Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Washington Capitals: Alex and the Singular Deal, a "Grim Fairy Tale"

“Alex was coming off his rookie contract, and he could have signed a four- or five-year deal.  Sidney Crosby had signed a five-year deal.  Then [Ovechkin] would have been an unrestricted free agent. We talked to him and we told him we would give him another year, to make it six years.  That was the first deal we negotiated, and that is why it came to $9 million.  Crosby did five years at $8.7 [million].  We were buying a year of free agency — $9 million a year over six years.

“We were all happy.  We shook hands.  We had a deal.  Then it was, ‘Do you want to stay longer?’  And it was, ‘Sure, what do you have in mind?’  Then we did some research and asked, what is the average free agent deal, how long is it?  Last year there were several seven year deals.  So we thought, why not just negotiate his free agent deal now?"

That was Ted Leonsis, founder, chairman, majority owner, and chief executive officer of Monumental Sports and Entertainment on the day Alex Ovechkin was signed to a 13-year, $124 million contract by the Washington Capitals in January 2008.  It was, and it remains, the richest deal ever for an NHL player.  But, as you can see, the contract was negotiated in two parts – an extension and a “free agency” deal.  With what has transpired over the last year, we are left to wonder, what might have happened if the second part of that deal had not been negotiated…


Washington, June 29 (TPPPress) – Although the signs around Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, proclaim that the NHL Entry Draft is the main event this weekend, the big story is off the ice.  In the weeks since the Washington Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, speculation has been running rampant over the future of Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, the league’s leading goal scorer in the abbreviated 2013 season and winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, signed a six-year contract to play for the Capitals in 2008.  That contract, which pays Ovechkin $54 million, will expire upon the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season.  For the Capitals, who have been silent on any progress toward a new deal, stand to lose Ovechkin to unrestricted free agency if a new deal is not consummated before the end of next season.

Hockey media in North America and Europe have not lacked for rumors, speculation, or theories on what might become of Ovechkin.  A story emerged last week outlining the contours of a possible deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs that would have sent Ovechkin to Toronto in exchange for first round draft picks in 2013 and 2014, and forward James van Riemsdyk.  There has been speculation of a possible return to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, where he played for Dynamo Moscow during the 2012-2013 NHL lockout.

In any case, Ovechkin looms large over the proceedings of the draft, where trades often upstage the draft picks themselves.  The choices he and the Capitals make over the next few days, or perhaps months, will ripple through the league and perhaps change the fortunes of at least two clubs – the Capitals and any trading partner with whom they can deal – for years to come.



Newark, July 1 (TPPPress) – The 51st NHL Entry Draft came and went on Sunday with the usual images of fresh faced teenagers hugging family members and striding to the podium after their selection, their symbolic first steps toward a career in the National Hockey League. 

But the biggest noise of the weekend was silence.  Although it has been the subject of much speculation and commentary over the past several weeks, Washington forward Alex Ovechkin was not traded on draft day.  The Washington Capitals held their star forward and all of their draft picks, making for a no-news day for the club, except for the release of the biographies of the young men they selected in the draft.

On the matter of Ovechkin’s future, the hockey world will now adjust its focus to figuring out how Ovechkin, the Capitals, 29 other teams in the NHL, and the Kontinental Hockey League navigate through the weeks and months to come with Ovechkin about to play in the final year of his six-year, $54 million contract with the Capitals.

There was some discussion in the media after the draft ended that the Capitals might consider a compliance buyout of Ovechkin’s contract, but an unnamed source close to the club dismissed that alternative emphatically.  According to the source, “The Caps might as well just call in [the 2013-2014] season on the ice and at the gate if they did that,” noting also that the Caps would enjoy no return from any possible trade that might yet take place.

