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Capitals owner will back players leaving for Olympics

Ted Leonsis says he won't stop them if NHL decides to forego PyeongChang in 2018

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Although the NHL has yet to make a decision on its players competing in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has already made up his mind.

Leonsis reiterated Wednesday that if the NHL chooses not to go, he will support Alex Ovechkin (Russia), Braden Holtby (Canada), Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) or others if they want to leave the Capitals to compete in South Korea.

"I don't know the internal politics on it, and, because I've made my feelings known, I'll vote when I'm asked to vote," Leonsis said. "My belief, though, is that I can't imagine the players saying they don't want to go to the Olympics. It's a players' league. If Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby and Nick Backstrom tell us, 'We want to go play for our country,' how am I going to say no? I might get fined, I might get punished in some way, but I feel I'm in partnership with Nick and Braden and Alex."

Leonsis said he understands that some NHL owners don't agree with him, and said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has "a tough decision." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday, "If the status quo remains, I don't expect us to be in the Olympics."

Leonsis said he doesn't want to go against his peers, but he has his players' backs in this debate.

"Gary is a very, very wise man about expanding the League and what's in the best interest of the League, and I'll listen to what they do, but my predilection is to be supportive of the players," Leonsis said. "I've been quoted a thousand times, it seems, about if Alex wants to go, what am I going to do? I said, 'What do you want me to do? Like, stop him? Lock him in his room?' I don't even answer the question. If he goes, he goes."

Leonsis said similar before the NHL committed to playing in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He said he believes other owners might have to take a similar stance if their players say they're going to PyeongChang regardless of how the NHL Board of Governors votes.

"I think that's going to be the issue," he said. "What are teams going to do if their best player, if [Jaromir] Jagr says, 'I want to play. It's the last time I'm going to play.' If Sidney Crosby says, 'I want to go play for Canada.' It's a very, very tough decision. But the players and then union (the NHL Players' Association) have to decide what they want to do too. It's all hypothetical right now."

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