Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin is being sued by his former Russian hockey team, Moscow Dynamo, which contends that it owns his contractual rights. The club is seeking to prevent the rookie from continuing to play in the NHL.
A Russian arbitration board, which comprises hockey officials in that country, ruled last month in favor of Dynamo. On Friday morning, Dynamo filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington seeking to enforce the Russian arbitration board's decision. The NHL was not represented on the arbitration board.
Ovechkin, the Capitals' leading scorer and No. 1 overall draft pick in 2004, was served with the legal paperwork by a Canadian bailiff before the team's pregame practice Saturday morning in Montreal, according to his agent, Don Meehan.
According to multiple sources, Dynamo does not want Ovechkin to return to Russia to play for them, but seeks monetary compensation for the rising star, perhaps several million dollars. The only way the Capitals would be forced to pay Dynamo for Ovechkin's rights is if a U.S. District Court judge rules in favor of the Russian team.
"I gather that the purpose of the lawsuit is to seek an injunction to prevent Alex from playing in Washington," Meehan said in a telephone interview from Toronto. "It's their interpretation of 'their rules.' But we are very comfortable that the action will not be upheld."
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who has closely monitored the developments, said last night: "Based on what I know, I am confident that the Caps will retain the rights to Alex's playing services."
After playing for Dynamo from the fall of 2001 to the spring of 2005, Ovechkin signed a contract with Russian Super League rival Avangard Omsk in June as the year-long NHL lockout appeared to jeopardize the 2005-06 season. Ovechkin, however, exercised an out clause in his deal with Omsk on July 20 and decided to play for the Capitals. In September, Dynamo claimed it had matched Omsk's offer, but the matching offer did not include the clause. Ovechkin, meantime, had already joined the Capitals.
"We are confident that the court will uphold Alex's contractual status and decision," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said in a statement. "Alex is a Washington Capital and this process will not affect his participation with our club.
"We have been assured by legal counsel that both the ruling and the attempt to enforce it in the U.S. are without merit."
It's not the first time Dynamo has demanded money for Ovechkin. In August 2004, two months after he was drafted by the Capitals, Dynamo reportedly demanded $2 million for Ovechkin's rights.
Ovechkin, who has 15 goals and 21 points in 20 games this season and is a candidate for rookie of the year honors, is scheduled to earn a base salary of $984,200 in each of the next three seasons in Washington. Bonuses could make the contract worth as much as $3.9 million per.
The lawsuit against Ovechkin is the latest legal headache for the Capitals, who last month filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking a temporary restraining order against 2002 first-round draft pick Alexander Semin, who has repeatedly ignored his contractual obligations to the Capitals to play in Russia. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday in Washington.