By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010; D03
Nearly three weeks after being ousted in the first round of the playoffs, the Washington Capitals gave their fans -- and two young centers from Sweden -- reason to be optimistic.
The team announced Monday that star Nicklas Backstrom has signed a 10-year, $67 million contract extension that will keep him in Washington -- and alongside two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin -- through the 2019-20 season. Ovechkin is two years into a 13-year, $124 million contract that will expire after the 2020-21 season, meaning the team's cornerstone forwards are locked up for the next decade.
"I was thinking that I want to play with him. Hopefully he wants to play with me, too," Backstrom said during a morning news conference during which the team also announced the signing of 2009 first-round draft pick Marcus Johansson. "I wanted 10 years, I wanted the long term and finally got it. I think it is good that we're together."
Backstrom notched 33 goals and 68 assists in his third NHL season, and in the process became only the fourth Capital to reach the 100-point plateau. At just 22 years old, he's also proved to be as durable as he is productive, suiting up in 246 consecutive games, the longest streak on the team.
Backstrom's new contract gradually escalates from $6 million in each of the first four seasons to $8 million in the final year. His cap hit of $6.7 million puts him second on the team behind Ovechkin's $9.54 million and just ahead of Alexander Semin's $6 million.
The contract also compares favorably to those of players the Capitals consider to be his peers: Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (five years, $6.3 million cap hit), Los Angeles's Anze Kopitar (seven years, $6.8 million), Colorado's Paul Stastny (five years, 6.6 million) and Philadelphia's Mike Richards (12 years, $5.75 million).
"I don't want to answer that," Backstrom said when asked if he accepted less money for the stability of a decade-long deal. "I am just happy to be here."
Pressed on the subject, he added, "I think this was the fair value."
Said General Manager George McPhee: "We went back and forth. Different trends were discussed. But players want different things sometimes. Nicky was ready to do 10 years, he was interested in doing 10 years. We discussed it and felt that that would work for us if we could get the right number."
McPhee, who said the discussions spanned the past year, also acknowledged the risks of locking up players to long-term deals. But he quickly added that he's not concerned about Ovechkin and Backstrom not living up to their end of the bargain.
"They're the real deal," McPhee said. "It sends the right message to our fans that this franchise has outstanding young players ready to commit for the rest of their career."
Backstrom spent some of Monday getting to know Johansson, whom the team drafted 24th overall last June. The 19-year-old, who shares the same agent as Backstrom, signed a three-year, entry level contract that could be worth as much as $2.7 million ($810,000 in base salary plus $90,000 in signing bonus each year). The contract also includes a "European out clause," according to his agent Marc Levine, who said Johansson will have the flexibility to return to Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League if he becomes unhappy with his situation in North America next winter.
"I will give it my best shot, get advice from Nicklas, and give it my best and hopefully I can play for the Capitals," said Johansson, who added that he plans to attend this summer's development camp and training camp in September.
After the news conference, Backstrom prepared to fly back to Sweden. But before he did, he dropped one of his trademark one-liners. Asked who pays the check next time he and Ovechkin have lunch, he cracked: "I don't know. Maybe we'll have to do 'rock, paper, scissors.' "