Greetings, Caps fans. We’re just past the halfway point of 2006-07 season and competing for a playoff spot. We have reasons to expect a happy new year, indeed.
In short, we have without question improved ourselves on and off the ice. Our team is better; our business is much improved; we have great upside.
This group of players has succeeded on all counts. Our record at the halfway point this season was .500 (17-17-7), a 32% improvement when compared with last season. We are in the playoff picture, and though we have another half of the season to play, I’m not sure how many fans and members of the media would have anticipated that scenario.
And Saturday’s game against Atlanta reminds me why hockey is the best sport to see live. It was fantastic to see and hear such a great hometown crowd. There was end-to-end action, plenty of scoring chances, great saves, big hits and a fantastic overtime goal that gave the Caps a victory.
Last year we were 23rd in league scoring, now we’re in the top 10. We have five players with double-digit goals thus far; Alex Ovechkin
shares the league lead and Alexander Semin
isn’t far behind, and both already have surpassed the 20-goal plateau. Our special teams, which languished near the bottom of the league last year, have been roughly in the middle of the pack this season – a marked improvement. Olie Kolzig has been spectacular at times, and we’ve improved our goals against. We still have some work to do, but that’s a young group on the backline (Steve Eminger, Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green
are all younger than 25). Brian Pothier, who is averaging more than 25 minutes a game, has been a steadying influence on the blueline, and I think we’ll improve in that regard during the second half.
The first half of the season has been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride, as we are among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference one day and a couple of points out of that final playoff spot the next. The conference standings are a little more compact this year, so perhaps teams won’t need as many points in order to qualify for the playoffs. At the midpoint the eighth-ranked team was on pace for 88 points. The Caps had a 41-point first half, so as you can see, we have every belief that we can compete for a playoff berth this year.
Mention of the playoffs leads people to ask if we’re going to “make a move” – as if it were as simple as crossing something off a shopping list. That’s not to dismiss the importance of improving your team when you have the opportunity, and we will do that – if it’s the right opportunity. I know you’ve heard me say this before, but we won’t do it just for the sake of “making a move,” or if it will unduly cost the franchise down the road.
Could we make a trade? Of course. One of the reasons we stockpiled draft picks and focused on our farm system was to create value. And we’ve been strategic in our approach to the salary cap so that we are not handicapped in that regard, as some other teams are. Simply having room under the cap, however, is not reason to spend it.
It was written recently, after we lost back-to-back games, that “You Get What You Pay For.” In the NHL nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t want to pick on individual teams, but a quick glance at the standings will prove the fallacy of that headline. Some of the highest payroll teams occupy the bottom of the standings. Trust me, if anyone knows that you don’t always get what you pay for in this business, it’s me.
There are strategic reasons why we need to manage our payroll now too. In 2003-04 I promised you that we would build a team that you could watch grow. But we aren’t going to be hockey’s Montreal Expos, developing stars to make their marks with other teams. To keep the Ovechkins, Semins, Backstroms and Greens into the prime of their careers, we will need to have flexibility under the salary cap. It’s an important fact of life in the “new NHL,” especially with players eligible for free agency at younger ages.
Before we look too far down the road, however, I can’t help but reflect on an extremely gratifying 2006. Just think about it: a Calder Trophy and a Calder Cup. The King Clancy Award. A great draft class. A couple of under-the-radar free agent pickups (Pothier and Donald Brashear), who I’ve been very impressed with. An elevation in Ovechkin’s game and the return of Semin. A new captain who evokes memories of Dale Hunter. The continued excellence and leadership provided by Olie. A team that finished the 2005-06 season strong, posting a 10-9-7 mark after the Olympic break.
We are one of the youngest teams in the NHL, and all in all, we’ve seen validation that our plan to build from within is working. Some have even said that we are ahead of schedule, although I prefer the way our general manager and coach look at it – there’s no timetable at work here, we just want to win as many games as possible, demonstrate improvement and be a tough team to play against and a fun team to watch.
Ovechkin began the 2006 calendar year with one of the most amazing feats you’ll see on an ice rink – his goal in Phoenix. I think that opened a lot of people’s eyes to what a special player we have here. By that point those of us who followed the Caps knew that already, but it has been fun to see his star burn ever brighter.
