The morning got off to an early start with the annual equipment sale. When I arrived around 7:40 there was a line at the check-in table stretching back the length of Kettler Capitals IcePlex [Ed note: Do you people ever sleep?!?!]. Making my way into the stands that served as a waiting area until the sale officially started at 8am, I was shocked to see a section of the bleachers already filled. At 8am the crowd was led to the upper level of the rink where a vast panoply of new and used hockey equipment awaited their perusal. The crowd quickly, but orderly, made their way into the sale area, making a beeline for the player sticks and used practice jerseys. Patrons could be seen with armfuls of gear and frantically pawing through piles of clothing – clearly the event was a success for the Capitals.
It must be hard owning a professional sports team. Every crackpot with an internet connection is either emailing you, posting articles about you, or just simply trashing you in 140 characters or less.
It’s probably harder still to be a General Manager. Talk about loneliness. You get little credit for drafting the superstar everyone knew would pan out, yet take tons of abuse for those trades/signings that just don’t make sense. You even get crap for the moves that you don’t make, even if you told everyone beforehand that you weren’t going to make them. Then some of your precious assets file arbitration and you don’t know what to expect. On the surface it seems that you were shrewd in holding off on the UFA frenzy, but until we see what the arbitration rulings are and which, if any, of the deals you walk away from it’s too soon to tell.
Olaf Kölzig spent 16 years as a Washington Capital — including six appearances as their goalie in the playoffs. He owns many of the franchise’s meaningful goalie records (GP, W, SO, Pts, SVs and SV%). Should the Caps honor the now-retired Kölzig by hoisting his jersey to the Verizon Center rafters?
We keep hearing that the Capitals are the talk of D.C. sports. Going to a game is now the hip thing to do. Red sweaters haven’t surpassed power suits in prominence, but it’ll happen eventually. So what could cement Washington’s reputation as a hockey town? Well, a Stanley Cup, sure. But also, we really want President Barack Obama to rock the red!
Russian Machine Never Breaks is proud to announce our new initiative…
Our intention is to get POTUS into the Verizon Center for a Caps game. Our mini-site is dedicated to this proposition. It is there you can find our Obama video, our open letter to the President, and much much more.
[Ed Note: This guest post was written by Addison Huber, who some of you know as ahwahoo2006 on Twitter, after being invited into the Owner's Box last Thursday for the Caps/Senators game. Thanks to Addison for the post and for the awesome Christmas Present. Also, we <3 you, Ted. Thank you for being the best owner in all of sports.]
For many sports fans, the mere mention of the name of the owner of their local team is enough to send them into heart palpitations and evoke a litany of curses that would put a sailor to shame. Within recent history we have seen owners trade away fan-favorite stars thought untouchable (Peter Pocklington) and take measures to ensure that their fans were unable to watch their teams on television without paying a hefty fee (Bill Wirtz). Even locally, in the Washington DC area, we are not immune to fan-unfriendly practices (see: television rights battles and sign confiscations). Luckily, Washington-area hockey fans are blessed with a different kind of owner: an owner who has gained recognition from fans and both traditional and non-traditional media alike as an owner to be admired and emulated.
When Ted Leonsis bought the Washington Capitals in 1999, there were already indications the he was not going to be a typical ivory-tower owner. In a Washington Post article, Mr. Leonsis noted that his strategy in running the Capitals would be to “let the hockey people run the hockey team,” and take a more hands-off approach to the personnel issues. It was evident, however, that Mr. Leonsis would shine in the areas of fan relations and marketing. As the same articled described, “[Capitals management] want fans to feel like “members” or “shareholders” in the Capitals, not merely ticket holders… They said they would like to meet every season ticket holder and establish a better line of communication between themselves and the fans.” (Washington Post, May 14, 1999, D1) From the start, Mr. Leonsis was not shy about reaching out to and engaging with fans. A few months into his tenure as a rookie owner, Mr. Leonsis “took a 40-minute break from his vacation last week to telephone a Washington Capitals season ticket holder and lobby her to renew her seats.” (Washington Post, July 13, 1999, D1)
That trend of accessibility to the Capitals chief executive has not only continued to the present, but has blossomed into an incredible demonstration of the power of social media and fan relations. Under Mr. Leonsis’ direction, the Capitals were among the first NHL clubs to utilize and legitimize bloggers as a news medium, granting them media credentials and crafting a Blogger Code of Conduct after blogger Eric McErlain of Off Wing Opinion contacted and met with Leonsis in 2005. In addition to his duties as owner of the Capitals, Mr. Leonsis serves on the board of directors of several companies, including RevolutionCard, Rosetta Stone, and SnagFilms. Nevertheless, he finds time to engage fans and season ticket holders via myriad communications avenues, such as AIM, email, his blog Ted’s Take, and Twitter. Mr. Leonsis also takes time to highlight extraordinary fans like Kiddo, the young Capitals fan struggling with numerous health issues.
Until recently, however, these concepts remained fairly abstract to me. While I was certainly aware of Ted’s reputation as a responsive owner, I had not been fortunate enough to experience it firsthand. That changed just before Christmas when I sent Ted an email regarding a recent post on Ted’s Take in which he expressed disappointment in the number of negative emails constantly clogging his inbox. I composed a reply in which I expressed my contentment with the team and thanks to Ted for everything he had done to bring about the hockey resurgence we are witnessing in Washington. True to his reputation, Ted responded within hours, asking for my phone number so he could call me. He called the next day and we chatted about the team and hockey. At the end of the conversation, Ted invited me to stop by the owner’s suite at Verizon Center during a game in early January. As I result, I found myself in well-appointed Suite 103 during the January 7 game against the Ottawa Senators. Ted was extremely gracious, posing for pictures with me and my friends, chatting us up, and providing snacks and desserts while we watched the Caps cruise to a 5-2 win over the Sens. The experience was truly memorable, and I really felt like a true stakeholder in the team, exactly what Ted intended with his fan-centric approach to management. Washington and the Capitals are lucky to have an owner like Mr. Leonsis, and his management bodes well for continued success in the years to come.
Below the fold are photos from Addison’s Night in the Owner’s Box with Ted Leonsis:
Per The Washington Post, Tarik El Bashir is reporting that Michael Nylander and his $4.875 Million Annual Cap Hit has finally been removed from the Caps roster. He was assigned on a standard loan to the Detroit Red Wings AHL Affiliate Grand Rapid Griffins where he can still finish the year with over 230 Assists if he tries. Can I have a Hallelujah?
Though the Russian Machine firmly believes that George McPhee and Bruce Boudreau are mostly to blame for this bad relationship – meaning they bought expensive goods they never really needed in the first place and then played “hardball” when it officially backfired – we’re happy to see the hard-headed Nyles still has some pride left in himself and wants to continue playing hockey while collecting a weekly paycheck most of us don’t make in a year.
Look we get it. The Caps proved they could play without Nylander in 2007-08 when he was out almost the entire season with a rotator cuff injury. And we also get that when Nylander was healthy, he had one of the worst plus minuses on the team. But George, why did you give him a no-trade clause? Can you or someone in the organization please explain that?
Now some of you may say, “Hey, we had to get arid of Nyles because he basically ignored what Bruce coached him to do.” Okay, maybe that’s fair. If you don’t get what I mean, check out the dry-erase board graphics below the jump: