When a team makes a first overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft, that gifted and talented player is thought to become a savior of the failing franchise. Many former first overall players have become very successful with the franchise that called their name and made the selection. Sidney Crosby was selected first in 2005, and has since been regarded as the face of the NHL. Connor McDavid was selected first in 2015 by the Edmonton Oilers. He is now serving as the team captain and has guided the Oilers to the Western Conference semifinals last month, their first playoff appearance losing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.
However, there are a few former first overall picks that did everything for their franchise, and city … except take home hockey’s biggest prize, the Stanley Cup.
When the Washington Capitals selected Russian sniper, Alexander Ovechkin, first in 2004, expectations were remarkably high and he has lived up to the hype ever since.
Ovechkin tallied 52 goals in his first NHL season, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie over Crosby.
Since 2008, Ovechkin, the team captain, has led the Capitals to the playoffs in every season except in 2014, three Presidents Trophies (awarded to the team with the best overall record in the NHL that season) and become one of the best offensive teams in the league.
But, surprisingly, during those 10 seasons, Ovehckin and the Capitals have yet to make even the Eastern Conference finals. Washington has lost a Game 7 in the semifinals four times and have been eliminated by Crosby and the Penguins three times.
Despite becoming one of the more decorated hockey players in the world, Ovechkin, nicknamed “The Gr8” has grown a reputation for being a playoff failure. This proved to be accurate with the Capitals this past season, who won the Presidents Trophy before losing to the defending champions and arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins – and Crosby.
Washington went out of their way to build a strong supporting cast for Ovechkin, making an offseason trade with St. Louis for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams and Matt Niskanen. During the season, they made another trade with the Blues, acquiring blue liner Kevin Shattenkirk. With an elite goaltender in Braden Holtby already between the pipes, the Capitals were again a team who looked like they finally had the pieces of the championship puzzle put together.
But, in what is becoming an all-to-familiar scene with Capitals fans, Washington again suffered an early exit in the playoffs.
What now? This loss for sure hints an end of an era for the Capitals. Changes this summer are inevitable. Shattenkirk, Ohsie, Williams and Karl Alzner are all slated to become free agents and will be among the best available this summer.
Ovechkin is now 31, and stepping towards the end of his prime years. During the 2007-08 campaign, Ovechkin inked a 13 year, $124 million extension, essentially becoming the face of his franchise, but could the Capitals and Ovechkin be on the verge of a divorce?
With Washington poised to lose some of the best players on their roster, the team may be forced to blow up their core, and while trading away a superstar is rare, trading away a former No. 1 overall pick isn’t. Last summer alone, Edmonton traded away 2010 top pick Taylor Hall to New Jersey and 2012 first overall selection Nail Yakupov to St. Louis. Erik Johnson, who was taken first overall in 2006 by St. Louis, was traded to Colorado in 2011. But Ovechkkin, who is the last NHL player to score 60 goals in a season, would command much more on the trade market that any of the aforementioned players.
If the Capitals were to make Ovechkin available, there would easily be significant interest around the league for his services. Ovechkin has an expensive contract, which runs until 2021, but he has shown that he is worth every penny. It should be noted, however, that Ovechkin has a limited no movement clause, which can allow him to block trades with up to 10 teams.
As Sportsnet’s Elliot Freidman pointed out this week, if the Capitals would trade their superstar, “they’d have no problem finding a partner,” noting that Ovechkin would sell tickets, even after having a “down” year where he still scored 33 goals, and he can instantly make a team’s power play lethal and most certainly add a scoring touch, striking gold.
After speaking with a fans via social media, many feel that it is time for Ovechkin and the Capitals to possibly reconsider each’s future. Fans around the league, and world have expressed feelings of sorry for the Russian Sniper: as many believed this may have been his year, and failed once again.
Ovehckin’s time may in fact be running out, but his time with the Capitals is almost certainly out. With a trade is now imaginable, I feel that he may take his talents back home to the KHL. Home is where the heart is and it is no secret that Ovechkin is a dedicated Russian. He may soon follow the footsteps of other fellow Russians that bolted to the KHL during their contracts with the NHL such as Ilya Kovalchuk and more recently, Pavel Datsyuk.
But can you really see Ovechkin wearing another sweater? Now the time has come to answer and no longer deny that its very possible the Russian superstar could extend his search for Lord Stanley’s Cup elsewhere.