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After Signing 5-Year Extension with Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom Says “I Couldn’t See Myself in Another Jersey”

The Washington Capitals locked-up one of the franchise’s best players, signing Nicklas Backstrom to a 5-year contract worth an average of $9.2 million a year.

Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Nicklas Backstrom has helped define an era for the Washington Capitals. After the Caps won the Stanley Cup in 2018, captain Alex Ovechkin, the longest-tenured player on the team, rose the trophy in the air, screaming wildly. He paused the celebration for a moment and told Backstrom, “after me, I give it to you, baby!” Backstrom, who joined the Capitals in 2007, a year after Ovechkin, has formed the core of one of the NHL’s premier teams in the post-lockout NHL. It was a time filled with regular season success, playoff failures, frustrating coaching changes and finally, hockey’s ultimate prize.

On Tuesday, the Capitals signaled they want glory days to continue, making sure a signature player that helped resurrect hockey in the D.C. area is here to stay. As their fans slogged through their morning commute, the team announced a new five-year, $46 million contract for Backstrom. The deal will kick in after this season. Backstrom was set to become a free agent on July 1.

“I honestly don’t know and I don’t really care what would happen if I went on the open market,” Backstrom told reporters at Capital One Arena after conducting a televised news conference. “I didn’t want to take that chance. I wanted to stay here. I wanted to make a deal that worked for both sides -- and I want to win.”

The deal looks likely to cement Backstrom as a legend in Washington sports history. The 32-year-old Swedish center ranks first in franchise history in assists with 668 and second in points with 908, trailing only Ovechkin’s 1,255.

The Capitals are rolling through the 2019-2020 regular season with the league’s best record. After the triumph of two seasons ago, Backstrom felt comfortable more success would be in store for Washington.

“The main reason I wanted to stay here is we have a chance to win,” Backstrom said. “As a hockey player, that’s all you think about: you want to win hockey games and you want to win championships. That’s where we’re at. We have a great organization, great fans and hopefully we can give them another championship. We have a great core group here.”

According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Backstrom’s contract contains a no-movement clause that runs through three seasons before a partial no-trade clause that will allow Backstrom to select 15 teams he cannot be dealt to kicks in the last two years of the pact.

LeBrun reports that $25 million of the $46 million Backstrom is owed will be paid out over the length of the deal in yearly signing bonuses. The structure of the contract does not change its cap hit, which is based on the average annual figure of $9.2 million. Backstrom negotiated the deal without the aid of agent and netted himself a significant raise over his current 10-year deal that averaged $6.7 million. He retained a law firm to look over the agreement once negotiations were complete.

“I have absolutely no negative things to say about it,” Backstrom said of the back-and-forth conversations with Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “No yelling, no screaming. That’s a good thing.”

The two began serious negotiations in October with MacLellan and Backstrom sprinkling in meetings at the team hotel on the road and after practices. While MacLellan called Backstrom “stubborn,” the deal was ironed out relatively quickly. The final sticking points, which Backstrom referred to as “small things,” were the structure of the no-trade clause and how much of the deal would be metered out as signing bonus money.

“I honestly thought it was fun,” Backstrom said of doing the deal on his own after parting with his agent over the summer. In that vein, Backstrom offered his services to reporters with a zero percent commission. “Free consults!” he joked.

The Capitals, per CapFriendly, have around $10 and a half million in cap space next season, with Braden Holtby and Radko Gudas contracts coming off the books. Holtby is a fan favorite who guided the Caps to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup and won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender in 2016, but it will be difficult to re-sign him. The 30-year-old netminder will likely demand a high dollar, long-term deal. The Caps, however, need money to re-sign Ovechkin, who makes nearly $10 million a year currently and breakout stars due for raises like Jakub Vrana, who already has 20 goals this season just past the midway mark of the campaign. Both of their contracts expire after the 2021-22 campaign.

Holtby and the Capitals have agreed not to discuss a new contract until after this season. That may not bode well for Holtby, as rookie backup Ilya Samsonov, 22, has posted 13-2-1 record, with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. All those numbers lead freshman NHL goalkeepers, leaving the Capitals will a quandary come July.

“We’re going to play it out,” MacLellan said Tuesday. “We’re going to have to get creative if we want to accomplish signing Holtby with trades or find ways to create room” under the salary cap.

“He’s been kept abreast of where we are with Nick,” MacLellan added of the team’s conversations with Holtby.

Whatever happens with Holtby, the offensive core of Backstrom and Ovechkin, who can begin negotiating an extension after this season, looks likely to remain intact for years to come, possibly until the end of their careers.

Backstrom, who will be 37 when his new deal ends, insists the Capitals’ money will be well spent. He is the only player in the NHL to notch at least 50 assists in his last six seasons, and the only player to tally 20 goals along with 50 assists in the last four consecutive years.

“I’m envisioning myself staying the same player as I am today, maybe develop a little bit more,” Backstrom said.

Selected fourth overall in 2004, Backstrom leads his draft class in points and assists. With 35 points over 39 games this season, Backstrom continues to be one of the league’s top set-up men.

MacLellan described Backstrom as a cerebral, imaginative player on the ice who doesn’t need to rely purely on his physical attributes.

“He understands the game, understands how to make players better,” the GM said. “He’s a playmaker. I think those skills that he has will age well. He’ll be able to produce in his late-30s.”

Whatever Backstrom’s production turns out to be, he is one of the greatest players in team history. With all the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Capitals’ roster, Backstrom’s deal seemed like a foregone conclusion.

“I can’t wait to spend the next five and a half years here,” Backstrom said. “I couldn’t see myself in another jersey, and I don’t want to play for another team.”