Backstrom decided he wanted to negotiate his own contract during the summer and shortly thereafter let go his longtime agent, Mark Levine. Backstrom’s father, Anders, knows his son is capable of getting a deal on his own. Nicklas was always asking questions when he was younger, Anders said, and he has become “a little bit wiser.”
“He knows what he is doing,” Anders said. “He is confident with the organization, owners, the GM and stuff like that, and, yeah, I think he’s a stable, calm guy, so I know it is what he wants. So we are satisfied with that.”
When asked whether he had looked at contract terms for comparable players around the league, Nicklas Backstrom said he hadn’t done a lot of market research.
“I feel like I don’t need to go in there and be specific,” Backstrom said. “We can just have a normal conversation, and that is what we are having. So that’s it.”
The sticking point in negotiations is contract length, not money, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Backstrom is meeting directly with General Manager Brian MacLellan to negotiate, and both parties have made it clear they want Backstrom to stay in Washington.
From the Capitals’ perspective, a three-year deal makes sense because it would extend through the season when Backstrom turns 35, the age at which data shows players’ production begins to fall.
For Backstrom, who likely wants to avoid another negotiation in the near future, a five-year deal would be preferable. His résumé is stellar, including 900 points in 924 games, a key role in the run to the Stanley Cup in 2018 and a secure reputation as one of the best players in franchise history. Backstrom would prefer it if the next time he talked about his contract situation was to announce a new agreement.
“Either it is going to be done or they will be going the other direction, I don’t know,” said Backstrom, who has 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 29 games this season.
Contracts for NHL players over 35 could offer clues to how Backstrom’s deal could be constructed. Joe Thornton signed a three-year extension with the San Jose Sharks in 2014, when he was 34. Since that deal expired, he has returned each season on a one-year deal.
Backstrom’s reasoning for wanting to negotiate his own contract was similar to that of countryman Nicklas Lidstrom, who starred for the Detroit Red Wings.
Widely considered to be one of the best defensemen to play in the NHL, Lidstrom was the first Swedish player to negotiate his own NHL contract and ended up signing a one-year, $6.2 million deal in 2010. During the 2010-11 season, he became the first NHL defenseman to record 60 points at the age of 40.
“I wanted to gain the experience of negotiating my own deal late in my career,” Lidstrom said in a text message. “It was a good experience, and having had Ken Holland as my GM for a lot of years helped. … We’ve had a good working relationship.”
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty also negotiated his own contract in 2018, an eight-year, $88 million extension. This month, Doughty applauded Backstrom’s decision and encouraged more players to follow suit. The 2016 Norris Trophy winner recognized that not all players are as fortunate as him and Backstrom, whom Doughty described as “a veteran player in this league who year after year shows how good he is and how key he is to the Washington Capitals.”
When a player is in such a position, Doughty stressed, he believes self-representation is helpful. Players still need lawyers to look over the contract and can seek outside advice. “I wasn’t just doing it on my own," Doughty said, "but I didn’t have to pay anyone.”
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is the other widely known Capital to have negotiated his own deal; he signed his 13-year, $124 million contract extension in 2008.
“Good on him,” Doughty said of Backstrom. “Those guys, the agents, they obviously do a good job for you. But once you get to a certain age and you are old enough to negotiate your own contract, it is pretty easy and you save a lot of money. I know we make a lot of money, so saving money kind of sounds, I don’t know, it doesn’t sound great. But at the end of the day, you are saving millions of dollars not using an agent.”
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