He is one of the league’s most prolific scorers, and also one of its most clutch performers. Five times this year he has scored a late goal to send the game into overtime. Once he ended it in overtime, memorably, capping off his second career hat trick the same way he did his first. There are some great numbers to show his value as well: he consistently is among the league leaders in lead-changing goals, even-strength goals, road goals and third-period goals. He finished 2006 with 77 goals, three more than anyone else in the league. If the season ended today Ovechkin would share the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer.
Glen Hanlon has earned well-deserved praise as a coach of the year candidate. There are lots of people who feel that Olie has been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders this season.
That kind of individual attention only comes with team success, and we’ve had that. We’re in a position to contend for a playoff spot, which is something we’re all excited about. Most important, we’ve shown growth during the course of the past year, which is what I most want to see with a young team.
Off the ice 2006 was just as notable. We’ve opened the Kettler Capitals Iceplex and will move our offices there in the near future. We’ve added a chief sales officer and a chief marketing officer to our front office staff. WashingtonCaps.com has maintained its status as a leading team website, which was confirmed in a Forbes Magazine feature on the NHL. Our sponsorship and paid ticket revenues are both up double-digit percentages; our business is healthier than it has been at any time in my tenure. Many of you stop me on the concourse at Verizon Center and express your excitement and love of this team. I genuinely share in your feelings. I love going to games, meeting fans, talking hockey and will do whatever I can to grow the sport. (As witness by my role in the NHL’s promotional video that featured Alex
. Behind the scenes video here
) Sure, we would like more fans, and eventually I’d like to get to a financial breakeven point, but we are undoubtedly moving in the right direction. There is no overnight potion to fill Verizon Center. We need to work hard at our business and continue to add the appropriate pieces to our franchise. This is a great sports town – I know, I go to a lot of events; I see it and live it.
Also, I receive emails from fans locally as well as around the world who want to help support the Caps. We have implemented a matching ticket program
that offers fans the opportunity to share the excitement of Caps hockey and support the team by purchasing tickets that will be donated to Most Valuable Kids (MVK). We will match each ticket purchased, and MVK will distribute them to wounded soldiers and their families or organizations that focus on children in low-income and underserved households.
There are plenty of praises I can sing about our organization, but I’d also like to focus on another topic that’s near and dear to my heart: blogs and user-generated content.
Many of you have probably heard me talk about the Washington Capitals’ approach to blogs; others may have even found this column via a blog, perhaps even my own – Ted’s Take. Allow me to expand a bit on our beliefs, our approach and what I believe the future holds for blogs in the NHL and professional sports.
If you know my background with AOL, you know that I’m passionate about the web and the way people use it. Blogs are nothing new to those of us who follow the web, but they have never been more powerful. Blogs gained widespread recognition during the 2004 presidential election for their ability to rally like-minded individuals and raise money for candidates. Over time, the number of blogs has exploded, while the best blogs have gained even more readership. Time magazine named “You” as its Man of the Year for a reason.
The Capitals are embracing the blogosphere more than any other sports team.
One of the motivating factors in the growth of blogs has been a backlash against the mainstream media, and we know we face challenges there. I love the Washington Post and read it every day; I’d just love it more if the Capitals stories had more prominent placement, or a columnist stopped by a little more often. But the Post – and all newspapers for that matter – is struggling with deep circulation declines and advertising sales issues as well as trying to keep their writers in the midst of cutbacks and layoffs.
We make every effort to improve that coverage in the Post – we had a great meeting with their editors and Gary Bettman in November, we are as accommodating as we can be when they do come see us and we have some of the friendliest, most accessible athletes in sports. We also recognize that no matter what they do, we will probably want more coverage. And blogs offer an outstanding alternative.
Every day bloggers show that great journalism isn’t confined to established outlets. Give Japer’s Rink or Southeast Shootout a read and you’ll find some of the best hockey writing around. Eric McErlain at Off Wing Opinion is one of the most dedicated hockey writers on the continent. And the creativity you’ll find at On Frozen Blog beats a lot of the coverage that even the Redskins get from the Post.
