- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

Ted Leonsis, the loquacious majority owner of the Washington Capitals, is suffering the same hockey withdrawal that many fans are going through since the NHL locked out players on Sept.15 and put the 2004-05 season in jeopardy of being canceled.

One of the main ways Leonsis tries to keep track of the hockey world is by reverting to his day job as a senior vice president at AOL and plugging into online message boards, chat rooms and the like.

But Leonsis couldn’t participate in the online chats, one of his favorite pastimes in happier days. Under very tight gag rules laid down by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Leonsis is not allowed to publicly discuss the league’s labor situation without facing fines that already have ranged as high as $250,000 to some team executives.

Leonsis did the next best thing. He invited some two dozen of the most active members of the Caps’ online community to dinner and a chat at a District restaurant last week. Sixteen accepted.

“I definitely walked away with a different and more positive impression of our organization,” said one of those who took part in the dinner in a posting on one of the Caps’ official message boards.



Repeated efforts to reach Leonsis were not successful.

The rules of the evening were simple and straight forward. Because of the gag orders imposed by Bettman, Leonsis was unable to discuss some aspects of the labor dispute, now in its 60th day. Therefore, Leonsis asked that nothing be posted that might imply those matters were discussed.

“[Leonsis] really didn’t have an overt agenda and really seemed like he just wanted to chat,” wrote one participant. “Not many organizations would reach out to ‘die-hards’ this way,” wrote another. All seemed to agree there was no sales pitch of any kind.

Most of those who attended were from the immediate area although there was one person from Charlottesville and another from Toronto. It is not believed any had met previously, and had known each other only by screen names.

“A very positive perspective was put on where this organization is heading and Ted assured us [of] his commitment to winning even though times will be tough,” wrote one attendee.

Why a group of online chatterboxes?

“There’s no hockey on TV, there’s not much about it in the papers, people just aren’t talking about it very much right now,” said one. “You’d think the only connection for a guy like Ted would be through chat rooms and message boards.”

Leonsis picked up the tab and left early enough so 16 online friends finally could put a face to a screen name and chat in person.

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