By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006
As Alex Ovechkin walked past a television hanging from the ceiling in the Washington Capitals' practice facility yesterday, he stopped, and his eyes lit up.
"Hey," he said. "It's me. I made Top Five Plays!"
Ovechkin watched a replay of his second-period goal Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"Scooooore!" Ovechkin exclaimed, raising his arms over his head.
Halfway through his rookie season, Ovechkin has left the NHL -- and sometimes even himself -- standing in awe. Despite playing on a team mired near the bottom of the standings, the Capitals' dynamic left wing is on pace for one of the best debut seasons in league history.
With 26 goals and 25 assists in 41 games, Ovechkin is on pace for 102 points this season. Only five rookies have recorded more than 100. He's also on pace for 52 goals; only three rookies have scored more than 50.
"He's obviously one of the most talented players in the National Hockey League," Ottawa Senators defenseman Zdeno Chara said recently, after spending the better part of 60 minutes chasing the high-energy winger around the ice. "You have to respect his skills."
By season's end, Ovechkin stands to receive more than praise. He can also double, even quadruple, his salary.
The 20-year-old Moscow native is eligible for $2.85 million in incentives, the maximum the league allows teams to pay out under the new collective bargaining agreement for rookies. His base salary, including signing bonus, is $984,200, also the most allowed.
Ovechkin has already achieved one bonus. By scoring his 20th goal on Dec. 23 in a 4-2 victory over Montreal, he earned $212,500.
"I know when I score 20 goals, I have one bonus," Ovechkin said yesterday at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, his eyes fixed on the television. "But I don't know how many points I must have for [additional] bonus[es]."
He may not, but his agents and the Capitals' salary cap crunchers are certainly playing close attention.
The incentives contained in Ovechkin's contract are divided into two schedules: Individual A, which are paid out by the Capitals, and Individual B, paid by the NHL and supplemented by the team.
If Ovechkin earns the maximum in each -- and at the halfway point of the season it appears there is a strong chance he will -- he stands to earn at least $3.83 million, which would make him the second highest paid player on the team behind veteran goaltender Olie Kolzig, who is due to earn $4.94 million. All of the bonus money will be paid after the season.
Ovechkin, whose would-be rookie season was wiped out by the NHL lockout, entered this season with slightly less fanfare because of the meager competitive expectations for the Capitals and because of the arrival of Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby. Neither player has helped his team much in the standings -- the Capitals and Penguins are last in their respective divisions -- but each has shown signs of being cornerstone's of the league's foundation.
"He's a great player," New York Ranger and former Capital Jaromir Jagr said of Ovechkin. "I would say he's a different player than Crosby. He's more of a goal scorer. He's here by himself. Everything he has to do one-on-one."
In addition to his 20-goal bonus, Ovechkin's other Individual A incentives are: 35 assists, 60 points, .73 points per game, Calder Trophy (rookie of the year), top three forwards on club in plus minus rating and postseason all-rookie team, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of his contract.
He will receive $212,500 for reaching each of those plateaus, but he can earn no more than $850,000 total. So after achieving four incentives in 'Individual A' -- and it's virtually certain he will -- Ovechkin is "maxed out" in that schedule.
Ovechkin can earn his 'Individual B' bonuses in any number of ways. If he reaches any of the following plateaus, the Capitals will pay him $2 million:
· Finishing among the top 10 forwards in goals, assists, and points. The league pays $150,000 for first, $140,000 for second, and so on.
Ovechkin is currently seventh in goals, 42nd in assists (25) and 10th in points. Reaching one of these plateaus is Ovechkin's best chance of the big payout.
· Finishing among the top 10 forwards in points per game. The league pays $100,000 for first and $10,000 for 10th.
"If I win the bonus, I'm glad," Ovechkin said. "If I didn't win this bonus, it's okay. I came here for my dream. If I want money, I could stay in Russia and make three million bucks.
"Money is always money; it's good. So you go to restaurant, you don't have to think about it. So if I win this, I will be happy."