- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

The Washington Capitals yesterday lowered the price of season tickets for a second time, increasing the total discount to 16 percent when the new 5 percent rebate is added on.

The announcement was made in an “Owner’s Corner” newsletter from majority owner Ted Leonsis that was posted on the team’s Web site. While not specifically saying so, it is thought the announcement was a response to a stream of complaints from some fans and former season ticket holders who felt the club was taking them for granted.

The rebate offer, as well as the 11 percent reduction in ticket prices made in April 2004, is only for holders of season tickets and those who purchase partial plans. Individual game ticket prices, which have not been announced, are not affected.

Leonsis also said season-ticket holders would be offered — based on availability — two free tickets to the Oct.5 season opener against Columbus and would receive a replica Caps jersey.

Some Caps fans — the exact number could not be learned — were upset after the 310-day lockout came to an end and the league held a one-day amateur draft in Ottawa. While other teams announced a series of incentives to lure fans back as soon as the new CBA was signed — free parking plans, free admission to exhibition games, draft day parties and the like — the Caps remained silent.

Leonsis’ newsletter yesterday apparently was meant to deal with any disenchantment.

“Wow” was the reaction of one fan who previously had said she would not renew her season tickets because of a demeaning tone in the initial correspondence from the team, which came in the form of an invoice as opposed to a welcome-back note. “I’m feeling better about getting tickets, … although, 34 of [the Hershey Bears’] 40 home games are on weekends, so I may get them instead.”

Fans let the team know about their discontent in e-mails and on the team’s message board.

“As a former season ticket holder, I’ve gotten nothing from the team — no e-mail, no snail mail, no phone calls,” one e-mail said. “I’m sick of waiting to get on the ‘worthy to be contacted’ list.”

“By everything I’ve seen, I couldn’t be more disappointed with the fan-business side of this team right now,” one post on the team’s message board said. “It is very disheartening how little they seem to care.”

Leonsis spelled out that the team that will take the ice Oct.5 is not expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup and won’t be a contender soon. The Caps, simply put, are in a rebuilding mode after their salary dump during the 2003-04 season.

“Our goal is to ice a young, hungry and competitive team, a team that plays hard every shift, that will grow, improve and mature together and offer hope for a Stanley Cup in the not-too-distant future,” Leonsis said. “We started this process in 2003-04 after coming to the harsh realization that other methods had failed us.”

Leonsis said the team has a plan that should enable it to “compete for the Stanley Cup during the life of the current CBA.” The new contract with the players union is for six years.

The owner said the team had made offers to “several” free agents “who could have helped our team in the short term.” He said, however, that, while competitive on salary issues, the team offered short contracts to players who wanted long-term deals.

“We are prepared to sign the right players, but we have to factor in their age, salary and length of contract,” he said. “We don’t want to be saddled with longer term contracts to older players. We have to allow our young players an opportunity to play.”

Leonsis did not rule out the possibility the team would become involved in the free agent market at a later date.

“We will maintain the flexibility needed to add free agents when needed and to re-sign our young players who prove to be key elements of the future here,” he said. “Down the road we don’t want to lose or be forced to trade players we developed because we made a knee-jerk free agent signing.”

Meanwhile, the Caps signed two free agents — left wing Ben Clymer and right wing Miroslav Zalesak.

Clymer, 27, has played nearly 300 NHL games, all with Tampa Bay, scoring 29 goals and 76 points. He has appeared in 16 playoff games, including five in 2004 as the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Clymer, the first pick in the second round in 1997, is a native of Bloomington, Minn.

Zalesak, 25, is a native of Slovakia who was taken in the fourth round by San Jose in 1998. He has played in 12 NHL games, all with the Sharks.

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