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Ted Leonsis compares NBA and NHL player loyalty after Alex Ovechkin signs a five-year extension

I wouldn’t look at Ovechkin’s and Russell Westbrook’s situations as similar.

Boston Bruins v Washington Capitals - Game Five
Alex Ovechkin is staying for five more seasons with the Capitals. And yet ... Russell Westbrook is gone.
Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

It is not uncommon for Monumental Sports & Entertainment principal owner Ted Leonsis to talk about the Washington Capitals, Mystics and Wizards in the same sentence. So it’s not going to be a surprise to see Leonsis make comparisons on team building strategies or muse about how electric the Wizards’ fanbase would be if they can win the NBA equivalent of a Stanley Cup championship or a WNBA Finals.

On Tuesday, Emily Kaplan of ESPN wrote an article about the details on how Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin signed a five-year $47.5 million contract to remain in D.C.. The article even started with a moment Leonsis and Ovechkin had in 2005 when they had lunch and Ovie played basketball with his children. Overall, it’s a good chronicle on how Ovechkin negotiated his contracts over his career, including this one, where he is more concerned about winning a second Stanley Cup.

The unfortunate part is that the press conference happened on the same day as the NBA Draft last Thursday. And Kaplan quoted Leonsis after the conference where he naturally goes into talking about another team he owns and on Russell Westbrook’s trade request to the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We had a superstar player with the Wizards, he had an opportunity and wanted to be traded to the Lakers,” Leonsis said. “And I was dealing with that as we were announcing Alex. I couldn’t help but self-reflect on what a difference it is. Here’s a great player in Russell Westbrook, played in OKC, wanted to be traded, went to Houston, wanted to be traded, came to D.C., wanted to be traded and is now in L.A. He’s an unbelievably great person and an unbelievably great player. But that’s the difference between the NBA and the NHL, I suppose.”

It is true that NBA free agents anecdotally are more likely to leave for other teams than NHL ones. However, there’s a key difference, at least to me between Ovechkin and Westbrook.

Ovechkin is a homegrown player. The Capitals franchise is the only one he knows, and they’ve been successful. And for Westbrook, the Wizards are the third team he’s played for. He was in D.C. primarily to help the Wizards stay competitive because it was unlikely that they could make the playoffs with a still-recovering John Wall.

NBA superstars appear to be more open to moving to other teams than players in other leagues, often to make a run for a championship. But there are superstars that do value staying in one place, like Bradley Beal to this point.

I’m not sure what to add to this comparison, but as some on social media have pointed out, it’s more important that the Wizards do what they can to build a competitive organization that stars want to play for and stay for in the longer term.