Leonsis confident signing was the right move for Caps
The whopper of a contract signed by Alexander Ovechkin is just the latest move by owner Ted Leonsis to give the NHL its best shot in Washington, writes Scott Burnside.
No matter how this all ends in Washington, in Stanley Cup glory or in bitter disappointment or ultimately with the arrival of moving trucks bound for Kansas City or Las Vegas or even Hamilton, no one will ever accuse Ted Leonsis of not putting it all on the table.The owner of the Washington Capitals has wagered $124 million that over the course of the 13-year contract extension Alexander Ovechkin signed Thursday the Russian star will prove to be the kind of player who will not only leads his teammates to playoff glory but will captivate fans in an unprecedented fashion. Leonsis has wagered the richest contract in NHL history that Ovechkin can make Washington the kind of hockey town few believe it can be. "At some point we have to face facts here," Leonsis told ESPN.com on Friday morning. "If we have a great team and we win a Stanley Cup and we've got superstar players and an innovative marketing strategy, which I think we have, and we can't sell out, then we have to say we have a market problem." "I don't know what I'll do about it," Leonsis added. "But we're not there yet." Not yet. Maybe not ever. But on Thursday Leonsis took a bold step to maintain control over his assets and to ensure that whatever happens down the road with this oft-maligned team that he has dictated the course, not someone else. Thursday's signing of Ovechkin to a 13-year, $124 million contract extension that brings with it a cap hit of just over $9.5 million a year, signals to the fans that Leonsis is a man of his word. The owner, who made his fortune with AOL and has many interests including documentary film-making, told season ticket holders in the fall that Ovechkin wasn't going anywhere even though Ovechkin was slated to become a restricted free agent in July. There is little question given the events of last summer that had the Caps dithered on extending Ovechkin's contract, another team (let's say the Los Angeles Kings for instance) would have plunked down a monster offer sheet. The Caps would have immediately matched any offer sheet but then, Leonsis pointed out, he would have been allowing another team to negotiate with his assets.
As it is, Leonsis and Ovechkin started out discussing a six-year deal at $9 million a season that was similar in term and value to the contract extension signed earlier this year by the game's other iconic star, Sidney Crosby. Then the Caps looked at the fact Ovechkin, who turned 22 in September, would then be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent before turning 29, pretty much at the prime of his career."So we said to him, 'Why don't we negotiate your free agent deal right now,'" Leonsis said. So they looked at the free agent deals signed by top players last summer and came up with an additional seven-year term at about $10 million a year. "I think that in six years, $10 million will look pretty reasonable," Leonsis said. Perhaps. As long as the Canadian dollar remains strong and if U.S. television ratings continue to creep up and merchandising sales continue to climb, there is little reason to believe the salary cap will do anything but continue to increase a modest amount each year.