- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2021

When the Capitals left the ice Sunday night at the end of another first-round playoff exit, there was a chance — however minute — that the loss to Boston would end up being Alex Ovechkin’s last time wearing Washington’s red sweater.

Ovechkin all but quashed that possibility Tuesday during his end-of-season exit interview.

Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124 million contract is expiring. He’s been eligible to sign an extension for much of the past year. But the captain thinks a new deal will get done — and soon — to tie him to Washington for longer.

“I’m confident, obviously,” Ovechkin said. “We still have time. Obviously, I want to finish my career here. I’m pretty sure we will do something soon.”

How soon, exactly?

“Maybe we’ll sign contract right now,” Ovechkin joked.

Ovechkin’s situation hangs over much of what the Capitals will do this offseason. The team could see big changes, with certain players exposed in the expansion draft and others facing free agency.

Nothing, though, would be bigger than Ovechkin moving on.

He said he has spoken to team owner Ted Leonsis and general manager Brian MacLellan about what comes next.

“I’m confident,” Ovechkin reiterated. “I want to finish my career here, and we still have time. As soon as we’re gonna do something, you will find out.”

Ovechkin has 730 career goals, sixth-most in NHL history. He trails all-time leader Wayne Gretzky by 164 tallies. The 35-year-old Russian notched 42 points in 45 regular-season games, hampered at times due to a spell on the coronavirus protocol list early and a leg injury later.

Ovechkin missed seven games down the stretch of the season with that leg injury. Still, he recorded four points in five playoff games. He said the injury didn’t hamper him in the playoffs, although he won’t compete for Team Russia at the IIHF world championship as he recovers from a grueling campaign.

“It was hard year for my body — lots of mini-injuries and obviously it was a big injury before playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “It is what it is, right? Kind of hard situation. Obviously I want to go, I want to play, but if I’m not 100% I’m pretty sure better for they will take guys who’s 100% and play over there.”

Ovechkin has previously said he only plans to play for two teams: the Capitals and Dynamo Moscow in the KHL, where he started his career. The idea of seeing Ovechkin in another team’s sweater is almost unimaginable to his teammates.

“This is the franchise player, he’s going to retire here for sure, in my opinion,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “If you ask my personal thinks, I don’t think I can imagine him wearing a different jersey just based on what he’s done for this team and what he means for this organization, for city and for fans, for everybody. I truly believe he’s going to stay here for rest of his career and he’s going to be successful.”

Ovechkin is one of the longest-tenured athletes still playing in Washington, behind the Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman. Both players debuted in 2005, with Zimmerman beginning in September while Ovechkin started in October. Since Ovechkin’s debut, he has solidified himself as one of the best goal scorers in league history.

He also quickly became the face of the franchise. And while cornerstone players have departed teams late in their careers before — such as Tom Brady, who just won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay — it seems unlikely that will be the case for Ovechkin.

“Since I’ve come into the game, when you think of the Washington Capitals, you think of Alex Ovechkin,” winger T.J. Oshie said. “So no, I don’t see [him leaving]. He’s our captain. I do know that things like this do happen in sports with legendary type players moving teams towards the end of their career, but I think Ovi loves it here, I think Ovi wants to stay here forever, I think they want him here forever, so I’m hopeful that something will get done that’s fair for both sides.”

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