Optimism, Cynicism, and the Ovechkin Contract

So perhaps second only to the excitement surrounding the Capitals’ resurgence under Coach Boudreau is the buzz about Alex Ovechkin’s record-setting thirteen-year, $124 million contract. Many Capitals fans are thrilled that the team has shown such commitment to Ovechkin and to the fans; others are worried the deal, for various reasons, will come back to haunt the team.
So, playing off the OrderedChaos bloggername dichotomy (and yes, I use the name for other stuff too), I’ll be devil’s advocate against, er, myself. Full disclosure: I’m an optimist by nature. But the cynics have some good points. For the sake of rational discussion I will ignore ridiculous negativity and focus on valid concerns about the deal which persist two weeks after the ink has dried.

Ovechkin's Million Dollar Bill
Now picture 123 more of these…

Optimist: Woohoo! So happy to see the face of the franchise here long-term. I love this deal.
Cynic: Um… history repeating? Didn’t the team learn from the Jaromir Jagr debacle that such a huge deal is a big risk? I’m not saying they should have let Ovechkin go, but I wish the contract had been a little less intimidating.
O: C’mon, Ovie is a completely different player than Jagr. He plays at 100% all the time, and doesn’t take shifts off. Plus his exuberance is contagious on and off the ice–the personalities of Jagr and Ovechkin couldn’t be more different.
C: OK, but 13 years? The Caps are still paying the price, literally, for the Jagr extension–basically a third of what Jagr scores each year is bought by the Caps but benefits the Rangers. We still only have 2.5 NHL seasons from which to project his career… hardly a definitive sample size.
O: True… the Jagr situation is undeniably painful. But Caps’ fan “Rage” posted a good analysis of the “real money” terms of the deal. Basically, as inflation and the salary cap increases over the course of the contract, the deal for the team gets better each year. But if you require further financial reassurance, check out Rage’s post. And remember, the Jagr extension was offered before he skated a single regular-season shift in a Capitals uniform. 2.5 years does not a career make, but what Ovechkin has shown so far makes him a pretty good gamble.
C: Locking any player up for so long has to detract from his motivation, right? There’s a reason that many players in all sports perform their best in contract years.
O: I don’t think anything can diminish Ovechkin’s drive to win. This guy’s got a champion’s pedigree courtesy of his mother and father, both athletes in their time, and the work ethic to match. Last off-season he claimed he didn’t train enough by his own standards and was disappointed with his play… yet he still scored 46 goals. This year Ovechkin worked even harder to get in top shape, and now he leads the league in goals.
C: I’m worried this contract sets the bar too high, and may hurt the Caps’ chances of affording other key players (paging Mr. Green) as well as restricting their ability to bring in free agents.
O: The deal certainly locks up a big chunk of change in one player. But I don’t see Ted Leonsis and George McPhee making a commitment like this one without realizing that Ovechkin can’t win the Cup on his own. The team will certainly no longer hover near the bottom of league in payroll. And don’t forget, an up-and-coming team with a bona fide (and well-paid) superstar helps make Washington a more appealing destination for free agents. Who wouldn’t want the chance to play with Ovechkin? A deal like this represents not only the organization’s faith in Ovechkin, but also its commitment to building and maintaining a year-in year-out contender.
C: Still, there’s no guarantee that he’ll want to stay in DC for thirteen years. What if he gets impatient, say a half-dozen years from now, and wants out? Or what if the team decides the same?
O: I don’t think that will happen; the team loves Ovie, and Ovie seems to love D.C. But if it does, both the player and the team have an out. A “limited movement clause” kicks in around Ovechkin’s 27th birthday. Ovechkin can pick a handful of teams that he can eliminate from consideration for a trade each season; the Capitals may then entertain trade offers from any teams not on Ovechkin’s “hell-no” list. And, as mentioned before, Ovechkin’s contract becomes more financially attractive with each passing year. So if a trade is desired by team or by player, I’ve little doubt the result would be much more attractive to the team than simply a Jagr-esque salary dump.
C: OK… but what if he gets hurt? Thirteen years is a really long time, and the physical style Ovechkin plays leaves him more susceptible to injury than say a Gretzky-type guy.
O: Fair enough. There’s no way to predict injuries, and Ovechkin does play full-throttle and hits like a freight train. But remember that he also works incredibly hard to prepare himself physically and mentally; good preparation/conditioning goes a long way towards reducing the risk of injury. And you may have heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth of late coming from Pittsburgh, so clearly playing a “softer style” by no means protects one from harm.
C: Hey, aren’t you getting tired of this dual-personality shtick?
O: Why yes. Yes I am.
Clearly the risk of such a lucrative, long-term deal is significant. But the potential reward–that of having a high-energy, goal-scoring, franchise player for the next 13 years–is worth that risk.

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19 Responses to Optimism, Cynicism, and the Ovechkin Contract

  1. Thunderweenie says:

    Love the article, OC.
    Me, too.

  2. TG says:

    I fully agree with the last point. The way he plays, I have visions of Cam Neeley running through my head.

  3. Thanks Thunderweeinie!
    TG, here’s the thing: Would you rather see him wearing another team’s sweater and scoring goals against the Caps? In other words, let some other take on the risk?
    I share your nervousness about injury potential, though your expectation of it seems much greater than mine. But getting hurt is a risk for every player on the ice, and I don’t see fear of injury — note, not a history of being injury-prone, just the fear of it — being a reason to avoid a long-term deal with Ovehckin.

