Washington Capitals have been a perfect example of this in the past two seasons.
Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are two of the very best players in the history of the Capitals and have seen each of their contracts expire recently. As is the case with every team, they want to keep their star players, and Brian MacLellan made sure to do that and signed both of them to five-year contracts.
Backstrom was rewarded with a deal worth $9.2M per year (which began last year), and Ovechkin got re-signed this offseason for $9.5M per year. Some might find that to be good work on the surface but look at the current situation.
Backstrom is 33 and will be 37 when his contract expires. Ovechkin is 36 and will be 41 when his contract expires. This is a recipe for disaster for multiple reasons.
First of all, just looking at their current and future ages does not bode well. They are both well out of their primes, and even though Ovechkin will always have a chance to make an impact due to his shot, will his body be able to hold up as his new contract ages? The Capitals are essentially still building around both of them, which leads to the next issue.
Ever since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, they have only gone downhill and lost three playoff series, all in the first round. The last two appearances were even embarrassing losses in five games.
While coaching was an issue for the Capitals when Todd Reirden was behind the bench, the bottom line is that this core has not gotten it done recently. And with that, why not do a fire sale?
They could have let Backstrom and Ovechkin walk at the ends of their contracts, and at the very least, doing so could have kept them out of the cap trouble that is sure to come from their most recent deals. And it is not like they could not have gotten value out of the players they currently have.
TJ Oshie and, as much of a problem he can be, Tom Wilson are both very effective players for their contracts and would aid a contending team’s Stanley Cup ambitions. Unless his work ethic and off-ice problems are really scaring teams away, Evgeny Kuznetsov could also fetch a fair return in a trade when you look at just him as a player and his contract.
Investing significant assets into Anthony Mantha did not make much sense at the time and could have been avoided, and they might even trade John Carlson a few years down the line if they wanted to facilitate a rebuild. His contract might be a bit lofty, but with how many teams will bite for even the idea of a franchise defenseman, surely there would be a team who would trade assets for him.
The Capitals could have just called their window closed and started a new era, or they could have kept their current gang together for a significantly less amount of time. But they are now stuck building around a squad that is aging and worsening by the day, and it is their own fault.
Does anyone remember how being loyal to their old players doomed Ken Holland and the Detroit Red Wings for so many years? They are still trying to dig themselves out of that hole, and the same thing could happen to the Capitals. Remember that at the end of the day the NHL is still a business and being overly loyal to anyone will come back to haunt you.
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