Monday, September 6, 2010

Ted Leonsis Responds to Claim about Ovechkin Contract

Washington Capitals logo Access is the lifeblood of journalists. Without the ability to interview key people and maintain an inside track on breaking news, journalists are nothing more than glorified bloggers. This is especially true in the world of sports writers.

The need to maintain access means that sports writers will not always break news that could be damaging to the team on which they report. Perhaps they soften their coverage just a tiny bit here and there. At least until the herd mentality has taken over their fellow hacks, and a particular storyline is deemed safe.

Otherwise, they may find themselves frozen out of the first tier of writers who are given prime interviews, tipped off about impending trades, and made privy to narratives that GMs and/or owners want to float with the aim of strengthening the image of a particular player they want to move.

Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, suggests in this blog post, that Damien Cox has made misleading comments about Alexander Ovechkin's contract because Cox did not have the access he wanted when writing a book about Ovechkin.

Interesting claim and just about impossible to prove. But let's at least take a look at what seems to have set off Leonsis. Here's what Cox writes in a piece entitled Outlaw owners get their way in Kovalchuk deal:
Ted Leonsis, to name another, was a hawk during the last labour struggle and now drinks deeply and gratefully from the revenue-sharing trough. The president of his Washington Capitals, Dick Patrick, is part of one of hockey’s most famous families and a committed league man.

But when they wanted to give Alexander Ovechkin a 13-year, $124 million contract, one they knew Bettman wouldn’t approve of, they did it anyway. That encouraged others, like the bizarre Tampa twosome of Len Barrie and Oren Koules, to engineer a deal with Vinny Lecavalier that started with a $10 million salary and wound down to $1 million.

So, it seems as though Cox is suggesting that the Ovechkin deal paved the way for others to offer long-term, front-loaded contracts to players with the aim of reducing the cap hit for their team. When you give a player who is say, 35 years-old, a 12 or 14 year deal that pays him 7 or 8 million dollars a year in the early part of the contract, and then tapers off to 1 million or less per year as the deal approaches the final years, then yes, a fairly strong argument can be made that an owner is trying to game the system.

First, it is unlikely that the player will be playing when the deal reaches its conclusion, or perhaps the deal will be renegotiated at some point in the future before it expires.

Here's the main problem with grouping the Ovechkin deal in with contracts that pull the long-term, front-loaded stunt with a player in his early to mid-thirties: Ovechkin's contract is not front-loaded! Ovechkin will be paid 9 to 10 million per year for the duration of the contract.

Not only that, this is probably not the last contract that Ovechkin will sign. He was 22 when he inked the deal with the Capitals, and he will be 35 when it expires. Finally, the contract just doesn't feel off like some of the other ones do.

So, Cox's claims are misleading at best, and disingenuous at worst. As for the charge from Leonsis that Cox is bitter at not having access to Ovechkin when he wrote the book and that is why he took a swipe at Leonsis—simply impossible to know if that is true. Unfortunately for Cox, because of the absurdity of his claim, some will no doubt believe that he is bitter for just that reason.

However, Cox can't be too annoyed at the blog posting from Leonsis and the resulting attention. At the very least, he will receive a lot of free publicity for the book he wrote about Ovechkin that will be released in the fall.

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