Contained in the negotiations for Alex Ovechkin’s five-year, $47.5 million deal


The primary time Washington Capitals proprietor Ted Leonsis spent significant time with Alex Ovechkin was after the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Ovechkin, who had been drafted No. 1 total by the Caps in 2004, arrived at Leonsis’ home to spend a day with the household.

Leonsis’ spouse, Lynn, made lunch. Leonsis was impressed that the Russian famous person, then simply 20, helped choose up dishes afterward and introduced them to the kitchen.

Afterwards, they performed basketball with Leonsis’ youngsters and some mates. “He was an unbelievable basketball participant,” mentioned Leonsis. (Ovechkin’s mother, Tatyana, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in basketball). They then went swimming. “He was like a torpedo within the pool,” Leonsis recalled. “I am not kidding, that is what it felt like.”

Then the 2 males sat within the pool and talked. “Alex was making eye contact with me, and actually listening,” Leonsis mentioned. “I defined how onerous this was going to be for him. The rationale we have been in a position to draft him No. 1 is that we have been a extremely dangerous staff. It was going to take a extremely very long time to be a superb staff. Our objective was to win the Stanley Cup, but in addition for him to reside a full self-actualized life and develop up with us.”

Ovechkin remained a captive viewers. Leonsis then obtained philosophical.

“My perception was that communities fall in love with a younger participant,” Leonsis advised Ovechkin. “After which they typically get their coronary heart damaged when the younger gamers wish to go away.”

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Leonsis ended his spiel with a pitch: “Alex, belief me. Allow us to belief you. Let’s do that collectively.”

Ovechkin mentioned, “OK.” He was in.

Final week, the Capitals introduced a brand new contract for Ovechkin: 5 years, with a median annual worth of $9.5 million. The deal will take Ovechkin by age 40; ought to he common 33 objectives per season, it should additionally embody him breaking Wayne Gretzky’s all-time NHL goal-scoring document of 894.

Ovechkin negotiated the deal himself, emblematic of the belief he and the group have cast over practically twenty years collectively.

“The thought of him taking part in in Russia, or taking part in for one more group, simply did not make sense,” GM Brian MacLellan mentioned. “It was essential we introduced that tone into the negotiations that we have been going to attempt to make it work. We needed him to complete his profession right here, be glad concerning the contract, be glad concerning the time period, and exit the best means.”

Right here is the story of the way it all got here collectively.

Ovechkin has been a famous person ever since he stepped on NHL ice. He scored 52 objectives as a rookie. Two years later, he was named league MVP. He was MVP the subsequent season, too.

Leonsis was proper: it might take a very long time to succeed in their objectives. Regardless of making the playoffs in 10 of his first 13 seasons, it took till 2018 for Ovechkin to assist lead the Capitals to the group’s first ever Stanley Cup. Ovechkin’s influence off the ice was felt nicely earlier than that.

“After I purchased the staff [in] 1999, I paid $85 million, and we struggled to place followers within the stands,” Leonsis mentioned. “We had 2,900 season ticket holders in a 20,000 enviornment. The 12 months earlier than I purchased the staff they’d gone to the Finals and could not promote out playoff video games. The next 12 months, they did not make the playoffs and renewals have been horrible.”

After Ovechkin’s first MVP season in 2007-08, the primary below coach Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals bought out the playoffs. “The subsequent season we bought out each sport. And we have bought out each sport since,” Leonsis mentioned. “Now we’re a top-10 income staff, and a top-six or eight ticket-selling staff. We have change into a vacation spot. Now I might say the Caps are price a billion {dollars}.”

Ovechkin had fairly a {hardware} haul after the 2007-08 season. Claus Andersen/Getty Photographs

The Caps realized the ability of Ovechkin by the point his three-year, entry-level deal was expiring in 2008.

“When it was time for his second deal, there was a typical deal template,” Leonsis mentioned. “[Sidney] Crosby had signed a five-year second deal, and we might have accomplished one thing like that too.”

Staff president Dick Patrick had different concepts. In a gathering with Leonsis, Patrick mentioned: “I am very conservative, and I am very skeptical. And while you give gamers long-term offers for some huge cash, typically they alter, typically their love of the sport modifications. I believe there’s one thing particular right here, although. So why do not we do one thing radical? Why do not we inform Alex we wish to negotiate your bridge contract, your B contract, and your free-agent deal all on the similar time?”

On the time, Tatyana Ovechkin was serving as her son’s agent. Leonsis introduced the concept to them of a long-term contract, and defined the Capitals have been those assuming the danger. If Ovechkin obtained damage, he’d nonetheless receives a commission.

The advantage of a long-term deal: if Ovechkin lived as much as what the Capitals hoped he can be, it might work out for each side.

The damaging: there might be another person within the business that will get paid extra in that span, because the wage cap grows.

“What I admired about Alex is, he by no means as soon as in contrast himself and his deal to anyone else,” Leonsis mentioned. “He by no means requested to be traded. He by no means mentioned fireplace a coach. It is only a outstanding private journey for him.”

And so in 2008, Ovechkin signed a 13-year, $124 million deal. It was the NHL’s first $100 million contract.

Someday in the midst of Ovechkin’s 13-year contract, Leonsis met Wayne Gretzky at an occasion. The 2 males sat down and talked.

