Prior to the Washington Capitals’ open practice at Verizon Center Thursday night, team owner Ted Leonsis met with members of the media to discuss his role in the NHL lockout, his thoughts on the Capitals and the possibility of Alex Ovechkin playing in the 2014 Olympics. Here are excerpts from Part One of the interview:
On the NHL’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement with its players:
Well, I think we got a system that puts us in direct partnership with the players, a system very analogous to the NBA and NFL where it’s a 50-50 deal. We come out of it I believe with a system where all 30 teams and all 30 fan bases feel that their team can qualify for the playoffs and win a Cup, and that was very, very important to me. I served on the negotiating committee, which is really being a proxy for the ownership group and the big deliverables for me were a 50-50 deal and a long-term deal. I was very, very adamant that we could get a decade of peace, that that would be terrific, and we have that. So I’m thrilled with the deal. There was a lot of give and take on both sides. I’m sure that there’s things in the deal that the union doesn’t like, the players don’t like, the owners don’t like. That’s usually the sign of a good deal that was negotiated the right way. I’m very apologetic that we lost 34 games but I’m not apologetic that we had to get a new system that was good for everyone and I think we achieved that.
On his relationships with his players:
We hashed it out. I showed up, Alex came in, ran over to me, gave me a big hug. We talked about our families and I told him I’d have an engagement party for him at my house. There’s no overhang at all. The players want to play. The players love playing for our fans. They frankly like being in Washington. We’ve built a world-class franchise and the only thing missing from the resume for all of these players is getting to the Finals and winning a Cup. That was the most frustrating thing for everybody; that we weren’t playing and we weren’t able to take that next step. So this week has been a blur. There’s been no discussion at all looking in the rear view mirror. It’s purely about what Adam [Oates’] new system will be, who’s healthy, what the lineup’s going to look like, who’s going to be in goal and what’s the schedule look like. This is a compressed season and everyone understands that being distracted is not the right way to get success in a 48-game season. They’re all focused on listening to the coach and getting ready for [the season opener] Saturday night.
On being satisfied with what he was able to contribute as a member of the NHL’s negotiating committee:
You know I’d like to tell you that we had a really big role. It was mostly sitting at a table and listening. If I said 500 words in the 50 sessions in total that I attended I think that would be an exaggeration. I think one reporter said I was a hard-liner, which I had to laugh at. I received an e-mail the other day from someone who was involved in the negotiations and he said my nickname was Uncle Ted. And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Well, you were really nice. You’re not a hard-liner.’ The two things I wanted were a 50-50 deal and a 10-year deal. We basically served as proxy. It was really the league and the union that were doing the negotiating. I learned a lot, it was a really great process, but it’s behind us. And that’s the great thing about long-term deals. We don’t have to think about the CBA, we don’t have to think about what went on. Now we can just worry about growing the game and be in partnership with the players.
On reports he lost money in recent years as owner of the Capitals:
I’ve never made a penny of profit with the Washington Capitals, not [just] in recent years. Since I’ve owned the team we’ve never been profitable.
On if this new economic system will make that possible:
This system will help us to get to break even.