- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Ninety-six regular season points and a second straight Southeast Division title do not mean a thing to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.
After a stinging first-round loss to Pittsburgh, the second to the Penguins in as many years, Leonsis yesterday labeled the Caps' season a "disappointment" and vowed an extensive review of the entire organization over the summer.
"I've got an empty feeling. The goal was to advance at least another round in the playoffs this year. I wanted to show improvement, demonstrate to everyone that we were making progress, and we didn't do that," said Leonsis, completing his second season as the team's owner. "They had a better team, and we need to get back to work now and figure how to get better ourselves."
Asked to grade the organization like he did last spring, Leonsis gave the team a B-minus, down from last year's B. He gave his business operations a B, the same as 1999-2000.
"Last year I was happy. The team didn't make the playoffs the year before, and we met most of our goals, including the division title and a much-improved experience in the arena," he said. "This year, because we didn't make that next step, I'm not happy. I'm not satisfied. I'm not looking for moral victories."
Leonsis said it is too soon to identify any specific planned changes. But he hinted he will again treat marquee free agents with serious caution and show some deference to the club's large crop of talented young players. This summer's free agent crop includes stars John LeClair, Alexei Yashin and Jeremy Roenick.
"Those guys are all home already, right?" Leonsis said. "There's just no easy formula. No one wants to win more than me, and the emotions from Monday are still too raw right now to be analytical. What we need to do is take some time and look at everything in a very dispassionate way. When you don't meet your goals, you have to reassess."
Among current Caps players, the team foremost must come to terms with restricted free agent Jeff Halpern. The second-year center from Potomac tied for the team's playoff scoring lead with five points.
"I don't think he became a star just in this series," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "We've come to expect this kind of effort from Jeff. All along he's been a determined player. He's going to get better and better. He's the bright spot in our future."
While acknowledging the Penguins were the better team in the taut six-game series, Leonsis said they enjoyed a distinct advantage from owner Mario Lemieux's comeback.
"We added $9 million to payroll [to $37 million], and we re-signed [wing Peter] Bondra, [wing Chris] Simon and added Trevor Linden and Dainius Zubrus," he said. "They added Lemieux for $1.5 million."
Off the ice, the Capitals this season added more than 4,000 season ticket accounts to surpass 10,900 and boosted per-game attendance 7.3 percent to 15,534. But because of the payroll additions, the team's loss exceeded $18 million, its second straight deep loss.
Leonsis said he received more than 200 e-mails from fans yesterday, the vast majority of them positive. A percentage, however, did plea for more scoring, a request that has dogged Leonsis since he bought the team in May 1999.
"This loss is tough for everyone around [the team] and the fans," Leonsis said. "The good thing is that there is a next season. We have a chance to get better. Now we have to be proactive and go do it."
Staff writer Dave Fay contributed to this article.

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