Ovechkin signs long-term endorsement deal with Nike

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With all of the Alexander Semin bashing lately, at least one of the Capitals’ Russian snipers is having a good offseason. Rumors broke this afternoon that Alexander Ovechkin was signing an endorsement deal with Nike. Originally, it was thought that Ovechkin’s news conference schedule for Tuesday was to announce the endorsement deal—but now it looks like the press conference is unrelated to tonight’s news.

The Washington Post’s Tarik El-Bashir confirmed the news with Ovechkin’s agent, David Abrutyn on Thursday evening:

“I can confirm that Alex has signed a long-term global partnership with Nike. Alex is going to be supporting all of the products that Nike makes — apparel, footwear, performance apparel, casual wear, accessories and other elements of the Nike family of products. So he will be wearing their performance product when he’s playing and practicing, when he’s training and in his lifestyle.”
“From a lifestyle standpoint, everybody knows that Ovi has a unique fashion sense.”

This isn’t Nike’s first foray into the NHL. Hockey fans might recall the memorable Nike commercial that featured Markus Naslund and Ilya Kovalchuk going mano y mano. In the 1990s, there were players who sported the swoosh on the ice; including Sergei Fedorov and currently Steven Stamkos as signed up with the Oregon-based shoe company.

It’s understandable why Nike would target Ovechkin for a long-term endorsement deal. Aside from Sidney Crosby (who is locked into a deal with Reebok), there isn’t a more recognizable hockey player on the planet. We’re talking about a guy who just had the worst season of his career and still managed 32 goals and 85 points last season to lead the Capitals. The man has averaged 50 goals and 102 points per season over his 6 year career. Sometimes fans get a bit callous to his regular season dominance since he’s entered the league.

The next step for Ovechkin (and now his marketing partner) is a deep run in the playoffs. Even though the Washington captain was arguably the best Capitals player on the ice during last year’s playoffs, the fact remains that they haven’t gone past the Conference Semifinals since 1998. For the new sponsor to get full return on their endorsement deal, they’ll want maximum visibility for their product wearing player. In the world of the NHL, there’s no bigger stage than a deep run in the playoffs.

As long as we don’t have to see any commercials with a disembodied head in a locker (or bowling bag), everything should be fine.

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.