While the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators square off for championship glory, the Washington Capitals are left to juggle questions about the future of their franchise centerpiece, Alex Ovechkin.
Such is life for a team that, after another disappointing but unsurprising exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs courtesy of the Pens,as it looks to do more than take another Presidents' Trophy in 2017-18.
In recently addressing offseason plans, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan emphasized the unlikelihood of Washington parting ways with Ovechkin, the prolific scorer whose tenure in Washington has yet to produce a title.
But the GM did not rule out a trade.
"Maybe at some point if there's a legitimate hockey deal that came available," MacLellan said of the possibility of an Ovechkin deal, "but I don't know if that's where we're at right now."
The question, of course, is how long "right now" lasts. No one can deny Ovechkin's talent, even if critics of his postseason play have some valid arguments. But a breakup of Ovi and the Caps is as plausible as it's ever been, what with Washington desperately needing a long-term plan for life after the forward and the expensive Ovechkin potentially seeking a change of title-seeking scenery.
If the Capitals can swallow the departure of their much maligned icon, guarantee at least something of a sizable compensation package and convince a non-divisional team to take on Ovechkin's hefty salary (those are some big "ifs," by the way), here are three destinations that make sense for the Russian-born superstar:
Ovi landing with the Habs is the scenario that makes so much sense it's probably too good to be true.
The 31-year-old left winger has gone on record with his praise for the Canadiens, one of the NHL's Original Six and a staple of the league's international roots, even noting that he would have loved to call Montreal home if not for a career with the Caps.
Claude Julien and the Habs, meanwhile, would certainly benefit from such a high-profile addition on the outside. The Canadiens had a problem generating enough offense, particularly late in games, during a first-round series loss to the New York Rangers this postseason but figure to remain right in the thick of the playoff picture again next season.
As both Montreal and Ovechkin battle closing championship windows with top-end short-term talent, this match probably works more in favor of Ovi and the Habs than it does Washington, but the Caps would at least keep their pricey commodity out of the Metropolitan.
No team has thrust itself back into "win-now" mode more blatantly than the Stars, who welcomed back Ken Hitchcock as their coach beforeand one of their first-round draft picks.
Addressing a shaky blue line could top Dallas' priority list this offseason, but with at least one of the team's pre-Bishop goalies likely to get the ax and more of a salary-clearing overhaul on the way, adding Ovechkin to the mix doesn't seem out of the question for a franchise that isn't being quiet about a hopeful 2017-18 postseason run.
Stars GM Jim Nill all but campaigned for the team's pursuit of an "established player" in a potential trade of one of Dallas' two first-rounders, and you can't get much more established than Ovechkin.
That's not to say Ovi would jump at the chance to suit up for the Stars or that Dallas should devote so many resources to an aging non-defensemen, but if there's a club with the ammunition to make a deal happen, it's Nill's.
Vegas Golden Knights
Perhaps this is more novelty than likely, but what trade involving Alex Ovechkin isn't, if we're being honest?
First and foremost, Vegas has the George McPhee connection. The ex-Caps GM is now running the show in the desert, and who better to spice up the expansion team's roster and 2017-18 prospects, not to mention with a dose of familiarity, than Ovechkin?
It's not easy to suggest Vegas as a landing spot, if only because the franchise will lack much of a player compensation package until well after its expansion draft in June -- and even then, the Caps probably won't be knocking down the door to acquire any of the Golden Knights' scrapheap pickups.
But from both a playing and marketing perspective, a big offensive name like Ovechkin makes a ton of sense in Vegas, which can at least cough up draft capital -- chips for other trades, possibly, in Washington's eyes.