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Locking Up Alex Ovechkin

For Caps GM George McPhee, the term "off-season" is something of a misnomer, as he certainly isn't going to be getting much (if any) of a break this summer.

What's on GMGM's agenda? Well, there's the Entry Draft in late June, for which the Caps have the #5 overall pick (and it has been speculated that the Caps will be busy in advance of that date, quite possibly moving that pick and/or a player or two for proven NHL talent).

There are restricted free agents to re-sign (or cut loose), including Brian Sutherby, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, Milan Jurcina and Steve Eminger.

And there are, of course, unrestricted free agents to wine, dine and (hopefully) sign.

But there's something else in play that's probably been on GMGM's mind since August, 2005 - negotiating a contract extension with franchise winger Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin, who is under contract for next season but will become a restricted free agent thereafter if no extension can be reached, is eligible to receive an extension any time after July 1.

Will re-signing AO be on GMGM's summer "to do" list? I have no idea. But I'm sure the Caps' front office has a pretty good idea what they're willing to commit to to keep their superstar in D.C. To begin with, no player can make more than 20% of his team's total payroll (which, assuming the salary cap increases to$48 million for next year and stays there for the first year of the extension, would be a maximum of $9.6 million - the Caps will not be at $48 million in salary and Alex will not be re-signed at $9.6 million per year).

Ideally, GMGM et. al. would be able to sit back and watch Pittsburgh sign Sidney Crosby to an extension and use that as their point of comparison. Short of that, this summer's free agent market might give some clues (Thomas Vanek, for example, is an RFA 40-goal scorer), but there aren't any Ovechkins out there. My W.A.G. is that Alex will be in the $7 million/year range (a bit more than Ilya Kovlachuk signed for in October of '05 and around what Jarome Iginla signed for a couple of months earlier after leading his Flames to the Finals).

But how much money can the team really give the kid? How much would you give him? Remember, they're going free agent shopping this summer (and still have to sign Nickläs Backström), and they have Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn as RFAs and Olie Kolzig and Chris Clark as UFAs next summer. It becomes pretty clear that the number of years - moreso than the number of dollars - may become the focus of negotiations. After all, there's no cap on the duration of contracts, is there, Rick DiPietro?

So whether or not AO's contract negotiations start this summer, it's undoubtedly weighing on GMGM's mind, and impacting every move the team makes. With an already-full plate in front of him, McPhee is going to have a very busy summer indeed.