Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals' No. 1 overall draft pick last year, ended weeks of speculation about his immediate future yesterday when he chose the Capitals over his Russian hockey club.
Ovechkin exercised an "out" clause in his contract with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super League, clearing the way for the 19-year-old left wing to play in Washington next season. Ovechkin had until midnight Wednesday to opt out of the deal with Omsk.
Capitals General Manager George McPhee received the news earlier today during a telephone call with Ovechkin and his agent, Don Meehan.
"I don't want to speak for Alex, but he made a very difficult decision today," Meehan said from his Toronto-area office. "Russia and Washington are obviously worlds apart, and he is from a very close-knit family. They decided what was best for Alex, and that was to terminate his contract with Omsk."
McPhee said through a team spokesman that he cannot comment on Ovechkin's decision until the owners and players ratify the tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining pact, which is expected this week.
"George spoke to Alex and his family this afternoon," Meehan added. "It's fair to say George was thrilled."
The players are scheduled to vote on the collective bargaining agreement Thursday in Toronto; the NHL's Board of Governors will convene Friday in New York to vote. If both sides ratify the document, it will bring to an end a labor dispute that began 10 months ago and resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
By backing out of his contract with Omsk, Ovechkin turned down a guaranteed $1.8 million salary, a car and an apartment, according to a source with knowledge of the contract.
Next year in the NHL, Ovechkin, like other top rookies, will earn a maximum base salary of $850,000, but could earn significantly more by reaching several lofty performance incentives.
Rookies will be able to earn as much as $4 million if they rank among the top 10 in goals, assists, points or win a major award.
The Capitals are expected to agree to terms with Ovechkin immediately after the collective bargaining agreement is ratified, perhaps as soon as Monday, according to league sources.