Friday, January 11, 2008
He's Worth the Money
Naturally, the big question that comes up whenever someone gets a long term deal is, "Is he worth the money?" Well, I'm not shy about my opinion as evidenced by the title. But reactions and thoughts have varied. On Total Access, Rod Woodson just asked whether it was guaranteed money (NFL contracts are not completely filled with guaranteed money) and was in awe when he learned it was. Pookie at Interchangeable Parts doesn't think anyone's worth that much. James Mirtle is amazed and concerned at the risk being taken of signing someone for so long. Eric McErlain looks at the Capitals' recent history to find a reasoning behind Ovechkin's contract at the Sporting News. Kevin Schultz points out at the NHL Fanhouse that Ovechkin's total contract length is worth significant portions of some NHL teams net worth. Ted Leonsis, owner of the Capitals, is obviously enthused and is linking to a hell of a lot associated with this story - just keep scrolling there. Greg Wyshynski dubs him AO-Rod and has a full set of thoughts ultimately ending with "hooray" at Deadspin. Rage at Japers' Rink - a Capitals blog - justifies the contract terms. Michael at Confessions of a Hockey Fanatic criticizes the deal as Ovechkin taking the money without making his team better. Getting back to NFL Total Access (and to stop inundating you with links), Marshall Faulk just chuckled said, "He better be scoring a lot of goals."
Funny that Marshall brought that up; it's the first justification of such a big deal. Alexander Ovechkin is a true point producing machine. Consider his rookie season in 2005-2006. In an NHL coming off a locked-out season with a whole bunch of new rules, Ovechkin came over from Dynamo Moscow (13 G, 13 A in 37 games) and made a big statement. 426 shots, an average of 21:37 of ice time a night, 172 hits, 69 takeaways, and finished third in the league in scoring with 52 goals and 54 assists. That's his rookie season not just in the NHL, but in North America! I mean, sure, Joe Juneau had a great first year; but Ovechkin showed he was a special player from the start - at his rawest in the NHL level. Scoring a ton of goals and putting up a lot of points for a team where the second best scorer was current Devil Dainus Zubrus, who had a mere 23 goals and 34 assists. Yes, Ovechkin as a rookie had 1.85 times the point as his closest teammate.
OK, I will concede he hit the sophomore slump in the next season. He only finished with 46 goals and 46 assists, good enough for only the thirteenth highest scorer in the league that season. He still led the team in goals, assists, shots (only 392), takeaways (only 67), and hits (only 187). His downturn of a performance is still a season that forwards would dream of having. That's only a sophomore slump for a player of Ovechkin's calibur.
Now look at what he's been doing this season. He's currently tied for second in the league with 32 goals and he's on pace for somewhere between 58-62 goals. He still currently leads his team with hits (116), takeaways (41), and shots (229). Ovechkin is no longer the leader in assists on his team and it's why he's only tied for ninth in scoring with 32 goals and 20 assists. Nevertheless, Ovechkin isn't regressing at any point. Aside from assists, he's on pace to break his career high in goals while getting more hits, takeaways, and shots on net. He's still going after the puck, skating really hard almost every shaft, and firing it in while lighting people up - there's no indication he's slowing down at all either. Ovechkin is proving not only to be a complete player but a complete player who is improving, if his stats are anything to go by. Statistically, one could say likely going to become a perennial 50+ goal, 100+ point scorer - except he's already done that once and he's going to do it again and likely many more times before he hits the end of this contract.
Given how scoring can be at a premium at times, especially for a team that hasn't had a true star in a long while, I can understand a 50-60 goalscorer who will compete like mad for the puck alone is close to being worth $9.5 million/year. Look at it from this angle, if the Rangers are going to hand Scott Gomez - a guy who had not and will not touch Ovechkin's numbers outside of assists - $10 million this year; I think the market clearly justifies Ovechkin's big payday.
Everyone in the NHL knows this and rather than rolling the dice and allowing other teams to throw an offer sheet his way, the Capitals threw a ton of money at him. And he's worth every cent because he's been spectacular, he's only going to get better, he's going to continue force scorekeepers writing in Ovechkin's name, and he's going to remain hungry. Don't think so? Before tonight's games, the Capitals are 18-20-5, sitting fourth in the Southeast division and 7 points behind the division leaders. It's only January, there's no reason the Capitals can't make some noise and make a push for one of the final playoff spots. Even if they come up short, they won't be doormats. I don't think for a second that Ovechkin doesn't know the situation, I fully expect him to do his damnedest to get them into the playoffs - extension or no extension. And once the Capitals become a regular playoff team - and they will - I don't think the contract will quell Ovechkin's desire to turn Washington into champions. It's been there from season 1, where he wanted to prove he's one of the best in the world and did just that.
Short of injuries, Ovechkin will continue being a fantastically special player and a goal/point machine. Faulk was right, he's going to be scoring a hell of a lot more goals.
HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! You totally cracked me up with that!
Okay, while I won't argue at all that Ovie is a spectacular player, and certainly would have been commanding $9-$10 million on the open market, where I have a problem with this contract is the length. It's really easy to commit over $9 million a year to a high-scoring winger when your team is losing, but assuming Ovechkin does what the Caps are hoping he will and leads them to some postseason success, what then? Winning is a very expensive business, and this contract means that the difficult choices about which supporting-cast players stay and which ones go will be made that much trickier for the Caps. For 13 more years.
The big question is now whether Leonis starts bringing in better people to help him out.
Pookie: If the Capitals only signed him for, say, 6 or 7 years; Ovechkin would be available at 28 years as a UFA. The Capitals already let one Hall of Famer go, they aren't going to let a superstar become available during the prime of his career. It had to be a 10+ year contract, in my opinon.
If the average salary and salary cap in the NHL stays the same in the next 13 years, then to justify taking up 9-10 mils off a 52 mil cap space, AO would probably have to produce about 100 pts per year, for 13 straight years. How likely is that? In 2006-7, there're 7 forwards with 100+ points, so we are asking if AO could remain a top -7 forward for 13 straight years. While it's not impossible, the odds may not be that good considering injuries could happen and AO's production could fall off.
However, if we take into account "inflation" and expect the salary cap to increase by a few percent each year, then a 9 mils contract in 13 years may look like a 7.5 mils contract today. Then to justify that money, AO probably needs an average of 90 pts or so each season, for 13 straight years. That would translate to being a top-12 forward per year. That sounds more likely but again any injury that keeps him sidelined for 10+ games will jeopardize his chance significantly.
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Go Washington Capitals