By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2008
The Washington Capitals signed Alex Ovechkin to a 13-year, $124 million contract extension yesterday, ending months of speculation about his future with the organization and making him the first player in NHL history to sign a nine-figure contract.
The deal will pay the 22-year-old Russian $9 million per season in each of the first six years, then $10 million per season in each of the final seven. It's the wealthiest contract in Washington sports history and ranks second in NHL history in length behind New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro's 15-year, $67.5 million pact.
It also surpasses the contract extension signed by Ovechkin's primary rival, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who agreed to five-year, $43.5 million contract in July.
"I cannot say how happy I am," said Ovechkin, who through Wednesday's games was tied for second in the NHL in goals with 32. "I didn't want to go nowhere. If I want to go somewhere, I could sign for three years."
Ovechkin fired his agent in November 2006 and negotiated the extension directly with General Manager George McPhee, with some guidance from his parents and brother. Ovechkin and McPhee opened the discussions last summer in Paris, and the talks accelerated this week. The first negotiations centered on a five-year pact, McPhee said, but as the discussions continued, both sides agreed it made sense to aim for a longer-term deal. "I thought he would do as good a job directly as he would with an agent," majority owner Ted Leonsis said.
For Leonsis and his franchise, which has struggled on the ice and at the gate in recent seasons, the contract locks up the team's cornerstone player through the 2020-21 season and takes Ovechkin off the free agent market before he reached it. Ovechkin, in the final year of a three-year, entry-level contract, could have become a restricted free agent at season's end, meaning competing teams would have been able to sign him to an offer sheet, though the Capitals held the right to match any such offer. Ovechkin admitted to being distracted in recent weeks as media speculation intensified about the possibility of him signing with another team.
"When you read the newspaper and it's, 'Ovechkin goes over there', 'Ovechkin traded,' you don't want to think about it," he said, "but you think about it. Now I can think about my game."
Leonsis said he was never worried.
"If you're going to make a long-term investment, who else would you do it with," Leonsis said. "This takes away any of the issues about how committed we are to winning a [Stanley] Cup and how committed we are to keeping our team together."
McPhee said the contract contains a limited movement clause that kicks in when he's 27, at which point Ovechkin will submit a list of teams to which he would refuse a trade prior to each season.
A rare combination of power and finesse, Ovechkin, who is due to earn $3.83 million this season, has scored more goals than any player since he entered the league in 2005-06 (130) and has established himself as a fan favorite at Verizon Center and in arenas around the league. He grabbed international headlines with 'The Goal' on Jan. 16, 2006 in Phoenix, where he scored from on his back and later became the first Capital to win rookie of the year honors.
"It's great," veteran goaltender Olie Kolzig said. "Alex is the face of the organization. When people talk about the Caps, it's generally with him in mind. Him and Sidney Crosby are the faces of the NHL right now, and to have Alex here for 13 years, it means a lot the team, to the city. This could be a very good team for a very long time."
Ovechkin is on pace to set a career high in goals this season and is one of the major reasons the Capitals are 9-3-3 in their last 15 games.
This is not the first time Leonsis has made an enormous financial commitment to a player. In October 2001, he signed Jarimor Jagr to a seven-year, $77 million extension, a deal he is still paying a large portion of despite the fact that Jagr plays for the New York Rangers. Leonsis said he was comfortable signing Ovechkin to such a large contract because, "He's not only a world class talent, he's a really, really great person. My bet is that the money won't affect him. He'll play every shift like it's the seventh game of the finals of the Stanley Cup." Asked whether the enormity of the deal would put any additional pressure on him, Ovechkin said: "It won't put more pressure on me. I will play the way that I always play."
As for his first purchase, Ovechkin flashed his gap-toothed smile and said, "I have everything."
Capitals Note: Backup goaltender Brent Johnson was assigned to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League yesterday for a conditioning stint. Johnson has missed the past five games with a sprained left knee, which he suffered on Dec. 27 in Pittsburgh.