Back when the Washington Capitals announced Alex Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124 million deal at a team event in January 2008, it seemed far-fetched the deal would be a relative bargain for the team, let alone go the length of the contract and even be topped by a bigger contract at its conclusion.
Long-term deals in the NHL usually don’t turn out so great for the team doing the signing.
Rick DiPietro, who signed a 15-year-deal contract with the New York Islanders in 2006, was out of the league by 2013 after numerous injuries curtailed his career. Shea Weber signed a 2012 offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers for 14 years and $110 million that was matched by Weber’s Nashville Predators club, but he was shipped to the Montreal Canadiens less than four years later for P.K. Subban – and while Weber has been good in Montreal, the deal still won’t expire until 2026, when the defenseman is 41.
Ovechkin’s deal was the outlier in the pre-2013 CBA mega deals before the contracts were limited to just eight years to prevent spreading out the contract money over an unreasonable amount of time. Despite being signed 13 years ago, the expiring contract still has Ovechkin in the top 15 in terms of 2020-21 salaries, and he has proven a productive player over the entire term of the contract.
Since the deal was signed, quelling the rumors that the then-restricted free agent could go elsewhere, Ovechkin has scored 583 goals – more than any NHL player during that span – and won three Hart Trophies, nine Rocket Richard Trophies, led the Capitals to three Presidents’ Trophy seasons, and, most importantly, a Conn Smythe Trophy for leading the team to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 2018.
But, the deal has just a couple of months left, and the Russian star is slated to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career this summer. According to Bob McKenzie, the Capitals have tabled contract talks with their captain until April.
Ovechkin’s Future in the NHL, and a Possible Future Team
One of the first things to get out of the way is that it is exceedingly unlikely that Ovechkin will join another NHL club, as the team and star have grown together for the past 16 years and show no signs of reaching a parting this summer.
The team’s marketing success over the past decade has been built around Ovechkin, and the team’s rise from a regional team lower in the Washington sports scene with scant national TV appearances has been dramatic, with the team now one of NBC’s staples and attracting sellout crowds dating back to 2009 and swift jersey sales.
While the Washington Football Team has traditionally been the top team in town, the NHL franchise is now in the conversation along with the Nationals as the team’s top local team, something unthinkable before Ovechkin’s arrival.
Ovechkin has benefitted from being in Washington as well, with the team ownership willing to spend to try to capture a title and ice a competitive squad every season since the rebuild was deemed over in the summer of 2007. Since Ovechkin arrived, Washington has only missed the playoffs three times, two of those coming in the first two seasons of his time in the nation’s capital.
However, it also is unlikely that Ovechkin will finish his professional career in the NHL, as he has expressed a desire to play in Russia before his career ends, and as recently as last November, said he would like to play for Moscow Dynamo before hanging up the skates.
This isn’t new, as the logical exit point for Ovechkin from the NHL was to go back to Moscow Dynamo, and that will probably happen at some point. But, that return to the KHL seems years off, and really the question will be what is the term and price tag of a new contract with Washington.
What a New Contract Might Look Like
While Ovechkin can pretty much ask for a blank check in his new contract with the Capitals, the popular number going around is a deal worth about $12.5 million per season, matching the cap hit of the NHL’s highest-paid player in Connor McDavid.
That figure probably would be overpriced at his current talent level, but at the same time, the contract would be more of a make-good deal for the financial windfall he has helped bring the franchise and the years the franchise has saved on not having to boost his salary since 2008 despite his success.
The team has benefitted financially from the partnership, as the team’s value has risen nearly six times what it was worth before he arrived in Washington.
Back in 2003, months before the Capitals took Ovechkin with the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, the team was valued by Forbes Magazine at $130 million, good for 18th overall in the NHL. In the latest Forbes rankings, the Capitals are now valued at $750 million and ninth in the league overall, with a lot of that growth due to the success they’ve had since his arrival, both on the ice and off.
While a potential $12.5 million salary cap hit also will squeeze the Capitals’ constraints a bit, adding about $3 million to the team’s already maxed-out cap charge, it also is something that can be worked around, particularly with the expansion Seattle Kraken available to take some salary off of Washington’s hands this summer.
This summer, the team has Jakub Vrana, Ilya Samsonov, and Jonas Siegenthaler as restricted free agents, with Conor Sheary, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Zdeno Chara, and Henrik Lundqvist as unrestricted free agents, and while Vrana and Samsonov will get sizeable raises, none of the deals should really throw a major curveball into the team’s finances.
The other question will be the length of the contract, as the two questions likely will be how long will the Capitals remain a Stanley Cup contender and if Ovechkin feels he has a chance to catch Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring mark.
In terms of being a contender, the Capitals probably have this year and next to make a serious run at a second Cup title, but with the cap constraints and an aging roster, the team will need some maneuvering to keep competitive past that point.
It’s possible by next season one of the team’s top cap hits are moved either in the expansion draft or trade to clear room, but this should remain a competitive roster for at least another season, and certainly, the team has shown it can extend a closing window, as the won the Cup just months after it appeared the team’s competitive run of the 2010s was over.
Ovechkin’s chase for Gretzky’s mark is also in question, as he currently stands at 713 goals, 181 shy of the mark. At his career pace, the record would be reached in 302 more games, which would come in the fourth season of a potential deal.
Of course, at age 35, it’s difficult to forecast when the drop in Ovechkin’s production will come, as he has had at least 48 goals the previous three seasons, and although he has just 7 goals so far this year, he also is a notoriously streaky scorer.
With all that in mind, the likely target for Ovechkin and the Caps would be a $12.5 million, four-year deal worth around $50 million total, and at that point, the deal expires, both sides can revisit how close they are to their goals. The Capitals could also opt to stretch out the sum of the deal for a couple of more years to lessen the cap hit, with both sides knowing the deal would likely not reach its end without a buyout or Ovechkin’s retirement, at least from the NHL.
So Capitals fans likely won’t have to worry about seeing their star in another sweater – even though they have seen the unusual year of Zdeno Chara and Henrik Lundqvist on their roster. The team seems to be willing to pay the star what he’d want, and the captain doesn’t seem like he’s interested in going elsewhere at this time.
Author of a pair of Washington Capitals books, Transition Game and Red Rising, as well as a book on the American Hockey League, Chasing the Dream. Covered the Capitals and the NHL for the Washington Times, AOL Sports, Sporting News, SB Nation, Newsday, Tampa Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.