Capitals teammates expect Alex Ovechkin back in Washington

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Capitals teammates expect Alex Ovechkin back in Washington originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Though neither Alex Ovechkin nor the Capitals have given any reason to doubt that Ovechkin will be back next season, the fact that he has played out the final year of his contract and remains unsigned has led some to wonder about his future.

But not his teammates.

“I don’t think we’ve thought that much about it," Lars Eller said at the team's final media availability of the season. "I think the general feeling is probably everybody would be very surprised if Ovi isn’t going to be back. I don’t think you take it for granted, but you’d be very surprised not to see him back."

Whether or not everyone wants Ovechkin back is not in question. We know he wants to return, we know the team wants him to return. But there are always business considerations to be mindful of and sometimes those can deny a star player the fairytale ending he would want with his longtime team.

Zdeno Chara went from Boston to Washington and Henrik Lundqvist would have joined him from New York to Washington if not for a heart condition, Jarome Iginla played for four teams after leaving Calgary, Brett Hull's final season consisted of five games with the Phoenix Coyotes, etc.

As the Caps are tight against the salary cap and teetering on the edge between contending and the championship window closing for good on this generation, you can see how a situation could arise where the player and team suddenly are not on the same page about the team's direction or short-term goals.

"I do know that things like this do happen in sports with legendary-type players moving teams towards the end of their career," T.J. Oshie said, "But I think Ovi loves it here, I think Ovi wants to stay here forever, I think they want him here forever so I'm hopeful that something will get done that's fair for both sides."

Some stars go, but Ovechkin is a special case.

While Washington may have a history of great players who have played for the team, there's no denying Ovechkin is the best of them all and that he has had a greater impact on the sport within the city than anyone else to play here.

"Ovi is obviously a little different than most players in terms of his history here and him as a player and what he means to this club," Eller said.

"If you ask my personal things, I don’t think I can imagine him wearing a different jersey just based on what he has done for this team and what he means to this organization, for city and for fans, for everybody," Russian countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov said.

Ovechkin is a star player, but it goes deeper than that. He is the best player in the history of the franchise, but it goes even deeper than that, too. Ovechkin is the reason why a franchise that was struggling to drum up support within its own city is now seen as one of the prominent franchises in the league.

Since Ovechkin came to Washington, the Caps have played in three NHL outdoor games, reached the playoffs 13 times, won 10 division titles and the Stanley Cup. He generated interest not just in the team, but in the game of hockey.

"Since I've come into the game, when you think of the Washington Capitals you think of Alex Ovechkin so, no, I don't see [him leaving]. He's our captain," Oshie said.

The players' sentiments echo what general manager Brian MacLellan himself said of Ovechkin and his contract. 

"We want him to finish his career here," Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said. "He's defined our organization, so it's important for us for him to feel comfortable with what he's doing, for him to feel comfortable with the contract, for the direction of the team. We don't want to end the relationship I guess is the point. We want him to go out the way he wants to go out."

The players who all know the business and how it can get in the way of these things, expect it to play out just as MacLellan described.

"I truly believe that [Ovechkin] is going to stay here for the rest of his career and he is going to be successful," Kuznetsov said.

"You never know," Eller said, "But I hope I’ll have him as a teammate again next season.”