Caps owner Leonsis says 13-year deal was originally only a six-year pact

The Canadian Press
Jan 11, 2008
The Hockey News

Caps owner Leonsis says 13-year deal was originally only a six-year pact

The Canadian Press
Jan 11, 2008

The Washington Capitals didn't start out wanting to sign star winger Alex Ovechkin to a whopping 13-year contract.

The two sides were nearing completion of a six-year agreement earlier this week before Caps owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee sat down and evaluated the deal. Did they want Ovechkin to become an unrestricted free agent at 27 years old, just at the moment he's hitting his prime?

"If Alex is coming into his best performance at 27, what will he command in the free-agent market then and what will the salary cap be then?" Leonsis said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Friday, recalling his conversation with McPhee.

"So let's accept the front part of the offer (six years, $54 million), but before we sign the contract, let's say, 'We accept this, this is a good place for us, but let's negotiate your (unrestricted) free-agent years."

The Caps examined the unrestricted deals signed last summer, such as the long-term contracts signed by Daniel Briere and Scott Gomez.

"So the question was, would you sign Alex Ovechkin for seven years for $10 million a year six years from now? And the answer is yes," explained Leonsis. "So that's how we came to six years at $9 million and seven years at $10 million. That was the thought process."

Essentially, it's two contracts wrapped up into one.

When Ovechkin and his parents walked into the Capitals' offices Thursday, they fully expected to polish off a six-year deal. Then the Caps unveiled the second part of the deal and found a willing partner. Add up six years at $9 million per season and seven years at $10 million per season and you get $124 million.

"How I looked at it is, we have him until he's 35 years old, we'll have him through his best statistical years and his statistics are pretty good right now," said Leonsis. "And who else would you want as the face of your franchise?"

The NHL's richest contract ever continued to ignite chatter around the league Friday. The most popular issue was whether Ovechkin's decision to negotiate his deal without a player agent would spark a trend.

Leonsis was unsure about that, but said Ovechkin - who parted ways with respected player agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports last season - did a great job for himself.

"From my perspective, at least in his case, he represented himself with integrity and he was very enlightened," said Leonsis. "And he just negotiated the biggest contract in the history of the NHL. He did a pretty good job."

Ovechkin's parents were also involved.

"Very much part of the conversation," said Leonsis. "They don't speak English so it's hard, you'd go through translators. But they weren't playing good cop-bad cop, they were united as a family. And at the end of the day it was Alex's call to make."

Former star player Eric Lindros, who negotiated his own deal with the Dallas Stars last season, said Friday that he believed more players might follow Ovechkin's lead and handle their own contracts.

But the ombudsman at the NHL Players' Association added that others would still need a buffer - or agent - for certain types of negotiations. It's not for everyone.

"Players have the right under the CBA to negotiate for themselves or through an NHLPA certified agent," NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly said Friday. "It's a personal decision for each individual player to make."

Martin Brodeur has negotiated his own deals with the New Jersey Devils but the team's GM doesn't see a trend developing.

"In Marty's situation, it was very unique, he's done that the last several contracts and it's never been an issue," Lou Lamoriello told The Canadian Press. "The relationship you have, there must be trust on both sides and understanding of what it's all about and both people must feel comfortable. I don't think it's for every player to represent himself. I think in a lot of cases (agent) representation is what's needed for that player. ...

"I think it's unique and I certainly don't think it's going to be a trend."

The average agent's fee is around three to five per cent, so Ovechkin saved anywhere from $3 million to $6 million by doing his own deal.

That fee is well worth the price, argued veteran agent Rick Curran of The Orr Hockey Group.

"I think it's been proven in the past that the work a good agent can do on behalf of his client, whatever the fee is, is more than adequately made up in the package itself," said Curran. "It pays for itself. And keep in mind it's also a tax deduction in the U.S.

"At the end of the day the player walks away with more money in his pocket regardless of what he's paid his agent."

Curran said he knows of specific cases where players negotiated their own deals and didn't want to do it again.

"Two players in particular said that it was an experience that they regret looking back on it," said Curran. "And one said the emotion that was involved took him the better part of half a season to get over."

Perhaps no player agent was more intrigued by the Ovechkin deal than Pat Brisson of CAA Sports - the man who represents Sidney Crosby. He negotiated a $43.5-million, five-year extension for Crosby, a deal that will pay Sid The Kid $8.7 million a year beginning next season.

Brisson said Friday agents do a lot for a player.

"Today is a sunny day (for Ovechkin), but as we know in the life of an athlete there's ups and downs," Brisson said from Los Angeles. "He will need, in my opinion, more than his family. He's going to need another set of eyes, someone to protect him and look out for his brand. Especially entering this stage of his career with this long-term commitment.

"As far as the future of agents, I think agents are needed more now than ever."

Brisson believes agents act as important conduits between players and management as well as a major force in maximizing marketing opportunities.

"Nowadays, information is as important as ever, it travels at lightning speed," said Brisson. "You need someone out there looking out for the things outside your day-to-day job, little things that the player doesn't have time to think about. Those are important discussions that I have on a regular basis on behalf of our players. Our players, our clients, I believe capitalize on what we offer. Alex is a franchise player but who is handling his brand? It's all part of it.

"There's a lot more to it than the actual negotiation of a contract."

Brisson also points to another facet of what Leonsis got accomplished with Ovechkin on Thursday.

"Let's not forget also that Mr. Leonsis did well as well by tying up one of the biggest young assets in the NHL to a long-term deal. Therefore his asset went up in value today."

Should the Caps ever go up for sale over the next few years, they'll have a marqee attraction as part of the package.

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Caps owner Leonsis says 13-year deal was originally only a six-year pact