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As Leonsis knows well, there are no guarantees
Owner has business plan and can’t wait to be a winner
In the business world, it’s often true that good execution leads to success. In sports sometimes, one bounce of good or bad fortune can be the difference between the ecstasy of winning and a long offseason of questions.
Ted Leonsis knows that thin line very well.
Successful in business ventures, the owner of the Capitals and Wizards realizes even doing everything perfectly in sports doesn’t guarantee anything.
“It’s why I know if we ever win a championship, I know I’m gonna cry like a baby,” Leonsis said in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “It’s why you see owners when they win championships cry - it’s hard. And it’s like no other endeavor because of all these things that have to come together at the same time to work.”
That includes smart management, good execution - and a whole lot of things out of Leonsis‘ control, luck included. But in coming to appreciate that sports are a totally different animal, he has become more of a risk-taker - whatever it takes to try to capture the Stanley Cup for the Caps and, eventually, an NBA title for the Wizards.
In doing so, Leonsis has undertaken a concerted effort to build a Caps team that’s “generationally great” - staying in contention for a decade so that if all the pieces come together, there can be a parade in downtown Washington for the first time in two decades.
“We’ve been able to keep our core, and so I would say I’d put the execution of the plan and the salary cap of what we’ve done with the Caps against any team in pro sports,” Leonsis said. “We just need to have more playoff success and compete and hopefully win a championship.”
The plan: Rebuild from the bottom up with draft picks and prospects to turn what was a bad team in a lackluster hockey town into a perennial winner. Along the way, the Caps jettisoned face-of-the-franchise Peter Bondra, Brendan Witt, Jaromir Jagr and others, bottoming out to construct the current core that includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. And now the Caps have enjoyed 97 consecutive sellouts at Verizon Center and a 96 percent season-ticket-holder renewal rate.
But championships don’t come easy - and last season’s first-round exit prompted Leonsis, general manager George McPhee, coach Bruce Boudreau and the Caps to make a leap of faith. Constrained by the salary cap, the team with the best regular-season record in hockey a year ago went young - trusting the kids to the point where it has featured more minutes by rookies than any other team in the NHL. The Caps let Jose Theodore go in free agency and entrusted the goaltending duties to 22-year-olds Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. They gave serious playing time to defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner.
“We were lucky that for us the situation is here now, and we’ve been given every opportunity in the world to do it and take advantage,” Alzner said.
Yet as well as the young players have done, they aren’t the only reason the Caps are in first place and on the verge of clinching their fourth straight Stanley Cup Playoff berth. In fact, three months ago the whole season appeared to be in danger of unraveling - with HBO’s “24/7” cameras rolling and documenting the eight-game free fall.
So the Caps took another chance - transforming from the run-and-gun team that won the 2010 Presidents’ Trophy for most points in the regular season to a defensive-minded group that controls the play and frustrates opponents, offensive stats be damned.
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