- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

The Washington Capitals are planning a modest ticket price increase for the 2001-02 season, the first of many likely changes for the organization this summer.

The increase, not yet finalized, likely will be between 5 and 10 percent. Last year's average price of $38.42 was fifth lowest in the NHL, second lowest among U.S.-based teams.

"The prices will go up in a very small way," owner Ted Leonsis said. "We can't really do a whole lot because we don't sell out the building regularly and we're trying to keep the seats a good value."

The Caps had 11 sellouts last season, up from seven in 1999-2000.

The final pricing will be set next week at a meeting at Leonsis' Vero Beach, Fla., home. In attendance will be team president Dick Patrick, general manager George McPhee and minority owner Raul Fernandez.

The four executives also will seek to draft a personnel strategy for next year's team and hone the organization's business plan. The Caps won a second straight Southeast Division title and saw a 7.3 percent boost in home attendance. But because of another loss on the balance sheet of nearly $20 million and a second straight first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Leonsis labeled the season a "disappointment."

Several marquee unrestricted free agents will be available, including John LeClair and Alexei Yashin, but Leonsis continues to show reluctance toward making any large, sudden moves. He also disputes the notion that the team simply needs one more sniper to become a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.

"There's just no easy answer," Leonsis said. "That's what we're meeting about to start making decisions. We took four weeks off, and now it's time to get back at it. I continue to get e-mails saying we should go after this scorer or that scorer. But we ended the season in the top 13 in the league in both scoring and goals against. We were up there in both, and we still couldn't beat Pittsburgh. So I don't know if we had one more scorer that it would have made a difference.

"What we've said all along is that we have a fairly strong nucleus of talent. The key is now to determine the proper way to build upon that. There is the draft, there are trades and there is free agency. We will be doing all three. The question is, in what combination."

Minority owner Jonathan Ledecky, currently traveling in Europe, will not attend the Florida meeting. The local entrepreneur continues to have his 24 percent interest in Lincoln Holdings the Leonsis-led holding company for the Caps and a minority interest in the Washington Wizards up for sale and has removed himself from any operational role with the club.

Michael Jordan, the Wizards' president of basketball operations and another Lincoln shareholder, also will miss the meeting as the basketball team prepares for next month's NBA Draft. The Wizards hold the No. 1 overall pick.

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