WASHINGTON – Alexander the Great has a contract worthy of his nickname – the first US$100 million deal in NHL history.
Alex Ovechkin signed a $124 million, 13-year contract extension Thursday with the Washington Capitals, a handsome reward for the 22-year-old charismatic Russian who has been a nonstop goal-scorer since coming to the NHL in 2005.
“I’m happy to stay here,” Ovechkin said. “It’s my second home. I like the fans. I like the team. I like everything here.”
It’s not the longest deal in NHL history – Rick DiPietro signed for 15 years with the New York Islanders – and it didn’t break the record for largest average salary, but it is the league’s first contract to guarantee nine digits of income.
“I’m a risk-taker,” said owner Ted Leonsis, who has made Ovechkin the cornerstone of a rebuilding plan to restore the Capitals as a perennial playoff team. “And if you’re going to make a long-term investment, who else would you do it with? This takes away any of the issues of how committed we are to winning a Cup, how committed we are to keeping a team together.”
The contract will pay Ovechkin $9 million per year for the first six years and $10 million per year for the following seven. A limited movement clause kicks in after several years that will allow Ovechkin to select a handful of teams at the beginning of each season to which he cannot be traded.
And he won’t have to pay an agent a dime. Ovechkin worked out the details himself in negotiations with Leonsis and general manager George McPhee. His parents, Tatiana and Mikhail, were also in town for the final round of talks for a deal that runs through the 2020-21 season.
Even so, Ovechkin was carefree when asked about the gaudy numbers.
“Hockey is my life,” he said, shrugging, “and money is money. … If you think about money, you stop playing hockey.”
Asked what he plans to buy with his new riches, he said: “I feel I have everything.”
“A front tooth,” added Leonsis, noting the big gap in Ovechkin’s smile.
“Maybe razor,” chimed in Ovechkin, who arrived for the press conference unshaved and with a mop of uncombed hair.
At least he was wearing a suit, a change of pace from his usual attire of colour-clashing outfits.
“Well,” he said, “I’m still looking good.”
More seriously, Ovechkin said he realizes the most lucrative contract the league has ever seen will carry an extra burden.
“I know it’s extra pressure, but I have to play the same,” he said. “If you think of pressure, it’s hard for you. I have to play the same way – play more, play better.”
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, Ovechkin was in the final season of a three-year, entry-level deal. His salary-cap number for this season, taking into account bonuses, is $3.83 million.
If Ovechkin had become a free agent at the end of the season, the Capitals would have had the right to match any offer from another team. He and the Capitals had been talking about an extension since the end of last season, and he said the rumours about his future were starting to get to him.
“When you read the newspaper and, like, ‘Ovechkin can go over there,’ ‘Ovechkin can be traded,’ you feel it,” Ovechkin said. “But then you try and don’t think about it, but you think about it. Right now, I think all about my game.”
Leonsis said he was initially skittish about the length of the deal, having been burned by the eight-year, $88 million contract he gave Jaromir Jagr in 2001. The owner noted, however, that other contracts will surpass Ovechkin’s in years to come, and that “in 10 years the deal might look really attractive.”
“My bet is the money won’t affect him,” Leonsis said. “He’ll play every shift like it’s the seventh game of the finals of the Stanley Cup, and that’s what we’ve come to love about him.”
Ovechkin has 130 goals in his 2 1/2 seasons, tied with Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk for most among all NHL players over that span. Ovechkin had 52 goals and 54 assists in 2005-06, when he edged Pittsburgh forward Sidney Crosby in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Ovechkin followed that up with 46 goals and 46 assists last season.
Ovechkin has 32 goals this season, helping Washington surge from the league’s worst record to the fringe of the playoff race. He also has 20 assists.
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.