Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals' No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft, recently signed a contract to play for Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super League next season, Ovechkin's agent, Don Meehan, said yesterday.

Under the terms of the contract, Ovechkin, 19, has until July 20 to opt out and sign with the Capitals. There is no penalty -- for the Capitals or Ovechkin -- if he chooses to opt out, Meehan added.

The Capitals are prohibited from negotiating with Ovechkin until the NHL and its players' association sign a new collective bargaining agreement. The sides are reportedly close on a six-year deal, but it might not be completed before the deadline for Ovechkin to back out of his pact with Omsk.

"I'm hopeful we'll have a couple of days [between the completion of a new collective bargaining agreement and the deadline] to get something done," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said. "We want Alex to play for the Capitals, and he wants to play for the Capitals. But we don't have any control over" the CBA negotiations.

There's another issue that should worry Capitals' fans: Ovechkin's contract with Omsk is worth nearly three times what the 6-foot-2, 212 pound left wing would make in the NHL, Meehan said. The league's new collective bargaining agreement will reportedly call for rookies to make less than $1 million per year.

"Alex is in a tough situation," McPhee added. "He wants to play hockey and he wants to play for the Capitals. But he made a decision based on the facts as they stand today. . . . Based on our conversations with Alex, he's not driven by the money. He wants to prove himself in the NHL."

Asked if he thinks Ovechkin, a native of Moscow, will play for the Capitals next season, Meehan said: "He'll have options. I don't want to speculate. That's a decision that he and his family will have to make."

Further complicating matters is that Dynamo has matched Omsk's offer to Ovechkin and the issue is headed for arbitration. Ovechkin spent the 2004-05 season with Dynamo, which won the Russian Super League title. He scored 13 goals and tallied 14 assists in 37 games.

-- Tarik El-Bashir