- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

For those fans waiting to see whether Alexander Ovechkin actually would leave Russia before purchasing Washington Capitals tickets, now is the time to buy.

Ovechkin, the multitalented left wing, has arrived in Toronto to apply for a U.S. work permit, visit with his agent and get some last-minute details out of the way before making his way to Washington some time this week.

The Caps did not confirm Ovechkin’s arrival in Canada, and his agent, Don Meehan, did not return phone calls.

Ovechkin has yet to serve his mandatory two-year military commitment in Russia, and there always was the possibility that might have prevented him making his NHL debut this season.

But it appears Ovechkin is set to be in the lineup against Columbus at MCI Center on Oct. 5 when the NHL resumes action in the wake of more than a 15-month layoff because of a labor dispute.

The Caps and Meehan have agreed to a three-year deal with an annual salary of at least $1.3 million, a payout that could rise to as much as almost $4 million a year if Ovechkin collects on all the incentives. Ovechkin, who turns 20 on Sept. 17, is expected to sign shortly after he arrives in Washington.

Ovechkin was selected first overall by the Caps in the 2004 draft after a brilliant career as a teenager in Russia, playing both in their equivalent of the junior system and making his debut in men’s leagues at the age of 15. He has been playing for Russian national junior and senior teams for three seasons and plans to compete for his homeland in the Turin Olympic Games this winter.

Last season he led Moscow Dynamo, his Russian Super League team, to the championship but bolted when team owners rid the club of its stars except for Ovechkin. He signed with Avangard Omsk, another Super League team, but the deal included an “out” clause allowing Ovechkin to leave if the NHL resumed play.

Ovechkin exercised the option July 20, the last day he could do so. The 310-day lockout officially ended two days later.

The Caps and Ovechkin were fortunate concerning another factor that might have prevented the wing from coming to the United States. NHL teams normally pay transfer fees to national federations for developing players, a sliding scale that tops out at $900,000. Russia is not a party to the new international transfer agreement, meaning individual teams can charge whatever they think the market will bear.

But Ovechkin had played out his option with Dynamo, making him a free agent. That meant the Caps did not have to wait and negotiate his release with an individual Russian team as opposed to the federation, a fee in that player’s case easily could have reached $3 million if negotiated on the open market. The Caps are believed to have paid Dynamo about $1 million.

Others have not been so lucky when trying to join the NHL. Alexander Semin, another talented Russian left wing, has been in his native country playing for a Super League team since August 2004 after playing 52 games for the Caps in 2003-04.

Semin, 21, maintains he has not been allowed to leave Russia because he has not finished his military service, a view not shared by the Caps. He has been suspended by Washington, and it is uncertain he will be here when training camp opens.

And Pittsburgh, which has spent the summer retooling, was hoping to have Evgeni Malkin on hand when it opened camp, but it appears that won’t happen. Malkin, a talented center, was taken right behind Ovechkin in the 2004 draft but made the mistake of signing a long-term deal with his Super League club. He is hoping to be available for the 2006-07 season but might not make his debut until 2008.

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