In a detailed entry to his extremely popular Ted’s Take blog last month, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis wrote about how busy his summer has already been.
He watched his star player and favorite every-man’s coach take home some serious hardware at the NHL Awards Show in Toronto. They returned and were promptly feted by D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who gave Ovechkin the keys to the city.
At the Entry Draft in Ottawa, Leonsis watched the Capitals pick two prospects in the first round. Quickly thereafter, the whirlwind free agency season began. Capitals’ Fan Fest at the team’s practice facility in Arlington, Va. was rousing success.
The web-savvy owner even found time to launch a new business, SnagFilms.
“Summer is the time to regroup and to rest, but so far this summer has been one of burning the midnight oil,” Leonsis wrote.
At least Leonsis hasn’t had to stay up well past midnight worrying about the health of his hockey franchise. Those days appear to be over because business in Capitals’ Country has never been better.
Coming off their improbable run to the Southeast Division title last season and first playoff berth since 2003, the Capitals have already sold roughly 3,000 more season tickets for 2008-09 than they did for 2007-08. More than 90 percent of the people who already had season tickets have renewed, and their partial packages are flying off the proverbial shelves, too.
“We had this unbelievable run last season,” Leonsis told NHL.com, “and we kept our team together.”
Only three notable players from last year’s playoff team – goalies Cristobal Huet and Olaf Kolzig as well as winger Matt Cooke – will play somewhere else this coming season. Washington instead signed former Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore to be their No. 1 goalie, and former Carolina winger Keith Aucoin was brought on board.
The Caps re-signed defensemen Mike Green and Shaone Morrison as well as forwards Sergei Fedorov, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Eric Fehr and Boyd Gordon.
“We have had a very successful offseason,” Leonsis said. “Our business is booming. Customer satisfaction is very high. There is an innate expectation of we will do better than we did last year.”
Mainly because of No. 8.
Fans are scooping up season tickets because they want to see what Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin will do for an encore.
Will he be the first NHL player to score 70 goals since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny each pumped in 76 in 1992-93? Will he be the next young star of this generation to lead his team to the Stanley Cup Final?
Leonsis wants to know, too, but he won’t put a limit on what Ovechkin can do.
“Alex Ovechkin, I think, is a historic player and will go down as one of those great players and great personalities,” Leonsis said. “We’re fortunate in that he’s a remarkably gifted talent, but he has crossed over. Is he Russian or North American? The way he plays is North American. He speaks beautiful English. He’s funny. He has embraced the tradition of the game. He’s very kind to the fans. He’s telegenic. He’s embraced it all and he is one of the two faces of the new NHL with Sidney Crosby.”
"My belief is that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will have great teams for a long period of time and we’ll play each other a lot. Hopefully we’ll meet each other in the playoffs because that’s the crucible and that’s when alchemy happens and where legends are made. Our guy understands that very much so."
-- Ted Leonsis
“I think what leagues need to be successful usually is some alchemy in that having great teams in big markets becomes important, but having great stars on those great teams makes it doubly important,” Leonsis said. “My belief is that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will have great teams for a long period of time and we’ll play each other a lot. Hopefully we’ll meet each other in the playoffs because that’s the crucible and that’s when alchemy happens and where legends are made. Our guy understands that very much so.”
Especially after last season, when the Cinderella Caps were bested in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in seven games by the Philadelphia Flyers.
“We made the playoffs and Alex became MVP and had all four trophies (Hart, Maurice Richard, Lester B. Pearson and Art Ross), becoming the first player to do that, but he said exactly the right thing,” the owner said. “He said that he would trade all four for one Stanley Cup. He knows to make that next jump from being a wondrous talent to going to that next plain you have to win in the playoffs.”
That’s what Leonsis now expects from his former fumbling club.
“There is a belief we’re going to be a good team for a long, long time,” Leonsis said. “That’s what I wanted.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.