Many in the mainstream media discount blogs as amateur exercises – usually accompanied by a description of the author in pajamas somewhere in their parents’ house. But the web is extremely democratic, and the blogs that are done well rise to the top.
If a blog offers something unique, something that can’t be found in the newspaper, fans will spread the word. Once people find it, they’ll come back every day and tell more friends. When you think about it, it’s not unlike the way we hope to grow our ticket base – keep people coming back and use the power of word of mouth to draw new people in. Eventually, as more people link to a blog, its search engine ranking rises and even more people will find it.
As part of embracing blogs, we have invited a number of bloggers to our games and other events, either as guests in my suite or as credentialed media. We developed a space on our message boards where fans can create their own blogs. I’ve got my blog, Ted’s Take, featured prominently on WashingtonCaps.com, as does senior writer Mike Vogel, who authors Dump & Chase. And we link to some of our favorite blogs on the right side of our home page.
Special thanks to Eric from Off Wing Opinion, who worked with our media relations staff to develop a set of guidelines that we use to determine which bloggers should receive media credentials. The emphasis is on readership and a professional approach – even if writing isn’t a blogger’s profession.
Almost a dozen different blogs have been credentialed for games at Verizon Center this season. That’s 12 more outlets that have been there to tell our story of a young, hard-working team that has grown to become one of the toughest to play in the NHL. As you might know, the local papers did not attend last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, so a few high school interns created NHL DraftNet to fill the void, and they did a bang-up job.
We might not always like what a blogger posts – but we won’t always agree with what the Post writes, either. Just because this is a new type of journalism, however, we aren’t going to shut them off from the access other writers receive. By inviting bloggers to interact with our staff and players, I believe they will gain a perspective that they otherwise could never have.
Does that mean you can register on blogger.com, or blog on your AIM Page, and get free tickets to Caps games, as well as access to the locker room after the game? Not exactly. As you can see, the criteria that Eric and our staff developed isn’t easy to meet – there has to be a demonstrated audience for your blog, and as I noted before, to gain that you have to be providing something different.
A community has developed around the bloggers who follow the Capitals, with places where our fans can go and read more about their favorite team and share their own thoughts in blog comments. It’s the Web 2.0 version of a message board – and you know I believe in the power of our boards. This goes hand-in-hand with the creation of a passionate, worldwide base of Capitals fans that I talked about as far back as 1999, when we purchased the team. A community like that shows the true power of the web, allowing interaction beyond the initial article in a way that no newspaper can accomplish. Even the Post has a full-time blogger now – Dan Steinberg’s D.C. Sports Bog is one of my favorite online destinations, and he’s done a nice job telling some of the interesting storylines that occur outside of the game itself.
Thanks to this community, we can spread the word about Capitals hockey in ways that aren’t possible in the conventional media. That could mean a lengthy post about our team’s performance in a particular game – in the paper you’ll get a game story, sure, but you might not see the analysis that some of our bloggers will share. It could also take the form of a post highlighting our recent blood drive, for example – something that may get passing mention in the Post or Times, but can get more space, and more attention, on the web. Alex recently launched his personal AOL AIM Page (http://www.aimpages.com/alexovechkin/profile.html
), and I have one too (http://www.aimpages.com/leonsisted/profile.html
It’s impossible to tell now what the next step will be in the evolution of blogs. But I’m comforted to know that the Washington Capitals have been on the forefront of embracing them. I believe strongly that other teams, in the NHL and beyond, will recognize their value and follow suit.
But if you know me – even if only from reading Ted’s Take – you know I relish placing our fan base ahead of the curve. And I’m proud to say that we are in this case.
Well, that’s a lot for one Owner’s Corner, but I want to ensure you we are doing everything we can to make improve our franchise on and off the ice.
Whether you embrace our approach of building within or you are among the emailers who want to spend my money – ? – I hope you continue to follow our team, at Verizon Center, on SportsTalk 980, via Comcast SportsNet, through WashingtonCaps.com and by way of the many fantastic blogs that are dedicated to the Caps and hockey in general.
And get ready for an interesting and exciting 2007. Ted