Friday, January 11, 2008
Last night at a Meet the Team party for season ticketholders Ted Leonsis made public what many of us already assumed - that Alex had signed a contract extension. What we didn't know was that the length of time was something beyond even our wildest dreams. Thirteen years. Thirteen years of Ovechkin's grins, his goal celebrations, his joyous tackling of teammates. Thirteen more years of his ever-evolving talent, his leadership, and his presence on and off the ice.
There are some - in fact there already have been some - who will sneer at the length or the amount, claim he's not worth the bucks or he's handcuffed himself to a team that can never really fully appreciate the great talent that he is. Ovechkin is insane. The Caps are insane. This is a horrible idea.
...is it? $124 million is a lot of money, yes. 13 years is a long time, absolutely. But the way the contract is designed, it will pay him $9 million a year for the first half (that's only $300,000 more than Crosby gets with his new "hometown discount" contract, by the way) and $10 million in the second half. Anyone thinking that Ovechkin wouldn't be making that kind of money anywhere he goes has underestimated his value severely - it just sounds like a more insane amount because it's over 13 years.
As for that number...the Caps have said time and time again that Ovechkin is the cornerstone, the building block of this team. He is the face of the franchise and we want him to continue to be the face for as long as possible. All this does is remove the burden of having to renegotiate with Alex every few years - it removes the pressure from the team and removes the distraction from Ovechkin.
It's also a statement. A statement by ownership and management that all their rhetoric about wanting to keep Ovechkin and build around him was not just a bunch of words but a true belief in his ability to lead this team to a championship. A statement by Ovechkin that he may like playing in Montreal or Toronto for the hockey atmosphere - but he loves being a Cap. He could have signed a shorter deal and still said he loved being here...maybe somewhere in the, oh, I don't know, five year range? But he didn't. He jumped in with both feet and proclaimed to fans, ownership, and the rest of the league that DC is where he wants to play.
There are two arguments likely to crop up in the coming days from those bitter journalists and analysts who hate seeing successful players in anything short of a hockey mecca. It's not hard to predict - we've heard them all before.
The first is that Washington is a horrible hockey town, a place where good players go to fade away from the spotlight and waste their talents on a team going nowhere. I'm not even sure where this stigma came from, but after years of following Washington hockey I can tell you it's not true.
Yes, the excitement has dwindled slightly - but anyone who attended games back in the late 80s, the heyday of the Caps and their consistent playoff appearances, knows that there was once a passion for this team that rivaled the best hockey cities in the league. And anyone who was at the Meet the Team event last night knows that the passion has never really faded away. There's still a buzz of excitement around this team and someone like Ovechkin is helping to fuel it - it may be moving slower than we'd like but it's happening and it's only a matter of time before this team is back in the spotlight where it deserves to be.
Furthermore, in recent years we have seen four or five players give up the chance to play for a so-called "contender" or to earn more money by staying in DC. Alexander Semin, coming off a 38-goal year, signed a two year contract extension to stay here. Kolzig has continually turned down the option of trades or free agency to stay here. Chris Clark, also coming off a career year, chose to ink four more years with the team. Michael Nylander turned down more money to come here. And now Ovechkin has made the biggest statement of all - he never wants to leave.
So on to the second argument. It's too many years, too much money, and the Caps will find themselves burned like they were with Jagr.
I almost don't know how to respond to that except to say that, luckily, Ovechkin is no Jagr. Good ol' JJ showed signs of being a temperamental diva and an underachiever long before he signed that big money longterm deal with the Caps. Ovechkin, on the other hand, never seems to take a shift off. He never phones it in. He hates not scoring but hates losing more; his celebrations when his teammates score is just as big if not bigger than if he had scored the goal himself. The guys so obviously love him just as we all love him - and that makes him worth every penny.
If you haven't seen it yet, take a look at the video from last night of Ted announcing the deal, courtesy of the wonderful people at OnFrozenBlog. Watch the looks on the team's faces; listen to the sound of the crowd. It was an amazing moment and one I'll probably never forget. Check it out: