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.
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.