The first time Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis spent meaningful time with Alex Ovechkin was after the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Ovechkin, who had been drafted No. 1 overall by the Caps in 2004, arrived at Leonsis' house to spend a day with the family.
Leonsis' wife, Lynn, made lunch. Leonsis was impressed that the Russian superstar, then just 20, helped pick up dishes afterward and brought them to the kitchen.
Afterwards, they played basketball with Leonsis' kids and a few friends. "He was an unbelievable basketball player," said Leonsis. (Ovechkin's mom, Tatyana, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in basketball). They then went swimming. "He was like a torpedo in the pool," Leonsis recalled. "I'm not kidding, that's what it felt like."
Then the two men sat in the pool and talked. "Alex was making eye contact with me, and really listening," Leonsis said. "I explained how hard this was going to be for him. The reason we were able to draft him No. 1 is that we were a really bad team. It was going to take a really long time to be a good team. Our goal was to win the Stanley Cup, but also for him to live a full self-actualized life and grow up with us."
Ovechkin remained a captive audience. Leonsis then got philosophical.
"My belief was that communities fall in love with a young player," Leonsis told Ovechkin. "And then they often get their heart broken when the young players want to leave."
Leonsis ended his spiel with a pitch: "Alex, trust me. Let us trust you. Let's do this together."
Ovechkin said, "OK." He was in.
Last week, the Capitals announced a new contract for Ovechkin: five years, with an average annual value of $9.5 million. The deal will take Ovechkin through age 40; should he average 33 goals per season, in that time he will also break Wayne Gretzky's all-time NHL goal-scoring record (894).
Ovechkin negotiated the deal himself, emblematic of the trust he and the organization have forged over nearly two decades together.
"The idea of him playing in Russia, or playing for another organization, just didn't make sense," GM Brian MacLellan said. "It was important we brought that tone into the negotiations that we were going to try to make it work. We wanted him to finish his career here, be happy about the contract, be happy about the term, and go out the right way."
Here is the story of how it all came together.
Ovechkin has been a superstar ever since he stepped on NHL ice. He scored 52 goals as a rookie. Two years later, he was named league MVP. He was MVP the next season, too.
Leonsis was right: it would take a long time to reach their goals. Despite making the playoffs in 10 of his first 13 seasons, it took until 2018 for Ovechkin to help lead the Capitals to the organization's first Stanley Cup. Ovechkin's impact off the ice was felt well before that.