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When the deal was signed, it was like a bomb went off for NHL general managers.

No one could believe the number. Or the timing.

Less than three years after a season-long lockout and commissioner Gary Bettman cautioning executives to be prudent with both dollars and term, the Washington Capitals went bananas, giving Alex Ovechkin – who had played only 2.5 seasons at that point – a 13-year deal for $124-million (U.S.).

It wasn't the first ultralong-term contract in the league (hello, Rick DiPietro) but it was the beginning of a trend.

What ultimately made Ovechkin's contract unique is that, unlike so many others signed by other teams, it wasn't front-loaded. It wasn't even back-loaded. It was just loaded, instantly making him the highest cap-hit player in the NHL at 22 years old.

Seven years later, he still is.

Ovechkin has been brilliant in these playoffs. He has eight points in nine games – including a beautiful, split-the-D goal in a losing cause on the weekend – but more than that, he has been a catalyst, with his unbridled passion obvious out there in every one of his 25 shifts a game.

He may be going grey, and his 30th birthday may be only four months away, but he's still got "it."

The Capitals' new coach, Barry Trotz, is being credited with "reforming" his star, but Ovechkin didn't need reformation so much as support. This is a better Washington team than he has had around him in five years, and they have as good a chance as anyone in the East of becoming only the second team in six years to topple the West in the final.

Netminder Braden Holtby is a big part of that. Nick Backstrom's evolution into an elite No. 1 centre is, too.

Even when the Caps struggled, it was hard to fault what Ovechkin had accomplished. He has been prodded and picked apart and, at times, poorly coached, moved out of position to the right wing and asked to block shots or sit on the bench when his team had the lead, as if the best defence isn't his considerable offence.

He played the good soldier through it all, dutifully listening and trying to adapt as the messages changed. ("He was coachable," Dale Hunter once said. "He tried to do what I told him.")

Trotz's message is different again, but only insomuch as it makes sense where the others often didn't.

Despite the turmoil and ineptitude, in the first seven years of his deal Ovechkin has scored far more goals than anyone in the league (312 in 515 games), maintaining a 50-goal pace in an era where few get there once.

His strength has also been his incredible durability despite a kamikaze style, as he's missed only 26 games in a decade in the league.

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has gotten his money's worth.

The big question these days is: What comes next? What will the last six years at more than $9.5-million a year – still nearly 15 per cent of the cap – bring?

What's interesting is that other stars' contracts have finally started to catch up. Next season, Ovechkin will have only the third-highest cap hit in the league, as the Blackhawks' twin $10.5-million deals for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane kick in.

Others are coming. Tampa's Steven Stamkos will be due a behemoth extension by 2016, and the contract of this year's Art Ross winner, Dallas's Jamie Benn, is up a year later. Then comes Isles captain John Tavares in 2018.

Ovechkin won't be the league's biggest bargain, but he'll now have company at the top. The biggest difference will be his age.

We know from picking through history that the odds are against his 50-goal exploits continuing. Roughly one-third of the NHL's retired 50-goal scorers played their last full season by 31 years of age, which in Ovechkin's case is in 2016-17.

Nearly 75 per cent had their last 40-goal season before that age.

Ovechkin is going to slow down. Some in the analytics community make the case that he already has, given his points per minute at even strength have trended down for some time, rendering him more of a power-play specialist than he was in the past.

But he remains a freak of nature, more Jagr than Bure, with great genes and better health than 98 per cent of the league. You don't have to look much further than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin – who is a year younger – for an example of how limiting continual injuries can be on a superstar and his capped-out team.

Ovechkin hasn't been that. He has lived up to what could have been an albatross contract in a league with so many – DiPietro, Mike Richards, Ilya Bryzgalov, Vinny Lecavalier et al. – making a deal that was so controversial and derided back in 2008 almost mundane.

Perhaps he can even live up to Trotz's Mark Messier comparison last week, contributing to the growth and success of hockey in D.C. into his 40s the way the Moose did in New York?

It's not plausible. But it's certainly possible with what Ovechkin has done so far.

Seven years ago, the Capitals made a bet that they had one of the best goal scorers in history on their hands, one who could do something few had ever accomplished and do it for 13 more years.

Past the halfway point, he has done little to prove them wrong.