Why the Caps won’t trade Alex Ovechkin

(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Neil Greenberg

I get it. The outlook is grim. The Capitals are in last place in the NHL with a 2-7-1 record and will likely miss the playoffs. They have a minus-13 goal differential (worst in league) and have yet to score more than three goals in a game. Their penalty kill is ranked 23rd in the league, which is compounded by the fact they have been shorthanded 47 times (tied for third worst). Faceoffs, once a hallmark of head coach Adam Oates’s career, is also floundering at 47.8 percent. But that doesn’t mean Alex Ovechkin should no longer be a member of the team.

Sure, his production is nowhere close to what it was when he signed the first $100 million deal in NHL history back in January 2008 — a $124 million, 13-year contract extension that runs through the 2020-21 season — but it still doesn’t make getting rid of Ovechkin the right move.

For one, the economics of a buyout do not make financial sense. According to CapGeek, when a player is bought out, the team still takes a cap hit for the player over a period of twice the remaining length of the contract. So, using CapGeek’s buyout calculator:

Alex Ovechkin is 27 years old on the buyout date of June 15, 2013, setting the buyout ratio at 2/3 and the total buyout cost at $52,666,667 spread over 16 years. His contract was originally valued at $124,000,000 beginning in 2008 and ending in 2021, with $79,000,000 remaining from the buyout year forward.

That means a $3.8 million dollar cap hit on the books until 2028-29. Don’t see that as sound fiscal policy.

Secondly, not sure the trade market is there for Ovechkin. In theory, any team would love to have him, but who would be willing to give up the value necessary and take on a $9.5 million cap hit for the next eight years? Did I mention the player in question is 27 years old, has two goals in 10 games and has seen his point production decline each year for the last six years?

Lastly, there is almost no defense for Ovechkin’s contract from an on-ice production standpoint, but what about his value off the ice? When the last lockout ended (the one in 2005, not this past one) the Capitals were 28th in the league in home attendance, averaging less than 14,000 fans per game. When they were the toast of the league in 2009-10, that figure swelled to 18,277. This year, even post-lockout, it is higher still at 18,506. Granted, those figures are tickets sold and not necessarily fannies in seats, but you get the picture: Ovechkin helped put hockey on the radar in D.C. Ovechkin’s red Caps sweater also typically ranks among the league’s most popular, putting more money into Ted Leonsis’s coffers. All that adds up to a positive return on investment for Leonsis and his Monumental partners.

Ovechkin, for better or worse, is the captain of this team. He is struggling. The team is struggling. But that doesn’t mean it is time to ship him out.

Follow Neil on Twitter: @ngreenberg.

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