While there was really never a doubt in anyone’s mind that a deal would be done, when the ink was put to paper on Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin’s new, five-year, $47.5 million deal on the day before free agency, the City of Washington D.C., and the fan base of the team were able to breath a huge sigh of relief. On Thursday, Ovechkin spoke to Capitals broadcasting duo Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin from Russia, in a virtual press conference to discuss the contract that will keep him in the District for an eventual 21 seasons.
Ovechkin was later joined in the event by Capitals Majority Owner Ted Leonsis, General Manager Brian MacLellan, and Team President Dick Patrick, who offered their perspective on the contract and the 2004 first overall pick’s time with the Caps, and later the media.
Ovechkin was asked to reflect on his time in Washington, and what it means to continue to perform among the best in the NHL, and he expressed his desire to continue to play at a top-level on a nightly basis and addressed talk of chasing and surpassing NHL great Wayne Gretzky’s Goals record, crediting his teammates over his career for his success, saying:
“I still want to be out there, I still want to be better, and I think I have five more years to be better. [On passing Gretzky] We’ll see, it’s going to be tough, but you never know. I just want to do my best to be in the history, I have the pleasure to play with the great players, a great team, I just want to put myself on the top of the list”.
Ovechkin also spoke of the negotiations with the team, which he conducted by himself, and said that negotiations were overall a positive experience:
“First of all I want say thanks to the whole organization, Ted [Leonsis], Mac [MacLellan], Dick, and Fish [Capitals Assistant General Manager and Director of Legal Affairs Don Fishman] as well to be able to find a way to do it. Obviously sometimes it was fun, conversation, especially when we’d meet up with Ted, he’d tell us great stories. But overall, I think me and Mac talk a lot and we finally make a decision a couple days ago, and here we go, I’m staying here in Washington five more years. It’s been pleasure for me to play all those years in one organization, I’ve played for only two teams in Dynamo, in Moscow, and Washington. I hope my career is going to be over in ‘Wash’ and I still enjoy be at the rink all the time spend time with my friends, my teammates, and it’s a huge honor for me and my family. [On negotiating by himself] First of all, it was pretty easier than my first negotiation because my English is getting better, but I still have some problems with my language, sometimes Mac I think he was confused by what I was trying to say [laughing], he did a pretty good job and all of the team works pretty good and I think we all happy, and most importantly the fans are happy as well. I get lots of congrats from all over the world and it means that people care and people want me back”.
On his family and what impression the Washington area and community has made on him, Ovechkin had nothing but great things to say:
“I think the atmosphere, the people I met who made me smile almost everyday. I have lots of very good friends around me, my wife have lots of friends. It’s been a pleasure for me to spend all those years in one spot. To be honest with you, I don’t want to go nowhere. It’s the time I spent in Washington been pretty crazy, pretty fun, and I owe it a lot.”
Ovechkin also revealed the responses he received from teammates and around the NHL after his deal was announced, saying that current teammates such as Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, TJ Oshie, [longtime teammate] Nicklas Backstrom, and former teammate Devante Smith-Pelly were among the many who sent him messages of congratulations, and that “I will never forget this moment”.
On his longtime teammate and running mate in Backstrom, who he has played 14 of his 16 NHL seasons with thus far, Ovechkin expressed how special it means to be finishing his career alongside Backstrom:
“I think me and him, almost built this team, you know or me and him, it’s very important to finish our career with one team. I think the fans, most important, they love us we love them and we always have to play at Capital One Arena. Five years, we’ll see what’s going to happen next”.
Leonsis was asked what Ovechkin has meant to him, and the Capitals in his 16-season career, and the Capitals owner expressed his deep gratitude to the team’s captain for his commitment and service to the organization and what it means for the team, telling Beninati:
“I have a very special part of my heart for my family to Alex’s family, because I remember telling him how hard this was going to be, and that we were in it together, and just to see how this story continues where he joined us, and really through working with everyone in the organization made us a good team, and then he showed his appreciation to us, and I give Dick Patrick all the credit for signing this 13-year deal [Ovechkin’s previous deal] that you have to admit flew by really, really quickly, and then for Alex to really be steadfast in his loyalty and integrity and want to stay with the organization. There is very, very few great players that can say they started and ended their career in the same place, and do it as a champion. This last five years, and I’m not going to say it’s the last five years, who knows what happens afterwards, but we want to win another Stanley Cup, I think that’s what’s most important to our community, that we still have upside, we still can be a really, really, great team and make the playoffs and move forward. To have Nick [Backstrom], and John Carlson, and Alex as kind of that, three bedrock players in the team is a great message for us to be sending to players we drafted and develop that we can be loyal, and we can be trusted and we can build something great together”.
