Alex Ovechkin signed a five-year contract extension in the summer of 2021, but according to Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis, there were conditions and understandings that weren’t technically written in the deal.
While speaking to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski at the NHL’s Board meeting, Leonsis said that the Capitals would not rebuild the team this season or in the three that follows as Ovechkin chases Wayne Gretzky’s goals record of 894.
“I’m sure there’ll be an influx of some young players, but we’re not gonna rebuild the team,” Leonsis said to Wyshynski. “[I]f we were really, really bad, I don’t think Alex would break the record.”
Ovechkin will try to break Gretzky’s record, but he wants it to be a secondary focus behind winning another Stanley Cup. The Capitals captain also wants to still be at his best as a player if the moment ever arrives.
“He’s very cognizant of doing this the right way,” Leonsis said. “Alex said, ‘I’m not gonna be a third-line guy playing 8-10 minutes a game (where you) trot me out on the power play and let me score my goals. That’s not what I want to do. Promise me you’ll keep the team competitive (and) a playoff team.’ And he promised to come in shape all the time and not be fixed on the record but be fixed on winning another Stanley Cup.”
While these comments rule out a rebuild, Leonsis’s comments also signal Ovechkin is unlikely to play past his current deal if his role has lessened and his performance has declined.
Gretzky played in the NHL until he was 38 and scored 23, 25, 23, and 9 goals during his final four seasons. But he still remained a tremendous playmaker, posting 90 or more points in three of those years.
At 37, Ovechkin remains a first liner for the Capitals and the main weapon the team runs its power play through. He leads the team in goals with 17 goals and 30 points in 30 games. Ovechkin also recently had the second-longest shift of his career when the stayed out on the ice for nearly an entire five-minute power play.
Leonsis noted in the interview that Gretzky informed the team that he would like to travel with the club if Ovechkin nears his number — a wish that former teammate Alex Semin would like granted too.
“He’s really been a godsend for us and just a great, great ambassador for the game,” Leonsis said of Gretzky in October. “No one is resentful that he could pass Gordie Howe. Wayne Gretzky calls me all the time and says, ‘Alex is going to pass me. I want to be with the team when that happens.’ He’s going to travel with the team and Alex. What does that say about the integrity of the guy and also the way the franchise has moved up the respect echelon in the entire league?”
If Ovechkin continues his goal-scoring pace this season, he would only need to average around 23 goals per season to pass Gretzky before his contract ends.
You can read Wyshynski’s full article on ESPN here.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB