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Trade of Alex Ovechkin not ruled out by Capitals

GM Brian MacLellan says deal highly unlikely, not impossible after playoff loss to Penguins

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin will remain captain of the Washington Capitals and Barry Trotz will be their coach heading into next season, though general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear Tuesday he's not entirely happy with either one.

Though it remains highly unlikely, MacLellan didn't completely rule out trading Ovechkin while he searches for answers to the Capitals' repeated failures in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, Ovechkin has four seasons left on a contract that includes a limited no-trade clause, according to CapFriendly.com, and any trade would likely have to be approved by Washington owner Ted Leonsis.

"People are looking for a major solution to what we have going on," MacLellan said. "I think part of it is they watch certain things in [Ovechkin's] game, and then it shows up and they say that's not acceptable. But he's a big part of our franchise, a big part of our history. He's been a big part of where we're at as an organization and just to casually say, 'Let's trade him?' For what? For who? I don't think it makes sense from an organizational point of view.

"Maybe at some point if there's a legitimate hockey deal that came available, but I don't know if that's where we're at right now."

MacLellan spoke to the media for the first time since the Capitals' season-ending 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on May 10. Although he intentionally waited nearly three weeks to allow emotions to subside and make a thorough assessment of what went wrong, his disappointment has not subsided.

Among MacLellan's initial determinations was to retain Trotz as coach, which he said makes sense after the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy in back-to-back seasons. But MacLellan said he has no plans at this point to offer an extension to Trotz, who is entering the final season on his contract.

MacLellan appears to want Trotz, 54, to earn the extension by making some necessary internal changes, though he declined to reveal the changes he'd like to see.

"I think we're in a period here of uncertainty where we have to drill down some specific stuff," MacLellan said, "I think we needed improvements throughout our organization, myself included. Once there's evidence of those improvements, a contract extension could take place."

That's not a strong endorsement for Trotz's future with the Capitals. MacLellan said he and Trotz have a philosophical difference on how to deal with Washington's burdensome history of not getting past the second round of the playoffs since 1998.

Trotz has repeatedly said the Capitals' past is irrelevant. MacLellan said he believes the pressure of past postseason failures impacted the players and coaches negatively in Game 7 against the Penguins.

"The coaching staff needs to find a way to get them out of that, get them through that," MacLellan said.

Since being introduced as GM on May 26, 2014, the same day Trotz was hired, MacLellan has worked to reshape the Capitals into a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup. However, they fell flat in the biggest moment of the season at home against a team that was missing several regulars. But MacLellan said he knows there are no quick fixes.

"I think it's a lot easier to make this team worse than it is [to make it] better," he said. "If you make a major change, what's it going to involve? Trading a franchise player, blowing the whole thing up? I don't know that that makes sense."

Some change is inevitable because of the NHL salary cap. Defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner, and forwards Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik appear destined to sign elsewhere as unrestricted free agents. MacLellan said he remains hopeful of re-signing right wing T.J. Oshie, another potential UFA who tied with Ovechkin for the Capitals lead with 33 goals this season, but that is far from a certainty.

MacLellan's priority is to re-sign Washington's five restricted free agents: forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, and defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. That and leaving roster room for some prospects to play next season might turn out to be the extent of its offseason moves.

So if the Capitals are going to be a playoff team again next season, they'll need some of their returning players to play better. That starts with Ovechkin, who will turn 32 on Sept. 17 and has begun showing his age.

Ovechkin's 33 goals were his fewest in a full season since he scored 32 in 2010-11, and his 16 even-strength goals were his fewest in a full season in his NHL career. MacLellan acknowledged part of that was due to Trotz cutting Ovechkin's ice time to try to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but said it was "a down year" for him regardless.

MacLellan said Ovechkin needs to make some changes his offseason training to come back next season in better shape, something Ovechkin acknowledged on May 12. He also said Ovechkin needs to adapt his game to the way the NHL has changed.

"He's going to have to think of ways he can evolve into a player that still has a major impact on the game," MacLellan said. "The game's getting faster. He's going to have to train in a different way, a more speed way instead of a power way. He's going to have to make adjustments to stay [relevant] in the game."

MacLellan said he doesn't believe taking the captaincy from Ovechkin is one of the answers to the Capitals' problems, but it sounded like it's an idea he's considered.

"I don't know that that's an avenue we'd want to pursue right now," he said. "I mean, he's our captain. He's been a big part of this franchise over the past number of years and it's nothing we've talked about recently."

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