Capitals will have to spend money if they have hopes of contending

SCOTT MORRISON, NHL SATURDAY

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

Well, now that the Washington Capitals have shown they actually have the money and aren't entirely afraid to spend it, they had better be willing to spend again and again and ...

You get the idea.

It was a great thing for the Capitals in signing superstar Alexander Ovechkin on Thursday to the richest contract in NHL history, a mere $124 million US spread over 13 seasons, or a salary cap hit of $9.54 million annually.

You can certainly debate the term, but the Capitals had no alternative but to re-sign Ovechkin some way, somehow or put the padlocks on the doors.

The options were do it on their terms or they could have allowed the 22-year-old to become a restricted free agent, receive a whopper of an offer sheet and simply match it. But this was the better way to go, certainly in terms of relations and especially with a Russian team willing to give him a one-year, $7-million alternative.

Put simply, while it was an expensive signing, it is still for less, on average, than Ovechkin might have got through an offer sheet, and the Capitals had no other choice unless Ovechkin publicly stated he wanted out or they wanted to go out of business. Trade him, refuse to match the offer sheet, do anything that would have translated into Ovechkin leaving town and it would have killed the franchise.

As for the term of 13 years, it is excessive, but it's hard to believe Ovechkin's game is going to drop off any time soon. It eliminates the risk of losing him in his prime as an unrestricted free agent, with a richer team stepping forward and front-ending a contract with goofy money. The way the salary cap has been increasing, he may be something of a bargain down the road at $9 million or $10 million.

But now that that business is out of the way, owner Ted Leonsis has to be willing to spend even more. That's how it works. Over the past few years, the Capitals have always had among the lowest payrolls in the NHL. This year, they are in the bottom five.

Now, size of payroll and success on the ice aren't always directly linked, anyone who has watched hockey in Toronto knows that, but the Capitals are going to have to be committed to spend, to not just keep improving the cast around Ovechkin but keeping the cast that is already there.

Otherwise, Leonsis' investment in Ovechkin won't be risky, it will be stupid.

"If you're going to make a long-term investment, who else would you do it with," Leonsis said at the press conference to announce the Ovechkin signing. "This takes away any of the issues about how committed we are to winning a [Stanley] Cup and how committed we are to keeping our team together."

Only in part does it take away the issues about commitment. What transpires in the summer will take away the remaining doubts.

In fairness, Leonsis has said he will spend and while the payroll is still small, over the past summer the Capitals did respond by signing free agents such as Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti. But that is just the beginning.

Meantime, negotiations will resume this month in New York with the Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and in Calgary with the Flames and defenceman Dion Phaneuf. Neither is an Ovechkin, but both are significant players. Interesting times, indeed.

THIS AND THAT

Whenever the players and the NHL meet to negotiate the next collective bargaining agreement, two items sure to be on the agenda are expansion and the length of contracts. The players will obviously want to share in expansion revenues next time around and the league will be looking again to put a cap on the length of contracts. It was an issue last time around, it will be an issue again ... The list of players doing business without an agent is growing. Ovechkin negotiated his own deal. Nicklas Lidstrom did his new contract with Detroit. A handful of others have done the same.


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