Nevertheless, Ovechkin’s future is very much uncertain.  It is possible that while no trade was consummated at the draft, that discussions might bear fruit down the road, either before the start of the 2013-2014 season or at the NHL’s 2013-2014 trading deadline next February.  There is the possibility that the Caps will re-sign the league’s reigning Hart Trophy winner to a contract extension, but this seems problematic given that five-seasons after signing his six-year deal, making Ovechkin the highest paid player in the league in terms of average annual value of the contract, he remains the league’s highest paid player, almost $1 million per year more than Pittsburgh Penguin forward Sidney Crosby.



July 11 ( – Stating a desire to return home to Russia, New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk on Thursday announced his retirement from the NHL.

"This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia," Kovalchuk said in a statement released by the team. "Though I decided to return this past season, [general manager] Lou [Lamoriello] was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me. The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me."

Lamoriello said Kovalchuk, 30, signed his voluntary retirement papers, and the team has voided the remaining 12 years of the contract with the player. The voiding of the remainder of the deal opens the door for Kovalchuk to play in the Kontinental Hockey League this season.

Kovalchuk, a native of Tver, Russia, served as captain of SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL during the lockout last season and had 42 points in 36 games.

Lamoriello said he was not surprised by Kovalchuk's decision, saying talks on this issue began in January.

"This goes back to the lockout and prior to coming back, his thought process of staying in Russia was there," Lamoriello said Thursday during a conference call. "He was here a little late [for training camp] and then there was no conversation whatsoever throughout the year about it. Then it recently resurfaced, and his desire was to retire from the National Hockey League…”



Larry Brooks, New York Post

July 14 (NY Post) – “…On Jan. 4, the day before the marathon negotiating session commenced that would lead to settlement of the lockout in the wee hours of Jan. 6, the NHLPA dissuaded Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin from issuing a joint statement declaring their intent to remain in Russia for at least the remainder of the KHL season regardless of whether or when the NHL reopened.

The Post, which first reported that news, has been told the Players’ Association would have been prepared to support the rights of these players to play indefinitely in a different league under contracts signed during the NHL lockout if the timing had been different and would not have created a significant last-minute obstacle to settlement…”



Jeff A. Klein, New York Times

July 15 (NY Times) – “Ilya Kovalchuk walked away from $77 million when he retired from the Devils last week at age 30, citing a desire to return to Russia with his family. On Monday, he signed a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.

SKA did not disclose the terms of the deal in announcing Kovalchuk’s signing. Alexander Medvedev, the former president of SKA, told the Russian daily Sport-Express that Kovalchuk’s earnings would be “absolutely comparable” to what he would have made in four years with the Devils.

Kovalchuk’s salary with the Devils averaged $6.67 million a year over 15 years. But the deal was structured so that he would have received $11.3 million the next two seasons, $11.6 million in 2015-16 and $11.8 million in 2016-17. That contract was rendered void when Kovalchuk signed his N.H.L. voluntary retirement papers.

Even if Kovalchuk does not make as much in St. Petersburg in raw dollar terms as he would have made in Newark, he will retain much more of it. Taxes are far lower in Russia than they are in North America, an incentive that has in the past helped induce Eastern European players like Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Radulov to jump to the K.H.L. from the N.H.L…”



Washington, September 22 (TPPPress) – In our look at the biggest story for each team as the National Hockey League prepares to embark on its 2013-2014 season, we turn to the Washington Capitals.  As the exhibition season slowly winds its way toward opening night in early October, all eyes are focused on the Caps.

It is not because the Caps are considered to be among the favorites to win a Stanley Cup in the spring of 2014.  The big story for the Caps concerns their reigning league most valuable player, Alex Ovechkin.  In 2008 Ovechkin signed a six-year, $54 million contract with the club that would carry him though the upcoming 2013-2014 season.  As Ovechkin prepares to play in the last year of  that contract, there is no lack of rumor or commentary about his status or his future. 

Although the Capitals are famously tight-lipped about any contract negotiations with their players, unnamed sources said to be close to the club say that the talks between club and player on a contract extension have gone nowhere. 

