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Alex Ovechkin to Dallas Speculation is Fun

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What to do when your heart says “Ovie” but your head says “fiscal prudence and sound roster-building strategy”

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs
That one-timer would look awfully nice in Victory Green
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Were it not for the names involved, the entire incident would likely have been a weird non-story. Instead, ESPN’s Chuck Gormley decided to include the Dallas Stars in his review of potential trade partners should the Washington Capitals decide to deal face-of-the-franchise Alex Ovechkin (random gripe: Jamie Benn is a left winger, Chuck). Gormley suggested Dallas’ extra first rounder, ample cap-space, and position in the rebuild / win now life cycle were possible motivators for a deal.

Closer to the Stars, the excellent Mike Heika was quick to debunk the rumor (via Twitter), but with catfish-gate settled and a few extra days baked into the Stanley Cup Final, there is ample time for an unsettled Stars fandom to ask a few questions. So, after taking a brief mental interlude to imagine Seguin and Ovie playing “who can one-time the puck harder” let’s ask those questions.

Why would the Stars even want Ovechkin?

Individual performance is undoubtedly part of the equation. Ovechkin is a one-time 60, six-time 50 goal-scorer in an NHL where 30 goals is an achievement. The well-decorated Russian would also bring an Art Ross, three Lester B Pearsons, three Harts, and six Rocket Richards to a Stars lineup long on potential but short on actual achievement.

Digging a little deeper, did you know the “High Octane” Stars have actually been pretty mundane on the power play? Since the start of the 2014-2015 season, Dallas is 22.1% with the extra man, good for a “wait, they’re that bad?” 14th in the entire NHL over that stretch. Last season’s edition couldn’t even manage middling, falling to 17.9% and 20th. Ovechkin fixes that.

The Russian winger also simplifies a number of other roster issues. It’s not going to be a glaring weakness, but there are legitimate questions to ask about how the Stars will score next season. With Ovechkin in the fold, Dallas isn’t quite so dependent on Mattias Janmark coming all the way back from a knee injury. Nor will they be forced to rush their younger scorers into high-difficulty minutes. Devin Shore could use a little more time to work on his possession game, for example.

Remember, this is a team that put Remi Ellie and Brett Ritchie alongside Tyler Seguin while, supposedly, in the heat of a playoff race. This is also a team with pending free agents like Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler, and Patrick Sharp.

Think about this version of the Dallas Stars, and what has brought them the most success. Two seasons ago, the Stars boasted the NHL’s second best offense, won the Western Conference, and won a playoff series before bowing out in Game 7 against St. Louis. To borrow a Razor-ism, they outscored their problems. Sure, fans would love to see GM Jim Nill bolster the defense, but we’re living in an Adam Larsson-for-Taylor-Hall world now. What if the players simply aren’t available, or the cost is prohibitive?

Ben Bishop is going to help, John Klingberg will have another year under his belt, and it seems insane to think Julius Honka will not be a lineup regular. What if that’s as good as the backline gets? If that’s the case, why not double-down on an area of strength with a guy you know is available, and, furthermore, is going to be available at a (relative) bargain?

So why won’t the deal get done?

Because it’s pants-on-head-crazy, and yes, I realize I say that after spending 400 words talking about why a deal might make sense. It’s a tactics versus strategy thing. Actually, it’s more of a tactics versus logistics thing.

Alex Ovechkin is a 31-year old winger who currently counts $9.5 million against the salary cap, and will continue to do so until the end of the 2020-2021 season. Only three current Stars can claim contracts of that length: Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Ben Bishop. Which means the Stars will have to negotiate a number of significant extensions during the term of Ovechkin’s contract.

It helps that John Klingberg took a team-friendly deal ($4.25M), but both Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin will see their deals expire before Ovechkin’s. In an Ovechkin scenario the Stars will have to find enough dollars to keep Seguin and a player of Spezza’s caliber in the 2C spot, especially if they’re going all-in on offense (aka the only reason an Ovechkin deal makes sense on the ice). Striking gold with this year’s third overall pick could bring in an elite, cost-controlled asset, but gambling on the draft represents an Oleksiak-size question mark.

And then there’s the inevitable march of time. Ovechkin is 31 and coming off his worst full season since 2012-2013. Sure, Ovie’s “worst” season is still 33 goals, 36 assists, and 69 points, but it’s also the second straight year his overall output has declined. At some point, Ovechkin is going to stop being an elite offensive player, and it is very likely he’ll still be carrying a $9.5 million cap hit when that happens.

Finally, the Stars have to think long term. Benn is 27, Seguin is 25, and Klingberg is 24. On the second tier, Radek Faksa (23), Shore (22), and Ritchie (23) should continue to grow. There’s even speculation that Valeri Nichushkin (22) could return at some point in the next two seasons, plus whatever the Stars have in their minor league system. Maybe if everyone on that list is five years older it would make sense to grab Ovie and make one last run.

In a beautiful, capless world this is Turgeon-to-Dallas on HGH, but that’s just not the way the modern NHL works. Alex Ovechkin the player would help Dallas next season, and likely longer. It’s just too bad Alex Ovechkin the asset doesn’t bring the same value.