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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Ted Leonsis

Capitals owner discusses how Cup win brought Washington together, departure of Trotz

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs throughout the 2018-19 regular season. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the most recent news.

The latest edition features Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Ted Leonsis stood on the ice amid the celebration of the Washington Capitals' first Stanley Cup championship and couldn't help thinking ahead.

"I'll enjoy it for a couple of days," the Capitals owner said following the 4-3 win at the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 7, "and then I'll start to lose sleep over what we have to do to do it again next year."

As it turned out, Leonsis got even less sleep than he expected. Following the Cup parade five days later, it was quickly back to business: Coach Barry Trotz signed with the New York Islanders on June 21; the NHL Draft was held June 22-23; Todd Reirden replaced Trotz on June 29; and unrestricted free agency began July 1. 

Then the Washington Valor, one of two Arena Football League teams Leonsis owns, won the Arena Bowl on July 28, and the Washington Mystics, the WNBA team he owns, reached the Finals. By the time the Mystics' season ended with a loss to Seattle on Sept. 12, it was two days before the start of Capitals training camp.

But Leonsis is far from satisfied. He's thinking bigger.

A Capitals repeat would be great. Having his NBA team, the Washington Wizards, also win a title would be even better. 

No city has ever had an NHL and NBA champion in the same season.

"Let's set this high goal," Leonsis said. "What if we had the Caps and the Wizards win a championship in the same year? That's never been done. So, criticize away, but why not? There's no curse, so let's go for it."

Leonsis spoke more about what the Cup win and their offseason in an interview with NHL.com.

Here are Five Questions with … Ted Leonsis:

 

Was winning the Stanley Cup the fulfillment of your dream when you bought the Capitals 19 years ago?

"I never lost sight of what the higher calling here was. I said a million times I want to sell a lot of tickets, get TV ratings, make the playoffs, even win a Stanley Cup. We want to make this big, lifelong memory and just have this common positive touchpoint between families and friends and moms and dads. So that to me has been the most self-satisfying thing: having people come up to me and hugging. 

"It's not, 'You won the Stanley Cup.' It was,' We did this together.' There's this real feeling of we were in it together. So my overall emotion has been gratitude. We [gave] 1,200 rings to all of the employees and the parade was pretty world class and we want to give back, and as much as we give back it won't measure up to all we've been given."

Video: Ovechkin mic'd up for 2018-19 opening night

 

Did the experience of finally winning the Cup and all that followed exceed your expectations?

"The thing that exceeded my vision and expectation was the parade …When we turned down Constitution Avenue in the parade, which I couldn't tell anything where we were staged and got on the bus, it was like, 'Oh my gosh.' To make this lifelong memory and become a touchpoint that everyone believed in, it was meaningful to me. I grew up in a very integrated, frankly, poor, lower-economic strata in Brooklyn, New York, and I remember when the Jets won the Super Bowl and the Mets won the World Series (each in 1969) and everyone pouring out of our rental houses and apartments, people beeping their horns, and it was like humanity. And everyone was just beyond themselves happy, and in this city that's so divided over so many things -- there's nothing you can say in this city where someone won't have a totally diametrically opposed opinion -- it was like, 'Wow, this is the only thing that everyone here agrees on.' 

"You didn't know whether they were black or white, red or blue state, and that, to me, was a self-actualized set of moments that we've done something really big and important here for our community."

 

We saw a video of Alex Ovechkin at a loss for words and hugging you after getting his Cup ring. He said it was an emotional moment. Did you feel the same way?

"I think there's a limited number of times when players and ownership meet their commitment to one another, and I told Alex, 'My wife (Lynn) is going to design the rings. I'm not going to ask you to come up with who should get them. Who's not giving them to everybody? And my wife will design something that you're really, really proud of and we're going to make sure that the wives and girlfriends and the moms get something equally as nice because I know how close we all are with the families.'

"Then, we did something that I'm proud of him. He wanted to see it so much, and he said, 'Look, we're a team. We're going to give these out individually, but we're all going to open them at the same time.' And that's a sound I'll remember because it was like, 'OK, open.' They all opened them and you heard a 'Haaaah.' So, I walked over and said, 'What do you think?' And he was just looking at it and that was a real hug. And his wife (Nastya) was really moved by it, too."

Video: Ovechkin is now the 17th All-Time Goal Leader

 

Most of the team is intact with John Carlson, Michal Kempny and Devante Smith-Pelly being re-signed. I'm sure you were in on a lot of that, but were you pleasantly surprised that the only players you lost were forward Jay Beagle, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks, and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, who was traded to the Colorado Avalanche?

"Who would have thought that Braden Holtby would struggle [during the regular season], Grubauer would step up, play great, struggle the first two playoff games, Holtby wins the Stanley Cup. Grubauer says to us, 'I love everything about this here, but I'm ready and I want to be a starting goaltender.' And because he has a great record with us, he becomes a commodity and we're able to trade him.  … [Brian MacLellan] is a very, very astute general manager. He and (Capitals president Dick Patrick) and (assistant GM) Don Fishman have really learned how to understand the [NHL salary] cap and all of its implications, and I thought they did magnificent work to keep the core together."

 

One of those who left was coach Barry Trotz, who resigned after being unable to agree on a new contract and was hired by the New York Islanders. Were you disappointed with how that turned out?

"The only thing I've been disappointed in is the language that's used around it. I read something that said we had a contract dispute, and you can't have a dispute if you have a contract. I understand that Barry did what was in his best interest and his family's best interest and I don't begrudge that. But we signed Barry as our coach [in 2014], and his agent asked for, 'What happens if we win the Stanley Cup?' And we said, 'What would you like?' And he said, 'An extension of three years.' We said, 'How about two years?' and they said, 'OK.' And then the agent said, 'What would you like as a salary increase?' and we said, 'What would you like?' And we negotiated and we came to an agreement and he signed the contract. Then, we won the Stanley Cup, and we said, 'Congratulations. You've earned your extension and your raise.'

"So, there was no dispute to me. I live up to my contracts, and he resigned and went to the Islanders. We could have stopped that, but we just won a Stanley Cup together and it was like, 'I'm going to do nothing and say nothing that adds any negative karma or drama to this.' I'm very, very grateful to Barry. We won our first Stanley Cup and I hope he thrives and wins every game except when he plays us. But we have change in the locker room now. We have a new coach, a new voice."

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