The matter is complicated further by the voluntary retirement from the NHL of fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk earlier this summer.  Kovalchuk signed a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL days after his retirement, and the hockey world has been commenting on the possibility of other Russian players – most notably Ovechkin – following the same path.



Washington, October 30 (TPPPress) – Less than a month into the 2013-2014 NHL season, the Washington Capitals find themselves looking up at the other seven teams of the Atlantic Division of the NHL’s Eastern Conference.  The Caps stumbled out of the gate, winless in their first five games of the season (0-4-1) and have mulled since to a record of 2-7-1.

Special teams have been the Caps’ undoing in the early going.  Their power play, the league’s best in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, has just three goals in 37 chances through ten games.  Alex Ovechkin, who led the league in power play goals last season, has yet to record one.  Penalty-killing has been equally disappointing, ranking 29th in the league at 75.7 percent.

When asked recently if the Caps’ early season frustration is at least in part a product of the continuing uncertainty about Ovechkin’s future with the club, head coach Adam Oates stated, “sure, it is a part of it.  These guys are human, but they are professionals, too.  And we expect them to focus every night.  We’ll work our way out of it.”  That task would be made much easier with resolution of the issue of Ovechkin’s contract.



Washington, December 16 (TPPPress) – With the Washington Capitals struggling in their first year in the newly realigned Atlantic Division of the NHL, rumors have been surfacing with increased frequency concerning trades involving Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, who signed a six-year, $54 million contract in 2008, is in the last year of that deal and has not yet agreed to an extension with the club.  Filling the vacuum has been speculation over possible destinations for Ovechkin either as a rental for a contender for the remainder of this season or to a club who might be expected to spend lavishly to retain his services for a longer term.

Complicating the matter is the alternative that is the Kontinental Hockey League.  During the 2012-2013 lockout, Ovechkin skated for Dynamo Moscow, and this could be an alternative when his current contract expires. 

The Capitals have been adamant that they have no intention of trading Ovechkin and that they are in frequent discussions with Ovechkin about a contract extension. That possibility might have made other teams skittish to trade for Ovechkin, but that has not stopped the rumor mill.  The latest of these, reported in Canada yesterday, would have the Capitals trading Ovechkin to the Montreal Canadiens for prospect defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, forward Lars Eller, and a first round draft pick in either 2014 or 2015.



Washington, February 1 (TPPPress) – Another day, another report of no new progress in the continuing negotiations between the Washington Capitals and star forward Alex Ovechkin over a new contract.  Ovechkin, who currently leads the NHL in goals and is second in points after a slow start, would be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

Neither side has commented officially about the ongoing negotiations, but unofficial sources speculate that the sticking point has become term, the Capitals preferring to lock up the 28-year old winger to a seven or eight year contract, while Ovechkin is reported to prefer a shorter term.



Washington, February 11 (TPPPress) – In a story published late yesterday, Russian press reported that Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Dynamo Moscow have come to a “handshake agreement” that when his current NHL contract expires he will return to Russia to play for the club in the Kontinental Hockey League.

The terms of the rumored deal were not revealed in the report, and this fueled immediate speculation that with the NHL trade deadline looming, the report was floated to sabotage any trades of the NHL star to a club that might wish to sign him to a longer term NHL contract. 

Neither Ovechkin nor the Capitals commented on the report of a deal.



Washington, February 24 (TPPPress) – With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, all eyes are on the Washington Capitals.  Having failed to come to an agreement with forward Alex Ovechkin on the terms of a new contract, there is a growing consensus among observers that the Capitals will listen to offers.

One widely circulating report this morning has Ovechkin being sent to the Chicago Blackhawks for prospect forward Teuvo Teravainen, defenseman Nick Leddy, and a first round draft pick in either 2014 or 2015 and a second round pick in 2015.

Other teams said to be interested or assembling offers include the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Detroit Red Wings, and the Vancouver Canucks.



