(CBS)–Alex Ovechkin was the NHL’s first $100 million athlete, and he’s been worth every penny.
A decade ago, when the Washington Capitals signed Ovechkin to a 13-year deal with worth $124 million, naysayers suggested the Capitals would regret that deal in the future.
We are now down that road, and no one in Washington is second-guessing any part of this contract.
When this deal was signed, Ovechkin had 130 goals in 2 1/2 seasons.
Last night, Ovechkin scored his 600th career goal, and during the 10 years of this deal he’s averaged 43.7 goals per season in an era when scoring has become more difficult.
At 32, Ovechkin has three seasons remaining on his deal and there are no signs that his performance level is on the decline.
Ovechkin needs eight more goals this season to record his eighth season with 50 or more goals. Six of those will have come during this contract. Only four other NHL players (Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Corey Perry) have reached 50 goals in the last 10 seasons. Stamkos has done it twice.
Ovechkin, a nine-time All-Star, has clearly been the greatest goal scorer of this generation. You can’t argue that.
According to ESPN.com, the Capitals are third in the NHL in home attendance in terms of percentage to capacity. The Caps are playing to 104.7% of capacity. How big of a role does Ovechkin’s popularity play in that figure? We can assume it plays a significant one.
Ovechkin is charismatic. He can be entertaining in front of a microphone.
You can’t argue how much passion he has for the game, although people like to try.
But Ovechkin hasn’t won a Stanley Cup. One oddity of the NHL is that followers of the sport like to crow about how it is the ultimate team sport. You can’t win with only one or two good players, they say.
But when their team doesn’t win, they often assign blame to one player. People like to blame Ovechkin for Washington’s postseason failings.
Of course, it’s never that simple. Anyone who knows Ovechkin knows he cares greatly about the Capitals. You don’t score as many goals as he does without being a driven performer. Anyone who watched him fight back emotion to answer reporters questions after the Capitals were eliminated last spring would never say he didn’t care.
It’s always difficult to pinpoint why teams win or don’t win, but it’s usually never as simple as one player being the reason.
Ovechkin has played a significant role this season in helping Washington exceed expectations. This team was supposed to take a half-step back because of player departures due to salary cap issues. With less than four weeks in the regular season, the Capitals sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Ovechkin doesn’t deserve all of the credit for that, just like doesn’t deserve all of the blame when they lose. There are no absolutes in sports, including when it comes to long-term contracts.
Owners have long been fearful of long-term contracts, which is why today’s Collective Bargaining Agreement only allows a maximum of eight years on a deal. Owners didn’t want to see any more 13-year contracts.
But Ovechkin’s deal proves they can work with the right athletes. This Ovechkin 13-year deal, paying an average of $9.538 million, may end up being one of the fairest long-term deals in sports history. The Capitals were willing to pay full freight when Ovechkin was young, and he has consistently delivered like one of the league’s top stars. Neither side has any right to complain.