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Ovechkin, Backstrom expected by owner to finish careers with Capitals

Leonsis confident in re-signing both, wants roles for them in retirement

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The owner of the Washington Capitals said he expects Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to play their entire NHL careers with the team.

Ted Leonsis said Thursday he's not worried about Ovechkin or Backstrom re-signing when their contract expires.

"Alex is a very, very loyal person and so is Nick Backstrom and we want to create something where we're in it together," Leonsis said. "Alex and I have spoken often about his career arc and the narrative and both those players have said they want to be different, they want to finish what they started, and they would like to be in this community for their entire careers. So we'll work on that."

Ovechkin, the Capitals captain, has another season after this one remaining on the 13-year-contract the 34-year-old left wing signed with the Capitals on Jan. 10, 2008 and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2021. The Capitals cannot sign him to an extension before July 1, 2020. 

Backstrom is in the final season of a 10-year contract and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2020. The 32-year-old center has been negotiating a new contract with Capitals without an agent. 

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm2: Backstrom taps in Ovechkin's great feed

"What's so wonderful about having that kind of relationship is you don't sweat it, you don't think through it," Leonsis said. "It doesn't matter how many times you ask the question, it's not going to become an issue. We'll work it out. And I hope to build the organization so that carries over. … I would expect an Alex, a Nick, they play here forever, then they retire and then they're associated with us very, very closely through alumni, through who knows whatever kinds of relationships."

Leonsis was speaking prior to accepting the Wayne Gretzky International Award on Ovechkin's behalf at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

He lauded Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, for the impact he's had on the Capitals as the centerpiece of an annual Stanley Cup contender that won its first championship in 2018, and for growing the game in the Washington area.

According to USA Hockey's annual report, there were 8,975 registered players ages 18 and under in Washington (223), Maryland (4,767) and Virginia (3,985) in Ovechkin's rookie season of 2005-06. That number rose to 13,435 for 2018-19, including 801 in Washington (an increase of 259 percent), 6,460 in Maryland (36 percent increase) and 6,174 in Virginia (55 percent increase).

That growth is among the reasons why Ovechkin, a Moscow, Russia native, was selected to receive the Gretzky Award, which was established by the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999, to honor international individuals who have made major contributions to the growth and advancement of hockey in the United States.

"Alex from Day One fell in love with our fans and the community and has said this is his second home and I don't think there's any doubt that he really helped to establish this community as a hockey community," Leonsis said. "It's been called the Ovechkin effect, just all the young people that are growing up and have lived through this era and they are hockey fans for life right now. And our winning the Stanley Cup a couple years ago put the exclamation point on that."

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