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Ovechkin confident he'll sign contract, finish NHL career with Capitals

Forward expresses desire to stay in Washington; 'I think we'll get it worked out,' GM says

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Alex Ovechkin on Tuesday reiterated his desire to stay and finish his NHL career with the Washington Capitals and said he is optimistic they will agree on a contract soon.

The 35-year-old forward can become an unrestricted free agent July 28. Washington's season ended Sunday with a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round.

"I'm confident. Obviously, we still have time," Ovechkin, the Capitals captain, said. "Obviously, I want to finish my career here. I'm pretty sure we will get something done soon."

Asked how soon that might be, Ovechkin said, "Maybe we'll sign a contract right now after the meetings."

Referencing Washington's end-of-season meetings, Ovechkin seemed to be joking, but his attitude demonstrated how little his contract situation appears to be weighing on him.

"We want 'Ovi,' the ownership wants 'Ovi' to finish his career here. Everybody wants him to finish his career," general manager Brian MacLellan said Wednesday. "He's saying the same thing. I think we'll get it worked out in the end."

As he did in 2008 when he signed his 13-year, $124 million contract, Ovechkin is negotiating without an agent and is in direct talks with MacLellan and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.

"Alex has spoken. I've spoken," Leonsis said at the opening of the William Hill Sportsbook at Capital One Arena on Wednesday. "We have great admiration, respect and love for one another. I think he wants to spend his career here. We want him to spend his career here. I don't think it will be an issue."

MacLellan said the Capitals are willing to be flexible with the contract structure, so Ovechkin is comfortable with it and the direction of the team, and finishes his career in the same city it began. 

"I never like watching guys go to another team in another sport," MacLellan said. "I don't like watching [Tom] Brady with Tampa [Bay in the NFL]. I want him to finish up in New England. I don't like [Wayne] Gretzky in New York (with the Rangers). I would have rather had him finish in Edmonton (with the Oilers). I just think it's an important thing for the franchise, the relationship with ownership, the franchise and 'Ovi' to have him finish here no matter what effect it's going to have. 

"And I'm pretty sure it's going to be positive to have him finish here."

Ovechkin's teammates said they find it difficult to envision him leaving or playing for another NHL team.

"Since I came into the game, when you think of the Washington Capitals, you think of Alex Ovechkin," forward T.J. Oshie said. "So, no, I don't see it. 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."

Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said, "This is the player, the franchise player that he is going to retire here for sure, in my opinion. … I truly believe that he is going to stay here for the rest of his career and he is going to be successful."

Despite missing an NHL career-high 11 games this season, Ovechkin led Washington with 24 goals and continued to climb the NHL goals list; with 730 in his career, he is one behind Marcel Dionne for fifth in NHL history. This season, he passed Mike Gartner (708) and Phil Esposito (717) and moved from eighth to sixth.

Ovechkin scored nine power-play goals and increased his total to 269, moving ahead of Brett Hull (265) into second in NHL history, five behind Dave Andreychuk's NHL record of 274.

Though this season being shortened to 56 games and the Capitals being limited to 69 last season because of the coronavirus pandemic cut into Ovechkin's opportunities to move closer to Wayne Gretzky's NHL record of 894 goals, he said he believes breaking that record remains possible.

"You still have chances, man," Ovechkin said. "You just have to go out there and do your thing and maybe it happens, maybe not. But how I said, one step at a time."

Ovechkin endured a challenging regular season that included missing four games in NHL COVID-19 protocol and seven because of a leg injury. He said he also played through a back injury that didn't cause him to miss any games or impact his play in the playoffs but contributed to his decision not to play for Russia in the 2021 IIHF World Championship.

Ovechkin tied Oshie for the Capitals lead with four points (two goals, two assists) in five Stanley Cup Playoff games, but the Capitals haven't won a series since they won the Cup in 2018. They lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2019 and were eliminated in five games by the New York Islanders last season.

"I think we still have a good team," Ovechkin said. "I think we're still able to win the Cup. The team what we had, we're pretty solid.

"I want to finish my career here, and we still have time. As soon as we're going to do something [with my contract], you will find out."

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