Aftwr the Capitals turned the corner and their misfortunes around during the 2007-08 season after a long, arduous rebuild, team owner Ted Leonsis signed the undisputed face of the franchise, young superstar Alex Ovechkin, to a record 13-year, $124 million contract. Not only did this signal the confidence team ownership had in Ovechkin himself, but also the confidence they felt in having success with Ovechkin as the cornerstone of the team.
Flash-forward just under 10 years later, and the team success Leonsis envisioned has not been as plentiful as many would have hoped. The Capitals have yet to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, this despite many strong and powerful rosters iced over the years. And while some may look at the investment as a wasted one, the results from Ovechkin himself have been anything but disappointing.
Many may balk at individual statistics and while team success (especially in the Capitals’ case) is often prioritized (and rightfully so) over individual performance, the Capitals likely would not have had the the success they have had in the nine seasons since Ovechkin signed the deal. When the Capitals’ superstar left wing signed his record contract (the first $100 million deal in NHL history), he was coming off a season in which he scored a career-high 65 goals and 112 points, and one in which the Capitals made the playoffs after a renaissance under newly-named Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. As Leonsis said at the press conference announcing the deal, per the Associated Press:
“I’m a risk-taker,” said owner Ted Leonsis, who has made Ovechkin the cornerstone of a rebuilding plan to restore the Capitals as a perennial playoff team. “And if you’re going to make a long-term investment, who else would you do it with? This takes away any of the issues of how committed we are to winning a Cup, how committed we are to keeping a team together.”
As many know, the Capitals have had numerous teams consisting of strong offenses and more recently, solid defensive corps, yet have fallen short of winning the Stanley Cup. But in that time, Ovechkin has been forced to carry the team on his back on numerous occasions, particularly in the infancy of the deal. In the nine seasons since he signed the contract, Ovechkin has become the franchise leader in goals, points, among the Top 2 in assists, set numerous NHL records, surpassed a number of NHL legends, and evolved as not only a player, but as a leader.
In the eight full seasons since signing the deal (2008-09 to 2016-17), Ovechkin has averaged 49.4 goals, 41.3 assists, and 90.7 points per season, and in that same span, has scored 16.7% of the Capitals’ 2,177 goals. When one takes into account the number of offensive weapons the Capitals have employed over that time frame (the likes of Alex Semin, Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and more recently, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie, come to mind), it shows just how much Ovechkin’s offensive contributions have meant and how crucial they have been to the Capitals’ success.
If Ovechkin finishes his career with the Caps having never won a Stanley Cup, it will certainly not be because he did not give it his all. Currently on pace to reach the 50-goal plateau for the eighth time in his illustrious career, Ovechkin seems to be defying Father Time at the age of 32. While it is possible (and likely) he may decline in the latter years of his mega-contract, and despite the Caps’ lack of rings, the extension was one that was worth every penny. While the Caps may have not put together a team that has been able to lift the Stanley Cup, Ovechkin has certainly proved the Capitals made the right choice with their substantial investment.
By Michael Fleetwood