Ovechkin expected to re-sign with Capitals prior to free agency, GM says

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Alex Ovechkin is expected to re-sign with the Washington Capitals before he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Wednesday, general manager Brian MacLellan said Saturday.

“I think both parties want the same goal and I think we will get it done by then,” MacLellan said. “I anticipate us getting it done by then.”

Ovechkin has been negotiating his contract with the Capitals without an agent, as he did in 2008, when he signed his expiring 13-year, $124 million contract ($9.538 million average annual value). The 35-year-old forward has repeatedly said he’d like to return to Washington, which selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft.

“I think we are making progress,” MacLellan said. “Our goal is to finish it up here by free agency.”

Ovechkin led the Capitals with 24 goals in 45 regular-season games this season despite missing an NHL career-high 11 games, including four while in NHL COVID-19 protocol and seven with a groin injury. He scored four points (two goals, two assists) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Washington was eliminated in five games by the Boston Bruins in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round.

Ovechkin is sixth in NHL history with 730 goals in 16 seasons with Washington, one goal behind Marcel Dionne for fifth and 11 goals behind Brett Hull for fourth.

Defenseman Zdeno Chara also can become unrestricted free agent Wednesday and is not expected to re-sign with the Capitals before then, but MacLellan said he would probably circle back to his agent at some point. Chara, who signed a one-year, $795,000 contract Dec. 30 after playing 14 seasons for the Bruins, scored 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 55 regular-season games and no points in five playoff games. 

The 44-year-old said after Washington’s playoff elimination that he was going to take some time to discuss with his family whether he wanted to return for a 24th NHL season.

“I think we might check in here again when (free agency) opens up just to see if he’s serious about coming back or not coming back and where the salary is going to end up and if we have room based on our roster decisions,” MacLellan said.

The Capitals will take a similar approach with forward Michael Raffl, who also can become an unrestricted free agent. 

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s future remains uncertain after he was unable to play this season because of a heart condition. Lundqvist signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Washington on Oct. 9 after having the final season on his contract with the New York Rangers bought out. 

The 39-year-old posted on Instagram earlier this month that he had resumed light workouts, but MacLellan said he’s yet to be cleared to resume playing.

“I think they’re waiting to see if he’s medically cleared before he can approach it,” MacLellan said. “I think he has the same attitude as last year, that he’d like to play, and if he gets clearance, I think he’s probably going to try and play.”

MacLellan said Craig Anderson, who was Washington’s third goalie for most of the season, is expected to retire after 18 NHL seasons

Ilya Samsonov is in line to be the Capitals No. 1 goalie next season after Vitek Vanecek was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on Wednesday. MacLellan said he’s had talks with Samsonov’s agents at Newport Sports about a contract for the 24-year-old, who can become a restricted free agent.

MacLellan said he expects talks to become more serious after free agency opens and a bridge deal is most likely. Samsonov was 13-4-1 with a 2.69 goals-against average, .902 save percentage and two shutouts in 19 games (18 starts).

“Given the season he had [this] year, a little inconsistency there, I think that (a bridge contract) probably works for both parties,” MacLellan said. “I think he recognizes, or his representatives recognize, that there’s upside there. We recognize there’s upside there, so that probably makes more sense for both parties.”

MacLellan said he doesn’t anticipate being very active on the unrestricted free agent market because the Capitals are tight against the NHL salary cap of $81.5 million. He acknowledged he has been trying to clear salary cap space via trade and will continue to do so.

“It is just a matter of how much we need to move out and we will base our decisions (in free agency) off that,” MacLellan said.

MacLellan said defenseman John Carlson had minor surgery on his knee after the playoffs and will be ready for the start of next season.

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