Leonsis also shared a ticket from the RBC Center where the 2004 draft was held, and said that, “I do remember giving him a hug on stage and feeling his heart beating, and then going to meet all the fans, and Alex being the first one to attend, shook everyone’s hand and ate eight cantaloupes, and this is just going to be a joy, and every single day has been fantastic”. Leonsis also stated that his relationship with the Ovechkin family has been one of the most important relationships in his life, and revealed that during the team’s first practice with Ovechkin, longtime Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig told him that Ovechkin was the “best player he had ever played against and would be the best player to play for the franchise”.
Dick Patrick, who has been with the Capitals since 1982, said that among all the players he’s seen during his career, Ovechkin was the best:
“In my opinion, he’s right at the top of the heap. He’s done everything you can imagine as a hockey player. Ted mentioned that 13-year contract we signed after his initial contract, I was thinking at the time that this would be the last contract with Alex I’d be involved in, I’ll retire and go on my way and do something else by the time it’s up, but it gets so exciting, you get to watch him every night, he’s expanded his heroics it seems year-to-year, I just don’t want to leave, I feel we have a lot more fun and a lot more success ahead of us. Ted mentioned that first game, it started right there and never let up. That whole year, we went to the awards ceremony that year, and Alex is walking away with all the big ones and our team wasn’t very good so it wasn’t like he was the star on a championship team and getting all the recognition, everybody in the league recognized him for all his individual accomplishments and they continue to do that. Ovi’s got the drive we have a really good team and he’s set the standard. I’ll stay around and enjoy watching him for a few more years at least.”
After Ovechkin reiterated that negotiating his “final” contract put no pressure on him, MacLellan spoke on the negotiations:
“I think the most important thing was that he is comfortable with the term, the amount, direction of the team. It was pretty evident he wanted to finish his career here, we had a few meetings with ownership, me and Alex had a bunch of meetings. I think one thing that stood out for me is that really involved his whole family. You know we’d have a conversation about a specific aspect of the contract, whatever it was, term, dollar amount, direction of the team, he’d go and talk to his family, then come back and we’d have another discussion. And I think all of his points or discussion points were discussed with his family which I thought was pretty good, and they seemed comfortable with it in the end, and ownership was comfortable with it, and I thought it went really smooth. Like it’s been said, we’re ecstatic he’s going to finish his career here, he’s the face of the franchise, he’s committed to the city, to the community, to the area. I mean you see kids we draft even now, they have Caps stuff in their rooms, they have pictures of Ovi, they have lamps. He’s transcended not just this area, but he’s put our organization, the Capitals, and himself throughout North America, throughout Europe, we’re thrilled to have him finish his career here.”
When asked on how Ovechkin’s game has evolved over his career, the panel gave their take from their perspective:
MacLellan: “I think in the beginning, you watched him and it was full-blast, 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. I think as time has gone on he has learned when to conserve energy, when to play hard, when to be physical, when not to be physical, and I think that’s been a factor in his longevity…I think it’s just an overall maturity of his game, learning the league, and doing what he needs to do to be successful”
Patrick: “With Ovi, the first year when were all watching him play for the first time, particularly that first year, [being physical], running guys out of the rink, I remember thinking ‘boy I don’t know how long he can keep this up for that long, he’s going to have injury problems 4-5 years in’. This guy’s been one of the most durable players in the league throughout his time here. It’s different when you have veterans start to miss 20-25 games because of lingering issues, but Ovi’s always there, always wants to play”.
Leonsis: “I think his leadership as well. We didn’t make him captain Day 1. He earned that, he’s been a great, great leader. We’ve had some really tough times, we’ve had disappointments in playoffs, we’ve had two years of a pandemic, and Alex has really matured into a very, very strong leader. Guys listen to him, he can be trusted, and he can also lead by example. And I think the way he has developed as a dad, as a husband, as a family man, that really shows very, very well too to players, because they have to manage all of that. The last two years have been very, very tough on people in this sport and industry, and Alex has come out stronger for it. And he’s still excited…he’s not jaded. He really loves the game, and if you have that authentic enthusiasm, it lifts everyone around him”.
When asked again about passing Gretzky’s Goals record and thinking of moving further up the Goals Scored List, Ovechkin reiterated that time would tell in the end, but that moving up would be something he would be happy with:
“You never know, I’m going to try do my best. That’s why I want to play five more years. If I have a chance to catch ‘The Great One’, why not, but if I’m going to be second, it’s going to be a pretty good number as well. [On moving up] I just follow it day-by-day. You never know what’s going to happen”.
On what winning a second Stanley Cup would mean to him:
“I think the whole organization tried to do that. I think this is our goal and we’re going to try to do that next year. When you win this once, you just wanna repeat and repeat. You see what Tampa did, we going to try do the same next year”.