“Alex is the one participant I’ve ever thought might break my document,” Gretzky advised Leonsis. “He loves the sport. He has such an excellent relationship and luxury in D.C.; do not ever break that.”

Leonsis promised Gretzky: “I will not.”

Quickly after, Leonsis noticed the 30-for-30 documentary about Gretzky’s commerce from Edmonton to Los Angeles. “And I snigger,” Leonsis mentioned. “As a result of the Oilers gained 4 Stanley Cups however the one factor the proprietor is thought for is buying and selling Wayne Gretzky.”

As Ovechkin’s 13-year deal was nearing expiration this season, Leonsis typically joked throughout talks with different staff officers: “They are not going to make a 30-for-30 about us.”

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Throughout the pandemic, ESPN launched “The Final Dance.” Leonsis was riveted.

“It was 10 hours about Michael Jordan’s greatness,” Leonsis mentioned. “But in addition about how they didn’t really feel beloved or linked to the staff.”

Leonsis did not wish to be that man. He already felt like he was on a superb observe, although.

As a result of Ovechkin had signed a long-term deal in 2008, teammate Nicklas Backstrom adopted by committing to 10 years in 2010.

“Alex not solely made the dedication to us, however made it to Nick, then they embraced John Carlson,” Leonsis defined. “Preserving Alex, preserving Nick, preserving John Carlson, constructing a 20 to 25-year journey with these guys, with Alex because the bedrock, was the best factor for us to do. It is a great story.”

Ovechkin and Backstrom have shaped fairly a connection throughout their NHL days. Len Redkoles/NHLI by way of Getty Photographs

Backstrom’s deal expired in 2020. He selected to barter his subsequent deal himself.

“Nick could be very analytical,” Leonsis mentioned. “He sat down with us, and mentioned ‘That is what number of years I might prefer to play, I might prefer to play my entire profession right here. I wish to play with Alex my entire profession. I wish to play in entrance of this crowd my total profession. That is what we have to do to win the Stanley Cup, and that is how Alex goes to interrupt Wayne Gretzky’s document.’

“He actually went season by season, of what we wanted to do and the way he’d need to play, with five-on-five objectives and energy play. He landed on 5 years [for his contract]. It was outstanding how the 2 of them — in contrast to Lennon and McCartney, as an alternative of breaking apart, they have been completely in sync.”

Contract negotiations for Ovechkin’s new deal started informally. Ovechkin talked to MacLellan all through the season. The captain and GM met a couple of instances, typically at accommodations on the street.

“He’d return and speak to his household, and some advisors,” MacLellan mentioned. “Then he’d come again to me and we might speak once more. It went on for fairly some time.”

The primary discussions have been philosophical. Ovechkin needed to listen to the route of the Capitals. He needed to know what MacLellan envisioned and what forms of strikes he deliberate on doing.

“Then time period turned essential,” MacLellan mentioned. “He zeroed in on 5 years, and that turned essential. He preferred the time period of 5 years; he has some private objectives in thoughts.”

As soon as 5 years was decided because the time period, the 2 wanted to hash out the typical annual worth.

“His important objective wasn’t to make as a lot cash as attainable,” MacLellan mentioned. “He in all probability would get a shorter time period at the next AAV if he needed to go outdoors [of the Capitals]. In all probability might have made more cash going again residence to Russia, I might assume, there are in all probability some tax benefits there. We had discussions: ‘Listed below are your profession earnings. Is the next contract going to have an effect on your customary of life going ahead, or is it about ending your profession out the best means?'”

At $9.5 million — only a shade decrease than the $9.54 million AAV on his final deal — the Caps and Ovechkin felt like they may hold the staff aggressive. (That Ovechkin’s contract has practically the identical cap hit it had 13 years in the past is an fascinating indictment of the NHL; Leonsis says it’s a direct byproduct of the NHL nonetheless being pushed extra by native revenues than nationwide revenues).

Simply because the Capitals completed Ovechkin’s deal, additionally they traded defenseman Brenden Dillon to the Winnipeg Jets.

“We needed to get a $4 million participant out,” MacLellan mentioned. “You go larger than that, we in all probability have to maneuver one other participant out. You get skinny fast when that cap is not going up. In order that was an essential issue preserving it at $9.5 [million].”

Conversations between the Capitals and Ovechkin continued because the captain returned residence to Russia for the summer time. They hashed out closing particulars on the telephone, and by way of textual content, earlier than lastly touchdown on the deal.

“It was a bummer we weren’t in a position to do it in individual,” MacLellan mentioned. “However all of us felt actually glad about it. He was excited. He is an emotional individual. I believe he was enthusiastic about understanding what he can be doing for the subsequent 5 years.”

On Thursday, the Capitals held a press convention saying the deal. And shortly after that, Leonsis was pulled into talks relating to the NBA’s Washington Wizards, a staff that he additionally owns.

“We had a famous person participant with the Wizards, he had a possibility and needed to be traded to the Lakers,” Leonsis mentioned. “And I used to be coping with that as we have been saying Alex. I could not assist however self-reflect on what a distinction it’s. Here is an excellent participant in Russell Westbrook, performed in OKC, needed to be traded, went to Houston, needed to be traded, got here to D.C., needed to be traded and is now in L.A. He is an unbelievably nice individual and an unbelievably nice participant. However that is the distinction between the NBA and the NHL, I suppose.”

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