ARLINGTON, Va. - First Alex Ovechkin, now Nicklas Backstrom. The Washington Capitals have their two best players locked into big money contracts for a decade.
So, who buys lunch?
“Maybe we’ll have to do rock, paper, scissors,”Backstrom with a smile.
The 22-year-old Swede signed a 10-year, US$67-million deal Monday, a major investment in a player who has rapidly developed into one of the best centres in the NHL. He and two-time league MVP Ovechkin have developed a partnership that accounted for 210 points this season, making them the top scoring teammate duo in the league.
“We now have two of maybe the top five players in the world playing on our team for many years to come,”coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Ovechkin is about to enter the third year of a US$124-million, 13-year deal. Knowing that Ovechkin isn’t going anywhere played a part in Backstrom’s desire to commit to Washington for the long haul.
“I was thinking that I wanted to play with him,”Backstrom said.“Hopefully he’ll want to play with me, too. I wanted 10 years; I wanted long term. I think it’s good that we’re together.”
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Backstrom set career-highs with 33 goals and 68 assists this season, and his 101 points ranked fourth in the league. He has yet to miss a game over three NHL seasons.
Backstrom’s contract pays him $6 million for the next four seasons, with the amount gradually increasing to $8 million by decade’s end. He had been scheduled to become a restricted free agent in July.
General manager George McPhee expressed no qualms about having so much time and money tied up in just two players.
“The risks are that the player doesn’t meet expectation with the contract, but I never for one minute with Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom think that they won’t compete all the way through,”McPhee said.“It sends the right message to our fans and to this franchise that we have outstanding young players who are ready to commit for the rest of their career. You win championship with these kinds of players.”
Not yet, though. The Capitals flamed out in the first round of the playoffs this year despite having the NHL’s best record. Asked if the contract puts more pressure on him to perform, Backstrom said it’s no different than the pressure to win the Stanley Cup.
“I don’t think it is going to be anything different,”Backstrom said.“We want to win the Cup.”
Backstrom wasn’t the only Swede putting his name to a contract Monday. The Capitals also signed 2009 first-round draft pick Marcus Johansson to a three-year entry level deal for $2.7 million. McPhee said the 19-year-old centre will be ready to compete for a roster spot next season, with Backstrom as a mentor.
“Our two Vikings,”McPhee said.“It’s always good to have Vikings.”