Ovechkin not ready to discuss retirement, focused on season with Capitals
Forward turns 34 in September, has two years remaining on contract
Alex Ovechkin said he doesn’t want to talk about speculation he might retire when his contract with the Washington Capitals expires following the 2020-21 NHL season.
“We will talk about that after two years,” the Capitals captain told NHL.com on Thursday in a telephone interview from Beijing, where he was wrapping up a trip as an NHL ambassador promoting the growth of the game in China.
The speculation about Ovechkin’s future was sparked by an interview Aug. 1, when he told TASS news agency in Russia how long he plays will be determined by his health.
“I have two more years to play under my contract,” Ovechkin said in a news conference hosted by TASS. “Let us wait and see whether I will continue my career as everything depends on the health.”
Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, is 13th in NHL history with 658 goals in 1,084 games. With 42 goals this season, he’d become the eighth player to score 700 NHL goals.
After previously saying that Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals was unbreakable, Ovechkin told NHL.com in April that he was warming to the idea of trying to catch Gretzky. That likely would take at least five more seasons.
“I have to be healthy. I have to be in good shape,” Ovechkin said. “I’m going to try to do it, but you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
Approaching his 34th birthday on Sept. 14, Ovechkin remains at the top of his game entering his 15th NHL season. He led the NHL with 51 goals last season; it was his eighth 50-goal season and record eighth time he led the NHL in goals.
At least part of his longevity can be attributed to his dedication to his offseason training. Ovechkin had a hectic schedule in China but brought along his personal trainer, Pavel Burlachenko, so he was able to fit in some workouts between youth hockey clinics and sightseeing trips. Ovechkin visited the Great Wall of China on Thursday.
“Yeah, he’s here, but obviously with the time change and all the stuff that’s going on, it was hard to find the time for training,” Ovechkin said. “But we tried to do the best that we can.”
Ovechkin said he understands the importance of training as he’s gotten older. He had three straight seasons of scoring at least 50 goals from 2013-16, but that dipped to 33 goals in 2016-17. Ovechkin refocused his training to trim body fat and regain some of the power and speed he lost in his skating.
He rebounded to lead the NHL with 49 goals in 2017-18 and helped the Capitals win their first Stanley Cup championship by scoring a League-best 15 goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a shorter offseason after winning the Cup, Ovechkin reconfigured his training slightly again. He had more time to recover this offseason after the Capitals were eliminated in the Eastern Conference First Round by the Carolina Hurricanes and said he’s where he wants to be physically with the start of training camp five weeks away.
“I feel good,” Ovechkin said. “My coach is happy. My trainer is happy, so if he’s happy, I’m happy.”
Ovechkin said he plans to fly home to Moscow on Friday and expects to return to the Washington area during the last week of August for his final preparations for the start of training camp. He’ll return to a Capitals team missing some familiar faces after defenseman Brooks Oprik retired, the trades of defenseman Matt Niskanen (to the Philadelphia Flyers) and forward Andre Burakovsky (to the Colorado Avalanche), and the departures of unrestricted free agent forwards Brett Connolly (signed with the Florida Panthers) and Devante Smith-Pelly (unsigned).
“It’s a business,” Ovechkin said. “It’s tough to see people retire and your friends go to different teams, but we’ll talk about that when I come back to Washington.”