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Ask the Owner: Ted Leonsis Answers Your Questions (Part II)

January 14, 2011; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis (L) watches from his owners box during the Capitals game against the Vancouver Canucks at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
January 14, 2011; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis (L) watches from his owners box during the Capitals game against the Vancouver Canucks at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

If you need set-up, here's Part I of the interview. Otherwise, let's dive right in...

6. Caps fans see their team currently well below the salary cap, a top skill player likely to leave in Alexander Semin [Ed. note: obviously this came to pass], and (with all due respect to Wojtek Wolski and Jack Hillen) no significant off-season upgrades via unrestricted free agency (though the team did take on salary in Mike Ribeiro). During the same summer, the Wizards have used the NBA's amnety provision to waive Andray Blatche, which will cost the team $23 million through the 2014-15 NBA season. Is there ever a point at which one team's financial situation or obligations will impact the other team's spending on player salaries, or are the two budgets wholly independent?

Leonsis: I wouldn't downplay the trade for Mike Ribeiro; he had 63 points (18 goals and 45 assists) in 74 games last year and was a strong set-up man. That point total would have been the second highest on the Capitals last year and only two off Ovechkin's team-leading 65. He has scored 50 or more points the last eight years. Therefore, we expect him to play an important role for us this season.

But back to your question, the Capitals and the Wizards are run fully independently. They have separate budgets, profit and loss statements, salary-cap management systems and CBA rules governing them.

We are financially committed to both teams, and the Capitals have spent near the salary-cap ceiling. The idea is to spend money wisely, not just spend. Our combined payrolls may top more than $125 million next year - so we are committed to both teams.

7. With the return of Adam Oates, Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter to the organization coming on the heels of Dale Hunter's and Olie Kolzig's return (all in various coaching capacities), that's quite a run on alumni from the 1990s. Is that a conscious decision - is there something those Caps teams had that the current one lacks - or is it just a coincidence? If the organization needs a bit of a cultural change, is it possible without bringing in fresh(er) voices?

Leonsis: Simplified, our goal was to identify and hire the best coach for the Washington Capitals, not the best former Capitals player. We took our time, looked for the best qualified person, spoke to a number of people and interviewed several candidates.

Adam Oates was our top choice. He was an assistant with the Eastern Conference's best team last year, one that competed for the Stanley Cup. He is a Hall of Fame inductee. Adam was our captain and always was viewed as an intelligent player, a coach on the ice and the quarterback of the power play. Dick Patrick and George McPhee felt extremely comfortable with him, and I respect their judgment. The feedback I have received so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

Yes, Calle Johansson was a great Capitals player too; he still holds our record for most games played in franchise history as well as the mark for most points by a Caps defenseman. He also served as an alternate captain and was looked to for his leadership qualities. He has stayed connected with our organization since retirement, and we felt he would be a great fit for our current crop of defensemen.

Tim Hunter played more than 800 games in the NHL and coached another 1,000. In addition to being the best goalie in team history, Olie Kolzig was a respected leader in the locker room and was viewed as a de facto captain. As the associate goaltending coach, Olie's primary responsibilities center on working with all of the goalies in our system.

But all of these "voices" are new to our players. As I have said, sometimes too much change concerns me. Coaches and players need time to get to know one another and gel. Adam is a strong communicator, and we have a solid group of leaders in our locker room, so I'm hopeful that process will be relatively short.

8. Two of your three coaches on the bench (Oates and Johansson) are NHL "rookies" in their respective current roles. Meanwhile, you've seen at least three significant veterans leave this offseason (Knuble, Halpern, Vokoun). Is there enough leadership on this team on the ice and "in the room," and where is it?

Leonsis: Yes, all of those players were veterans and provided a leadership voice for us, but I would say less so during the playoffs. First of all, leadership on any team and in any organization does not fall to just one person. We have numerous leaders - some do so verbally and others exemplify leadership qualities through their actions.

It obviously starts with Ovechkin, but it certainly doesn't end there. Players such Backstrom, Brouwer, Green and Laich have had the alternate's "A" sewn on their jersey, but I also see leadership from Alzner, Carlson, Chimera, Hamrlik, Hendricks and Ward. Leadership has many faces.

9. What is your role in hockey operations today (from player acquisitions to coaching hires and so on), and has that changed in any way since you took over as owner? How much input would you have when it comes to making offers to $100-million free agents (like Parise/Suter/Weber) or trading a marquee player or hiring head coaches?"

Leonsis: If it involves $100 million, you can be assured I'm involved -- any owner would be. But I am less and less involved in the day-to-day hockey operations than you might imagine. I do speak with Dick Patrick and George McPhee on a near-daily basis, but that usually is in the form of an update.

Where I am more hands-on is developing an organizational philosophy, a vision, a plan and strategies to execute that plan. I'm also involved in creating a team and front-office culture and a responsible budget.

For the record, the Capitals have not made free-agent offers that are back-end loaded. Our contracts with Ovechkin and Backstrom are straight-forward agreements. I was involved with the Ovechkins when we signed Alex, but I trust the expertise and advice of our president and GM. Their role is to run the hockey operations department and execute a plan we have agreed upon.

If we were to trade one of our marquee players, I would have to hear the pros and cons for such a deal, and I would be interested in the perspectives of the president, GM and coach.

This year I wasn't able to attend the draft and wasn't in the "war room" the first day of free agency. I was kept apprised of the offers we were planning and extending, but this was just within our ordinary course of communication and business.

I'm not an expert on the draft, free agency or making trades. I'm not an amateur scout, professional talent evaluator or a coach. We hire experts in those areas, and it is important to allow them to do their jobs. I know my limitations. Sometimes I wonder: Do our small, dedicated group of fans on message boards ever have that level of self-awareness?

10. Finally, the game is always changing, and recent trends seem to have it headed back to mid-90s levels of obstruction and scoring. Do you like where the game is and where it's heading, and do you feel that the Caps have been agile enough to adjust to the changes as they've come?

Leonsis: With professional sports it seems you are always changing in some fashion or another. There is something new employed by a team and coaches and players react to it. In the end, however, it comes down to a team buying into a system, executing it and sometimes having a bit of luck.

I love our game. Our fans love our game. Are there areas for improvement? Absolutely there are. That is the nature of business in general. When you become satisfied, you become stagnant.

So, yes, I think we have made adjustments, and I'm sure you will see changes made by Adam Oates and his staff. We will continue to make adjustments in order to win a Stanley Cup.

Furthermore, I am fortunate to be part of the NHL's executive committee, and I am involved with a small circle of other owners in all aspects of the CBA discussions and potential rule changes. So we are well aware of what is on the horizon.

Thanks again to Mr. Leonsis for taking the questions and to you all for helping craft them. Let's do it again some time, shall we?

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