D.C.-born Capitals assistant GM Don Fishman has his day with Stanley Cup

by Gene Wang

Publish Date:

Friday, September 21, 2018 12:00 pm EDT


News Organization:

The Washington Post

Source URL:

The Stanley Cup made another triumphant tour of the District on Friday, this time with a homegrown member of the Washington Capitals' front office who was only 5 when the then-expansion franchise joined the NHL in 1974.

But assistant general manager Don Fishman grew up in a household in Northwest Washington with a father who, when not working as a pharmacist, often spent his free time watching the Capitals with his only son, suffering through the early lean years when Washington struggled mightily.

So it was one of the most touching moments of Fishman’s day with the Cup when he brought the hardware to the Sunrise senior living facility on Connecticut Avenue, not far from his childhood home, to share with the patriarch of the family.

“Handing the trophy to my dad, it was like the culmination of a journey that started in 1974 at Capital Centre when we sat together as fans,” Fishman said. “It’s taken a little bit too long, right? Forty-four years, but it was great to finally get there and win the Stanley Cup and hand it to him. I didn’t think we’d make it to the finish line, but it was awesome, so meaningful to hand it to him. He teared up. He doesn’t remember much these days. He has dementia. He knows my name, and I think he understands what the Stanley Cup is, especially when we handed him the big silver cup.”

The trip to Sunrise marked the second of six stops during a whirlwind celebration with the Cup in Fishman’s possession less than two weeks before the Capitals’ regular season opener.

The festivities began in the morning with a power breakfast with a dozen or so friends at the Hay-Adams hotel, where Fishman, also the Capitals’ general counsel and salary cap specialist, first gained hold of the Cup.

Following the well-documented Dionysian rituals of notable Capitals players Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and many others, Fishman’s first order of business was to sip a Bloody Mary from the Cup. Friends gulped, but Fishman was careful to pace himself, with no shortage of opportunities for Cup Bacchanalia throughout the rest of the day.

Fishman even recruited a former high school classmate, Kevin McDonnell, to be his personal driver for the day to transport him, son Sam and the Cup around the city, including to St. Albans School in the early afternoon.

Fishman attended St. Albans beginning in ninth grade and graduated as the valedictorian in 1987. He brought the Cup to the all-boys prep school for several hours, with students from grades four through 12 and faculty members eagerly posing for pictures.

Roughly 20 members of the Class of 1987, some flying in from as far away as California, joined Fishman at St. Albans for lunch, where the Cup was on display in the school’s refectory under the watchful eye of first-year headmaster Jason Robinson.

(Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Class of 1987.)

Students gathered en masse around the Cup, posing for pictures, with some even giving it a hug.

A math wizard in high school, Fishman credits his St. Albans education in part for preparing him for the demands of navigating the complexities of the NHL’s salary cap as well as negotiating lucrative contracts for the likes of Ovechkin and more recently goalie Braden Holtby, who in 2015 signed a five-year deal worth $30.5 million.

“It’s so cool to bring it to St. Albans and have so many of my classmates here because all my classmates are Washingtonians,” Fishman said. “And they’re Washington sports fans. They love the Redskins. They love the Caps. Part of my secret mission with the Caps is to build a generation of Washington sports fans who are going to root for the Caps."

After graduating from high school, Fishman attended Harvard as an undergraduate and UCLA law school. He worked in Los Angeles, where his wife, Sonya, also attended law school, until moving back to the area in 2000 to serve as a lawyer for the District government.

He had no idea that in several years then-Capitals GM George McPhee would be courting him to join the organization. The two met in 2004 when McPhee and District officials were in the planning stages of bringing the Frozen Four, the NCAA hockey championship, to the nation’s capital in 2009. “I kind of inserted myself into the process,” Fishman said.

Not long after that successful partnership, McPhee offered Fishman a job with the Capitals, and he began his career as an NHL front-office executive in July 2005. Three years later, Fishman was at the bargaining table with Ovechkin, Ovechkin’s mother (as his de facto agent), team owner Ted Leonsis and McPhee negotiating the superstar’s 13-year, $124 million contract.

Ten years after that landmark deal was completed, Ovechkin celebrated in Las Vegas after Washington beat the Golden Knights in five games in the Stanley Cup finals. Ovechkin also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP.

Fishman, of course, was at T-Mobile Arena for the historic moment and posed for a picture, along with his two sons, with Ovechkin in the aftermath of the 4-3 victory in Game 5. There also was a reunion with McPhee, the Golden Knights’ GM who parted ways with the Capitals in 2014.

Fishman also got to see all the players on the team that he had a hand in constructing raise the Cup and began envisioning what he would do when it was his turn to be custodian of the trophy for a day.

After Friday’s morning and early afternoon stops, Fishman brought the Cup to his elementary school, Lafayette in Northwest, his community pool and finally his home for a party he indicated would be reminiscent of high school, drinking games and all.

“Not a bad day at all,” he said.

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