By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Hockey Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nicklas Backstrom isn’t leaving the team he lifted the Stanley Cup with and is getting paid handsomely to stick around for the long haul.
The Washington Capitals on Tuesday signed Backstrom to a $46 million, five-year contract extension that locks him up through the 2024-25 season. The playmaking Swedish center will count $9.2 million against the salary cap when this contract kicks in next season, a significant raise from his current team-friendly deal.
There was little doubt Backstrom and the Capitals would get a deal done before the 32-year-old could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Along with captain Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom has been a cornerstone of the franchise for more than a decade. He was a key part of the 2018 Cup run and his No. 19 jersey will someday hang in the rafters.
“I wasn’t expecting a whole lot when I first got drafted,” Backstrom said. “Ever since, it’s been a journey.”
Backstrom and Ovechkin have played more than 900 games together since Backstrom’s NHL debut in 2007 and became one of hockey’s most dynamic duos during this era.
“It’s nice to be with a guy on the same team so many years,” Ovechkin said. “You can ask anybody in this locker room or previous guys who played, first of all he’s tremendous person and an unbelievable center. To be around him and see how he’s grown up, how he’s matured, it’s great.”
Backstrom is the Capitals’ franchise leader in assists and has put up 908 points in 934 regular-season games. He recorded 23 points in 20 playoff games during Washington’s Cup run and has been a part of 11 playoff appearances in 12 years.
This season, Backstrom has nine goals and 26 assists for 35 points. He’s the only active player to have 50-plus assists in each of the past six seasons.
Much like Ovechkin did with his $124 million, 13-year contract signed in 2008 — with help from his mother — Backstrom negotiated this deal himself. He’ll be 37 when it’s over, leaving open the possibility of another contract for a player who seems like he’ll finish his career with the Capitals.
Ovechkin almost certainly will play his entire NHL career with Washington, and his contract status is one of two situations worth watching now that Backstrom is signed. The Russian superstar who’s on the verge of reaching 700 goals is signed through next season, so he and the Capitals could sign an extension as early as this summer.
“Obviously we’d like Ovi to finish his career here, and we’re going to do what we can to keep him,” general manager Brian MacLellan said recently.
Keeping Backstrom around and likely re-upping Ovechkin are obvious moves for the Capitals, who face a different situation with pending free agent goaltender Braden Holtby. The 2016 Vezina Trophy winner could leave this summer because Washington is up against the salary cap and has top prospect Ilya Samsonov already in the NHL and looking like he’s capable of becoming a starter.
“You’d have to make a decision on goalies, I would assume, if Samsonov continues on the track he’s on,” MacLellan said. “It’s tough to say what the cap is going to be and it’s tough to say what other personnel decisions you can make. We’re projecting here something that’s difficult to project.”
Even with 2018 playoff leading scorer Evgeny Kuznetsov signed long term and Lars Eller under contract, the Capitals didn’t have a successor for Backstrom, a point-a-game center who has helped Ovechkin become the best goal-scorer of this generation.
“I’m more of a passer, and he’s a pure-goal scorer, I think,” Backstrom said. “That’s why it’s worked out so good.”
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