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CAPITALS: Ted Leonsis Addresses State Of The Franchise

By ZAC BOYER | @ZacBoyer

WASHINGTON – Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said Thursday that he would not stand in the way of Alex Ovechkin, or any other player, choosing to play for their native countries in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Ovechkin, from Russia, has made playing in the games a priority and was even named earlier this week as one of the torchbearers during the Olympic flame relay. He said last week, when players were asked to return to their teams but before training camps opened, that he would play in the games regardless of what the league’s decision is.

A decision on whether to allow NHL players to participate in the Olympics was supposed to be made during negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement, but it is not solely a decision to be made by the league’s owners or players and instead one also involving the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation. NHL players have participated in the Olympics since 1996.

“It’s a players’ league,” Leonsis said. “If the union and the players demand and really want to go to the Olympics, then we should let them. … If they don’t, and Alex still wants to go to the Olympics, I’m gonna be honest – I’m gonna let him go.

“I just think it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing for him to have something played in Russia, and he’s gonna be a torchbearer and it’s very important to him and his family, and you know, who am I to get in the way of him wanting to fulfill that? I know that’s a slippery slope, because if Nick [Backstrom] says he wants to play for Sweden, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it, but I think that I’m going to lean on the side of the players on that one.”

Leonsis, speaking for the first time after the 119-day owners’ lockout, addressed a variety of topics – including the viability of the Capitals franchise.

Pledging that he has “never made a penny of profit with the Washington Capitals,” Leonsis, who has owned the team since May 1999, said his acquisition of the Washington Wizards and the Verizon Center in June 2010 has helped his company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, be profitable on the whole.

He targeted the team’s television deal, which lasts with Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic through 2015, as a vehicle through which the team could earn additional revenue.

“I don’t consider us a small-market team,” Leonsis said. “We’re a model franchise; we make the playoffs, we spend a lot of money, we keep our players, we’re a destination, we sell out every game. And we weren’t able to make money. … But how we’ll make our money is not through continuing to raise ticket prices. It’ll be getting a better TV deal, and unfortunately, I still have several years, three, four years left on our contract. But if you just look around the league where you get the step function up on revenues coming in is your TV deal, and if we can get a dramatic step up in the TV deal, then we would be a payer.”

Leonsis also said he was impressed with the fans’ support of the Capitals throughout the lockout, which was only reinforced by the team’s “Fan Appreciation Night” at Verizon Center on Thursday. The team held a free, 45-minute practice and sponsored a variety of giveaways, and much of the lower bowl of the arena was filled.

Asked if canceling the entire season, and not just 34 games, was a possibility, Leonsis said only that he didn’t “want to go there.”

And, as for how well the team can perform this year in the shortened season, Leonsis was, naturally, optimistic.

“You know, what I’ve learned is that teams win, but your stars have to buy in, and right now, our stars have bought in, so it should auger well for a real good locker room and really good chemistry,” Leonsis said. “And we have some new players that we have to get into the system, but for the most part, all of our core players have returned, and they’re healthy.”


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