Detroit, February 26 (TPPPress) – The Detroit Red Wings made a statement earlier today that their days of contending for Stanley Cup championships are not quite over.  The Red Wings, in a dogfight with the Boston Bruins for the lead in the NHL’s Northeast Division, obtained forward Alex Ovechkin from the Washington Capitals for 2013 first round draft pick Anthony Mantha, the Red Wings’ first round draft pick in 2014, and a second round draft pick in 2015.

Detroit General Manager Ken Holland could barely hide his excitement over securing Ovechkin for the stretch run of the 2013-2014 season, saying “obviously, we are thrilled to have a player of Alex’ talent skating with us.  We think that he and Pavel Datsyuk will make a formidable duo for any team to match up against.”  Holland said that he would begin talks with Ovechkin immediately on the matter of a contract extension.

Ovechkin echoed Holland after he touched down in Detroit late this afternoon, where a large crowd was waiting to welcome him to the Motor City.  “I’ve always wondered what it would be like playing alongside [Datsyuk].  Now I can live that dream,” he said. 

In Washington, General Manager George McPhee was subdued, clearly disappointed over losing the centerpiece of his club.  “Alex has meant so much to the Capitals and to the community since he came to us in 2005.  Not winning a Stanley Cup during his years here ranks among my biggest disappointments in hockey, but in the end we felt that without a contract we had to receive some return for him,” he said.  The comment was an apparent reference to the fact that the Capitals lost Alexander Semin and Mike Ribeiro to free agency with no return on their departures in recent years. 



Washington, March 23 (TPPPress) – The New York Rangers came from behind last night to defeat the Washington Capitals, 4-2, and thus eliminate the Capitals from the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.  It is the first year the Caps failed to make the post-season since 2007, ending a six-year string of playoff appearances.

Washington broke on top early on a pair of first period goals, one coming from Mike Green on a power play 3:14 into the contest.  The other came on a late goal from Tom Wilson with just eight seconds left in the period.  For both players it was their 14th goal of the season.

The Rangers came back with three goals in the second over a 2:44 span, starting with a shorthanded goal by Derek Stepan at the 4:44 mark.  Rick Nash tied the game 33 seconds later when he exited the penalty box and took a lead pass from Marc Staal, beating goalie Braden Holtby with a wrist shot over his blocker.  The Rangers scored again at the 7:28 mark when Ryan McDonagh ripped a slap shot over Holtby’s glove, ending the goalie’s evening.  Ryan Callahan ended the scoring with an empty net goal with 27 seconds left in the contest.



Boston, April 5 (TPPPress) – With less than three minutes remaining in the Detroit Red Wings’ contest against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden, Detroit’s Alex Ovechkin scored the tie-breaking goal in what was a 2-2 contest to give the Red Wings a 3-2 victory, and in the process clinching the Northeast Division title for the visitors.

For Ovechkin, the goal capped a three-point night.  He assisted on goals by Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Ericsson earlier in the contest.  Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla scored goals for the Bruins.

Ovechkin’s goal allowed him to reclaim the goal-scoring lead from Steven Stamkos.  Both players started the evening with 46 goals apiece.

Detroit’s win moved them to within two points of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race to capture the points lead in the Eastern Conference.



Detroit, June 15 (TPPPress) – The Detroit Red Wings and Alex Ovechkin are said to be close to a new deal that would keep the league’s reigning Hart Trophy winner in the Motor City for five more seasons.  An unnamed source with the Red Wings said that there remain some obstacles to a deal, notably a no movement clause and the scale of payments over the life of the deal, but the source noted that these could be settled in the coming days.

The Kontinental Hockey League has not given up on snaring its second NHL megastar in two summers, though.  Last year, Ilya Kovalchuk resigned from the NHL and signed a deal with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, and the league continues to press Ovechkin to return to Russia, according to reports from Russian press.  Ovechkin played with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL during the 2012-2013 NHL lockout.

* Note...all that you have read here, with the exception of a few cited media reports, is fiction, merely the musings of one pepperoni, anchovy, and marshmallow fluff pizza-addled writer.