Ovechkin, Jagr contracts polar opposites
Friday, January 11, 2008 | 10:34 AM ET
The last time Ted Leonsis tried this kind of manoeuvre, it failed as spectacularly as a Britney Spears rehab stint.
Jaromir Jagr was the player. Seven years, $77 million US was the contract. And he’s still paying for it, since the Capitals remain responsible for a chunk of that even though Jagr now captains the Rangers.
But Leonsis had no choice. There was no option other than going to Ovechkin on bended knee, asking, “What do you want?”
As George Bush entered the White House, the Capitals were en route to a second consecutive Southeast Division title, with back-to-back years of 102 and 96 points in the pre-shootout era. Since then, the team’s results mirrored the President’s approval ratings.
Washington missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and hasn’t won a playoff series in 10 years. It looked like there were more empty seats than occupied ones.
But there is newfound hope. Bruce Boudreau’s new system - which allows defencemen to attack - revived this team. The Capitals shrugged off rigor mortis and are charging towards a playoff berth. Failing to sign Ovechkin would kill any momentum built this season and give even the most-die hard zero reason to buy a ticket next year. You might as well just fold the franchise.
When we went there to do an Inside Hockey feature on Boudreau, I listened to a scrum he held with Montreal reporters. One of them asked, “Does Ovechkin shoot the puck too much?”
Boudreau had an interesting response. He said, “In my opinion, he doesn’t shoot it enough.” The whole rationale was that Alexander Ovechkin shooting the puck was a more dangerous scoring chance than anyone else doing it, so fire away. It was an impressive answer.
And, it was no coincidence that Boudreau got the full-time job before Ovechkin signed this megadeal. Can’t imagine it would’ve happened without Ovechkin’s approval. This team was doing everything it could to make No. 8 happy.
The good news for Leonsis - and GM George McPhee - is that Ovechkin is much more of a known quality to them than Jagr. Even though the Czech’s idiosyncrasies were well-known when they got him, you’re always taking a risk signing players you haven’t developed. Ovechkin will get ripped for becoming the NHL’s first nine-digit man, but there’s no doubt he will compete hard. He always does.
The question I have for Leonsis is: How much will you spend on the supporting cast? When you have one guy making between $9-$10 million, it’s awfully hard to build a competitive club without getting close to the cap. From 2000-01 to 2003-04, the team’s payroll approached $50 million. But, after the lockout, the owner lost the will to spend.
The first season back, Washington had the NHL’s lowest - $18.9 million. Last year, it was second-lowest with $29.7 million. This season, the Capitals have the third-lowest - $40.3 million.
NHL officials say the Capitals have the worst lease deal in the entire sport. No control of suites, parking, concessions or signing. Only rinkboard advertising. No club seat can be bought without the purchase of a Wizards ticket. But the fans have spoken: Ovechkin is nice, but you must win. That costs money.
Leonsis must be willing to spend it, or this deal really will be a waste.
Another angle: Does this mean more NHL superstars will decide to go without agents? Ovechkin did this himself, and he - obviously - didn’t do too badly. The NBA went through this after its most recent lockout.
With max contracts capped out at certain rates, a number of players negotiated their own deals, hiring a lawyer at an hourly rate to make sure everything was OK. Tim Duncan and Grant Hill (before he fell apart) were two who chose this route.
And, we now know why Craig Leipold was willing to accept a lower bid for the Nashville Predators, less than what Jim Balsillie offered. The NHL clearly said, “Do this for us, and we’ll giftwrap a much healthier club, Minnesota.”
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About the Author
Elliotte Friedman is the host of the CFL ON CBC. Prior to being named host in 2006, Friedman worked on the CFL on CBC broadcasts for the three seasons as a sideline reporter. A Toronto native, Friedman is well known for his additional work on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as his presence on the Torino 2006 Winter Games telecasts as a hockey reporter. Prior to joining the CBC, Friedman worked at The Score network and was widely regarded as one of the best reporters in the country. Friedman used his reporting skills to break stories and file feature reports for high profile events including six Stanley Cup Finals, four Grey Cup Championships, two World Series and one Olympic Games. He is also a regular on the nationally syndicated Prime Time Sports radio telecast, hosted by Bob McCown.
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