Alex Ovechkin is having one of the best seasons of his 13-year career, with an NHL-best 32 goals in 2017-18, with just less than half of the season to play and fast approaching career goal No. 600. Ovechkin has been team captain since the 2009-10 season, and at 32-years old, still has years left to play. But the day will come when the Capitals must hand the captain’s “C” to someone else. In this piece, Chris Laroche looks at who that player may be.
We as Caps fans have heard it over and over again: “Ovechkin can’t get it done”. It’s a blasphemous accusation to suggest the Great 8 won’t one day hold Lord Stanley’s Cup high above his head and put to rest all the zero cup and “Chokitals” jokes, silencing the naysayers once and for all. But regardless of when or where that will happen, one thing we can unfortunately agree on is that one day, every player will skate their last game. It’s been 19 years since Wayne Gretzky’s final time on the ice, and the show has gone on, but we’ve never forgotten one of the best players to ever grace the NHL. So too, will come Ovechkin’s time and his retirement won’t be undeserved. He’s done Washington proud for well over a decade and thankfully, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down; having scored at least 32 goals in every season since he’s been in the NHL, and en route to having his eighth 50-goal season this year. But I pose this question for you: When Ovechkin does retire, who will he hand the reins to, to assume his role as Captain of the Washington Capitals? Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the possible front-runners who could be next to wear the “C”.
Should Ovechkin’s retirement come sooner rather than later, the odds-on favorite to be named the next Captain is likely to be one of the Capitals’ current Alternate Captains, and fan favorite in Nicklas Backstrom. Since being drafted by the Caps fourth overall in 2006, Backie has proven himself to be both a leader and a team player. His effort and love for the game shows every time he’s on the ice and his interactions with the fans are nothing short of wholesome. Lesser known for his still adequate ability to score, and having just this week scored his 200th career goal against Columbus, Backstrom is better known for his ability to create chances for his teammates; his assist numbers tower over those of his goals. A veteran skater with such a keen eye for scoring opportunities is exactly the type of person who deserves to be called “Captain” in my book, but his credentials don’t stop there. He is very active with the Capitals’ fan base as well as on the ice. After being eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017, Nicklas promised fans worldwide that one day, the Cup would come to Washington. For fans still licking their wounds shortly after losing to the Penguins for the second year in a row, this was hardly a consolation prize. But perhaps Backstrom envisions the Cup coming to Washington, and himself being the first one to raise it up.
Less likely to be named Captain is the other current Alternate, defenseman Brooks Orpik. Another man who’s number of assists are significantly higher than his goal count, Orpik has yet to find the back of the net so far this season. It’s no small secret that he’s a huge presence in the locker room, but the numbers don’t seem to make sense for him to be promoted from Alternate to full-fledged Captain. More concerning still is his age; he is nearly 40, and that gives impressions of a short-lived Captaincy should he be next to step up for Washington. All that said, should he be given the opportunity, I personally wouldn’t complain about the Era of Orpik. Perhaps a good locker room leader and less of a producer on the ice is the unknown key to a more successful hockey team?
Now let’s say neither of the team’s current Alternate Captains are able to assume Captaincy, there are plenty of other players who would make excellent team leaders. For example, despite his quiet season so far this year, T.J. Oshie is a fan favorite with a long history of piling up goals both for Washington and his previous team, the St. Louis Blues. Last year, he scored a career-high 33 goals and over the summer, signed a handsome, eight-year, $46 million contract. This virtually guarantees that Oshie will retire as a Capital, and I can even see his No. 77 being retired, but that’s another conversation entirely. Aside from his ability on the ice, Oshie is a great media rep for the Capitals. He’s very involved with the Make A Wish Foundation, and with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” movement. An all-inclusive player with a love for the game sounds like just the kind of person who should be wearing a “C” on their jersey.
Anything can happen in the NHL, as we’ve seen countless times before. When Ovechkin’s contract expires in 2021, he may very well still be able to keep up with the best of them. And it would come as no surprise if, even if he couldn’t, he re-signs with Washington for a few more years purely because of his love for hockey. That said, if he does choose to continue playing into a new contract agreement, Backstrom, Orpik, and Oshie may very well have retired by the end of another signing, themselves. The 2020-21 season is still a long ways away, but if we’re talking about players on the current roster, one last name that comes to mind as a viable candidate for Captaincy is Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy is only 25-years old, while all the other named potentials are all in their 30’s. A younger player in the prime of his career, Kuznetsov has gotten progressively better as the years have gone on since he was initially drafted back in 2010. And I feel the best has yet to come for Evgeny. Not only that, but he’s a fan favorite both on and off the ice. In an interview from May of 2017, he stated that he loves the sport, and in regards to wanting a contract renewal, he said he will play for one year, or fifty, he just wants to play. Obviously a fifty-year career isn’t going to happen, but someone who sees longevity in himself is definitely something that should be considered when naming a new leader. Plus, wouldn’t the “C” look so classy resting on the #92 jersey while he does his flying bird goal celebration?
Perhaps one of those well-defined players mentioned above will become Captain one day. Perhaps the “C” will belong to someone who’s still playing down in Hershey. Or maybe our next Captain is just an unsigned prospect, or someone who has yet to be drafted. And this, my fellow Capitals fans is where you come in. No one wants to see Ovechkin go; I certainly don’t. But when he does, who do you believe will carry our team from where he leaves us? One thing’s for certain, who ever it is will have come awfully big skates to fill.
Tell us who in the comments!
By Chris Laroche