When the Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup, there was perhaps only one person whose excitement could match that of Alex Ovechkin. That was the man ultimately responsible for putting it all together, Ted Leonsis.
Leonsis, the majority owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, bought the Capitals in 1999. He has since seen this team rise from the low years of the rebuild and two lockouts all the way to the very top, becoming Stanley Cup Champions.
I got the opportunity to speak with him 1-on-1 before the Capitals' season-opening win over the Bruins on a variety of topics from the Cup celebration to Alex Ovechkin’s legacy.
Here is Part 1 of that conversation.
What has this summer been like for you with the celebration?
Well, there hasn't been much of an offseason and it's been a lot of work and a lot of self-reflection and much joy.
But now that's being drained out of the equation because it's dawned on everyone that we get our rings this week, we put up the banner tonight and then it's next season. So trying to find that and strike a balance between celebrating and paying homage to the past and then being focused on making the playoffs and then trying to repeat is a tall order.
Since the franchise's inception, the Capitals have always had to fight for their place in this city. What does a championship do for the franchise and for hockey in Washington, D.C.?
I believe we have cemented and reinforced our relationship with a whole new generation of fans.
I think the parade, when you see that many people that committed and how young they were, that this is their touch point. For their life, they'll talk about what happened, they were there when the Caps won the Stanley Cup.
I really saw this on Sunday at our last preseason game. I had so many people come up to me and say this is my son or my daughter's first hockey game and that they were dressed to the nines in Caps gear and they basically became gigantic for life Caps fans last year. They shared in this communal thing. They were given permission to be Caps fans for life.
I'm convinced that we have grabbed the generation of fans and then recommitted to the people that were fans and the fanbase that we had built over the last decade or so. We have a big, big fan base now and we have this responsibility to continue to invest and make sure that the team is great.
A lot was made of the team’s celebration over the summer. As the owner of the team, what was your reaction to how they celebrated?
I bet you that this was calm compared to some other celebrations, it's just we live in the world now of social media and everything can be seen and shared.
If you just look at everyone's day with the Cup, bringing it to hospitals, bringing it to the newsroom in Annapolis, the list goes on and on.
I think the first few days after we won the Cup was very populous, let's share it, have a shared experience with the fans. But I think the players were incredibly respectful just watching them the other night, seeing their name carved on the Stanley Cup was a very, very meaningful moment. They understand the place in history that the Stanley Cup has and their name is on it and the names of some of the players that went off the Cup was amazing to make room for them. It's just the way it goes and their name now will be on that Cup for 65 years.
What was it like when you saw your name engraved on the Cup?
I was unbelievably humbled. One because you just know there's a permanence there and two, I just look back at when I bought the team, we weren't a 'have' team. We built a new practice facility, we have a new AHL group, we are able to attract and keep great players. When Alex signed his long-term deal then Nick Backstrom said he'd sign his long-term deal.
The other day I'm watching TV and is it Bryce Harper's last game? Bryce Harper's like Alex Ovechkin and I go no Bryce! Look at what Alex did. He didn't make the drama. He said 'no this is where I want to be, this is where I want to grow up, I want other great players to know you can win a championship here in Washington.'
We didn't have any of that drama. Our drama was having the best record in the league during the regular season with great generationally gifted players, but we couldn't get through the second round.
Now that we have and we have a Stanley Cup, I was telling people we've won in the last decade three Presidents' Trophies and we were embarrassed to talk about Presidents' Trophies and now people write they had the best record in the last decade and they won three Presidents' Trophies and a Stanley Cup. All of a sudden they have meaning and they're valuable.
Winning the Stanley Cup was a momentous thing for our community, for our players, for our franchise and we understand its importance and I think that's why the players have rallied and said let's try to do it again.
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