Nearly three years to the day after he signed his three-year, entry-level deal with the Washington Capitals, center Nicklas Backstrom returned to the same room where that original deal was announced. This time, he was in the Caps' locker room at the Kettler Capitals' Iceplex in Arlington for a press conference to announce that he had signed a 10-year contract extension worth a total of $67 million.
"We've signed Nicklas Backstrom to a new contract," said Caps general manager George McPhee in kicking off Monday's press conference. "It's a 10-year contract that averages $6.7 [million] a year.
"As we all know, Nicklas has developed into one of the finest centers in this league. He is a league leader on offense. He is excellent defensively. He is competitive; he comes here to win. He doesn't miss games, he doesn't miss practices. He's a winner. And more importantly, he's an excellent teammate. His teammates respect him and like him a lot. His parents have done a heck of a job."
Backstrom did not miss a single game during the life of his entry-level contract, forging a 246-game streak of consecutive games played at the start of his career. The 22-year-old Backstrom has totaled 258 points (69 goals, 189 assists) in his first three seasons in the league, and he is coming off a 101-point season (33 goals, 68 assists) in which he finished fourth in the NHL in scoring and became just the fourth Capital ever to notch 100 or more points in a single season.
"I'm so happy to be here in this organization," says Backstrom. "I think we've been growing the last couple of years. All of these guys have been doing a good job and I'm proud to be a part of that. I'm looking forward to being here for the next 10 years."
With superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin under contract to Washington for the next 11 seasons, the Caps now have two of the league's most dynamic players signed for the next decade. Ovechkin and Backstrom have been linemates for most of Backstrom's three seasons in the league.
"I wanted to play with him and hopefully he wanted to play with me, too," says Backstrom. "I wanted a 10-year [deal], I wanted long-term and I finally got it. I think it's good that we're together."
"They're certainly terrific players," says McPhee. "When a player is ready to commit long-term to your club, that's something that you have to think about. And when it's a player of this caliber, it means a lot that they're ready to commit to the Washington Capitals for the balance of their career. We certainly expect that he can play beyond [the age of] 32, but we're going to get his best years on this contract."
For the 2010-11 season, the Caps will invest nearly half of the league's maximum salary cap total in their four "Young Guns," a group that includes Backstrom, Ovechkin, Mike Green and Alexander Semin. Backstrom and Ovechkin are the only two of the four to be under contract beyond the 2011-12 campaign.
"The risks are that the player doesn't meet the expectations of the contract," says McPhee in discussing long-term pact philosophy. "But I never for one minute with Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom think that they won't compete all the way through. They are outstanding players, they are the real deal and I think we're lucky to have them on a long-term deal. I think it sends the right message to our fans and to this franchise that we have outstanding young players that are ready to commit for the rest of their career. You win championship with these kinds of players so when you get them, you want to hang onto them."
Backstrom has increased his goal, assist, point, shots on goal and plus/minus totals in each of his three seasons in the league, and he started with a high plateau as a Calder Trophy finalist in his rookie season of 2007-08.
"You're always hopeful that a player is going to turn out to be something like this," says McPhee. "We thought Nicky was going to be a real good player. Did we expect him to be this good this quickly? I don't think so. I don't think anybody did. It just shows that he's an outstanding player.
"As I said before, there are always two sides to the ledger with players. There's the physical ability and the skill and everything else, and then there are the intangibles. And this player has the intangibles. He is a winner, he's here to win, he's very well respected, very coachable and a great teammate. Those are the guys you win with, and those are the ones you hang onto."
When Backstrom stood in the locker room at Kettler three years ago, he was signing with a Capitals team that had not made the playoffs since 2003. Now, he is a key cog on a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
"I think we're a great team," says Backstrom. "We struggled a little bit in the playoffs, but I think we're capable of winning the Cup and that's why we're here. We want to win the Cup. I think we have a good mix on our team and that's good. I want to stay here. I like the city and everything, so there was nothing to think about."
He will return to his native Sweden for the summer on Monday night.
"It's good to have it done when you're sitting on the plane tonight," Backstrom admits.
"When I heard the news I thought that it was not only great for Washington, and the people in Washington and the fans, but for the team," says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of the Backstrom contract extension. "We now I think have two of maybe the top five players in the world playing on our team for many years to come. As we know how good a player Nick is, he's a better person. Nick is going to be a very big leader. He's here for 10 years. You can't get two better guys in leading that Alex and Nick. I think we're a very lucky franchise to have these two. They'll help us win. They'll be big parts in helping us to obtain our goal which is to win the Stanley Cup."
Backstrom now becomes Washington's second-highest paid player, behind only Ovechkin. Asked who will pick up the tab now when the dynamic duo dines out together, Backstrom was ready with a quip.
"I don't know," he says. "Maybe we'll have to do 'rock, paper, scissors.'"