Is This the Year for Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals?
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
For the past four seasons, the world's best hockey player has performed in Washington. As a member of the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin has won a scoring title, led the National Hockey League in goals twice and been named MVP two years in a row.
The prize he's expected to deliver, though, has so far eluded him.
This could be the year that changes. Surrounded by the best supporting cast since his arrival, and likely the most talented lineup in the franchise's 36-year history, expectations have never been so high for the gregarious 24-year-old Russian or the Capitals.
"To date," defenseman Brian Pothier said, "this is our best team. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If we don't win the Stanley Cup -- I think if you ask anyone in this room -- the season will be a disappointment."
Pothier isn't the only Capital sensing that urgency as the season opens Thursday in Boston.
"Get Ready. It's Our Time," is the slogan printed on team-issued T-shirts, with a Stanley Cup emblazoned between the sentences. It might be bold, but perhaps not so far from the truth.
Ovechkin knows he'll be under contract for the next 11 seasons after this one. But when he looks around the locker room at the team's Arlington practice facility, the future of some of the key players around him is far less certain.
Goaltender Jos? Theodore, defensemen Pothier, Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina and forwards David Steckel and Brendan Morrison all will be unrestricted free agents next summer. Meantime, emerging stars Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin will be restricted free agents seeking lucrative, multiyear contracts. It could prove difficult to keep both young stars without sacrificing in other areas.
"With the salary cap, there are only certain points during a 10-year period where you can make a legitimate run, and this one of them," team captain Chris Clark said. "It's possible we're not going to have this team next year, or the year after. We're good. We're good now. We need to perform that way."
The Capitals didn't get good overnight. The roster is the result of a risky process that began during the 2003-04 season, when, after another veteran-laden team got off to a rotten start, ownership decided to blow it up and start over.
Piece by piece, General Manager George McPhee dismantled the high-priced, underachieving Capitals, trading away stars such as Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra and Robert Lang for prospects and draft picks.
Jagr's albatross of a contract was shipped to the New York Rangers; Bondra was sent to Ottawa for Brooks Laich; Gonchar was dealt to Boston for Shaone Morrisonn and the pick that became Jeff Schultz; and Lang was jettisoned to Detroit for Tomas Fleischmann and the pick that was used to select defenseman Mike Green.