From Montreal Gazette, Dec. 21
Ovechkin joining Habs rare rumour that has legs
If you were watching the Canadiens' 5-2 win over Washington last night, chances are your attention was about evenly divided between the Habs and the kid wearing No. 8 for the Capitals: the incomparable Alexander Ovechkin.
And chances are, more than a few of you closed your eyes and dreamed the dream: Ovechkin wearing the CH.
True, Ovechkin showed only flashes of the form that makes him the most exciting player in the game - but there are dreams and there are dreams. All over the hockey world, there's a rumour a minute and most of them last about that long. This is one dream that might have legs.
Ovechkin will be a restricted free agent after this season. This year, he's earning a mere $1.3 million and the Capitals thought they could sign him for something similar to Sidney Crosby's contract, which works out to $8.7 million a year for five years. But Ovechkin fired Don Meehan and turned his affairs over to a lawyer, with everything guided by his mother, Tatiana. Tatiana is apparently thinking something more in the $9-million to $10-million range.
Ovechkin and Russian teammate Alexander Semin will be restricted free agents and Washington will be hard put to satisfy both, and for the NHL to have a player like Ovechkin in a market like Washington is a crime. Night after night, Ovechkin plays to thousands of empty seats and in D.C., he always will. In Montreal, a so-so team without a marquee star in Ovechkin's league can draw 21,273 for exhibitions.
Does Ovechkin like Montreal? Very much. He has never hesitated to say so. His best hockey buddy is Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov; last time the Habs were in Washington, reporters wanting to talk with Ovechkin had to wait half an hour while Ovechkin and Markov chatted on the ice.
But chitchat and sellouts are not going to bring Ovechkin to Montreal. A contract will - a big contract. If the Islanders can throw 15 years at Rick DiPietro and the Flyers are willing to give Mike Richards a dozen, why not a 15-year deal for Ovechkin? Is there a player in the league, apart from Crosby, as likely to make such a deal pay?
The Canadiens already know they may have to commit for at least a decade to keep Carey Price in the fold because Gary Bettman failed to foresee the potential impact of the decision to 1) offer restricted free agency early in a player's career and 2) to sign a basic agreement without a cap on the length of contracts.
Is it worth it? Put it this way: If Lecavalier is the reincarnation of Jean Béliveau, then Ovechkin is the Rocket. No one in the league plays the game with such fire, such joyous abandon. Ovechkin is the real thing, the bona fide, superstar sniper the Canadiens have not had in nearly a quarter-century, since Guy Lafleur hung 'em up.
All it will take is, oh, $120 million over 15 years and a slew of first-round picks. Or the Canadiens can go another route: If the Capitals are reasonably certain they're bound to lose Ovechkin, the Habs might be able to swing a multi-player deal, offering Washington any player on the roster not named Carey Price. The Canadiens get Ovechkin, while the Caps get a balanced lineup capable of winning hockey games.
Ovechkin is worth it in this market because his OOTS factor is off the charts. That's "Out Of Their Seats," folks. Never mind the point totals: In terms of sheer excitement, no one in the NHL is Ovechkin's equal. George Gillett Jr. has enough international vision to know what Ovechkin would do in terms of marketing the CH brand around the globe.
There are at least one thing that is true here: Ovechkin's favorite city in North America to visit is Montreal.
And then we know and we heard it many times from the owner; he doesn't want to deal with any huge contracts after Jagr.
Spector's Note: "I forewarned that the longer Ovechkin went without being re-sign by the Capitals the more rumours would swirl over his either getting traded or signed away by a rival club. What no one takes into account with these wild speculations is the intentions of Ovechkin and the Capitals. While both sides have been coy about the status of negotiations, neither have suggested, hinted, mused or whispered about the possibility of Ovechkin playing elsewhere next season. So like the Lecavalier rumours, Habs fans, don't get your hopes up about Ovechkin becoming a Canadien."