Capitals Owner Infuriated With Ouster
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Empty seats. Overtime penalties. Another $20 million in losses.
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, the epitome of the nice-guy, fan-friendly owner, wasn’t feeling so nice or friendly after another playoff collapse by his team.
The disappointment was still in Leonsis’ voice Monday, one day after a 2-1 triple-overtime loss to Tampa Bay ended Washington’s season before a crowd of 15,269.
``The market has spoken,″ Leonsis said. ``The truth of the matter was that we worked very, very hard to expand our fan base, and it was apparent we didn’t capture the imagination of a broader base of fan.″
Leonsis is serious about fans. He answers their e-mails, shakes their hands on the concourses and listens to their suggestions. He signed the top player available, Jaromir Jagr, to win games and fill seats.
But the Capitals failed to sell out all three home games of this first-round series. Playing during Passover and Easter didn’t help, but the problems run deeper.
``I don’t think you’ll see us being active in the free agent market this summer,″ Leonsis said. ``Our payroll is high enough. We’re certainly not to going to increase our payroll because there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between wins and losses and attendance.″
The Capitals lost millions of dollars this season largely because they don’t get the usual arena perks. Abe Pollin remains the majority owner of the MCI Center and Washington Wizards, with Leonsis having the first chance to buy both when Pollin decides to sell. It’s unlikely Leonsis and his partners will see a profit before then.
But the Capitals are supposed to have flexibility in scheduling playoff dates. That didn’t happen this year because Pollin’s group scheduled a Michael Jordan-sponsored high-school star game last week, forcing the Capitals to play on back-to-back nights against the younger Lightning.
Leonsis said Sunday he ``will never, ever let our team in the postseason play second-class citizen again.″
On the ice, the Capitals twice lost on overtime power plays, including the NHL’s first 5-on-3 playoff goal in 70 years and a too-many-men call during a third overtime. The team also questions why goaltender Olaf Kolzig was called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty in Game 5.
Leonsis said Monday he would not pursue the matter.
``Tampa won fair and square, and it’s all in the past,″ he said.
Leonsis gave his vote of confidence to general manager George McPhee and rookie coach Bruce Cassidy. As for the roster, Ken Klee, Michael Nylander and Sergei Berezin all might depart as free agents.
Those who remain face the latest chapter of futility: The Capitals have blown a two-game series lead four times since 1992.
``Things just happen,″ Kolzig said. ``I don’t know why.″