  4. Bobtimist says:

    I have a feeling that this contract will result in 13 Stanley Cups.
    BTW: This reminds me of our blog (except no dastardly “C”)

  5. Thanks for the comment Bob. And great post last week… OFBers, for more Caps optimism, check this out:
    http://dcoptimist.blogspot.com/2008/01/one-1.html

  6. Thunderweenie says:

    Hey OC,
    Long-term deals make a little more sense for younger players like Ovechkin than they do even for slightly older players like Rick DiPetro, who will be 40 when he finishes his 15-year contract. Ovechkin will be 36 when his contract expires, and while its possible that he could be at the end of his career by then, its less likely. (BIG difference between 36 and 40 when it comes to most pro athletes.)
    All the same, I can’t say I’m a big fan of these long-term contracts. They expose a club to an awful lot of risk over an awfully long time (and can also tie up an awful lot of cap room for an awfully long time), and if things don’t work out, the player is pretty much untradeable.
    On balance, though, Ovechkin is probably worth the gamble more than other players are.
    Say, you guys in Washington need a goalie? We’ve got one in Ottawa who seems to want to be anywhere but Ottawa…

  7. MulletMan says:

    Sounds like your trying to push Ray “I have an attitude” Emery. Asking price would be too high I’m guessing.

  8. Thunderweenie says:

    Oh, no, he doesn’t have an attitude. Not at all. Just doesn’t know how to use an alarm clock. Or how to drive on a freeway. Or how to find his way to the arena. Or how to not fight with his teammates. All the qualities you want in a guy to whom you’re paying $9.5 million.
    So…whaddya say? :-)

  9. LMAO Thunderweenie!
    I like that million-dollar bill- very nice.

  10. Mellyville9 says:

    Just read Caps are on NHL Network 3 times in Feb!!!!! Great to see. Promoting Ovy alot I see. But does this mean you cant watch in on Comcast????

  11. Gretz98 says:

    I hate to say this considering how much I admire Ovechkin as a player, but doesn’t this deal have an air of Germany invading France in WWII. Germany didn’t learn from history and the mistakes of past nations: you don’t invade Russia during the winter. Ted Leonsis is doing the same thing (minus all the evil and prejudice) by signing Ovechkin to this deal. If anyone could lead a team to the Cup before his thirties, it’s Ovechkin, but why sign the extra six or seven years to the contract when there’s so much risk? The reward may be great (having a possibly healthy Ovechkin at a steal of a price, considering inflation in seven years), but the risk is even greater (Ovechkin’s style will likely end his career similarly to Cam Neely). Who knows, overall the entire contract may be bad for the entire NHL (http://hockeyspot-gretz98.blogspot.com/2008/01/ovechkins-contract-bad-for-nhl-but-not.html).

  12. Gretz98 says:

    Awww…nuts I hate momentary lapses in brain activity. I meant Germany invading Russia in the comment above, sorry for any confusion.

  13. Grooven says:

    Gretz98,
    I thought the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor. :)

  14. MulletMan says:

    @Grooven
    Nevermind, he’s on a roll

  15. Thunderweenie says:

    OK, just as long as no one yells FOOD FIGHT. :-)
    Gretz, in terms of this being bad for the NHL, I think its important to put the Ovechkin deal in its proper league-wide context. The Caps may be perpetuating an unhealthy trend (I think they must might be), but they are by no means the only ones. There is a trend toward multi-year mega-deals –DiPietro is the most extreme example, but you can also count Briere, Gomez, Heatley…all with contracts or extensions of over five years. And don’t forget Yashin, before he had the last four years (!!!!) of his contract bought out.
    The Yashin experience, I think, instructive, may provide some clues as to where this may lead. At least a few of these teams will end up eating the last few years of these deals when the players run into injury trouble of just aren’t performing or some other reason.

  16. Thunderweenie says:

    OC, you damn well beat me to it.
    (But please, no one stick a donut in your mouth and claim to be a zit. That would just be too much.)

  17. As Capitals head writer Mike Vogel put it after last night’s game, “Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s hear again from the chorus of folks who claim that the 13-year contract extension signed by Ovechkin earlier in the month is out of line for whatever lame reason. He has eight goals and 14 points in six home games and has 11 goals and 18 points in nine games overall since putting pen to paper. He has 19 goals and 30 points in his last 17 games.”
    http://capitals.nhl.com/team/app/?service=page&page=NewsPage&articleid=351906

  18. Thunderweenie says:

    OC, that’s a perfectly good reason to re-sign him. The question is: is it a good reason to re-sign him for thirteen years?
    No one questions that Ovechkin is by far and away the best player in the game right now (at least, I don’t question it), but will he still be a decade from now? In other words, will Ovie still be that productive in 2018, when he’s older and has been injured a few times? Generally speaking, a guy with lots of time and $$ left on his contract is very difficult to trade if the need should arise…
    Don’t get me wrong–the Caps would have been VERY stupid to let Ovechkin walk, and maybe this was indeed the price of keeping him. I just wonder about the contract length, dat’s all.

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