Here's a question - given the contract extension that Sidney Crosby just signed and depending on how negotiations go, could it conceivably make any sense to buck the conventional wisdom, not seek a similar extension for Alex Ovechkin and actually allow him to become a Restricted Free Agent?
Here's the background: Crosby signed a 5-year deal for $9m per year - $1.06 million less than the maximum salary (i.e. 20% of the salary cap). At the end of those five years, Crosby will become an unrestricted free agent (due to years accrued in the League) and can go to the highest bidder. Assuming some growth in League revenues over the next six years (Crosby's extension doesn't kick in for another year), it's not unrealistic to think that the maximum salary will be in the $12-$15 million range. To me, the length of Crosby's deal says "I want the chance to get out of Pittsburgh, if I choose to, almost as soon as possible. I'll take a little discount now in order to become a free agent sooner."
You can't blame him for wanting to maximize his profits and opportunities, and you'd think that Alex Ovechkin would be in a similar boat. What if during the Ovechkin negotiations the dollars become less important and the length of the contract becomes the sticking point (which will almost certainly be the case) - Ovechkin wanting free agency sooner, the Caps wanting to sign their superstar to a long-term deal (hey, if Danny Briere is worth signing for 8 years, you'd think Ovechkin would be worth signing for longer).
Here's the theory: allow Ovechkin to become an RFA next summer and match whatever ridiculous offer sheet is thrown his way. Say the cap goes up another $4.7 million next year - a not unreasonable assumption. The maximum salary would then be $11 million per year, and someone would likely offer that to AO for, say, 10 years (the assumption is that any offer made to an RFA would be in the best interest of the offeror and not just an effort to jack up the market price or push the other team closer to the salary cap, so it would be at least marginally sane). If that was the case, the Caps could simply match the offer and while they'd be paying $2 million more per year for the first five years of the contract than if they'd signed him to a Crosby-like extension, they'd a) have him locked up for an additional five years and b) likely be saving more than $2m per year in the out-years. The one caveat is that a new CBA will be in place (god-willing) before the 2011-12 season, and that may change the assumptions on which this theory rests.
Of course, I wouldn't suggest this strategy with just any player (Alex Semin, for example). But this isn't just any player - this is Alex Ovechkin. And I'd love to see AO signed to a longer-term deal via more traditional methods. But maybe there's a point at which the chance to lock him up long-term at what will likely eventually be below-market price is worth the risk to make sure he can't leave town in five short years (or sooner) .
This theory is just that - a theory. It's a very high-risk/high-reward proposition, and not the kind that people in positions of responsibility would ever seriously consider (long-term deals haven't necessarily worked out in the Caps' favor in the past - one in particular comes to mind). Furthermore, it doesn't take into account how something like this might impact the player/franchise relationship. But you can see how, on paper, it at least raises an interesting question, no?