- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2013

In the aftermath of the NHL lockout that wiped out the first four months of what should have been the 2012-13 season, Ted Leonsis made an appearance at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility. The owner shook hands with Brooks Laich as the forward stepped off the ice, said hello to players in the locker room and got a greeting from captain Alex Ovechkin.

“I showed up, Alex came in, he ran over to me and gave me a big hug,” Leonsis recalled. “We talked about our families and I told him I would have an engagement party for him in my house.”

Not all players were thrilled that Leonsis, an owner on the league’s negotiating committee, acted like all was forgiven right away. That’s natural given some of the harsh sentiments that came from the work stoppage.

“There’s probably going to be some ill feelings. It’s hard not to when all you want to do is play hockey and you’re being locked out,” right wing Troy Brouwer said last week. “But at the same time, it’s a business. They were trying to better their business; we’re trying to help because we are a big part of the whole industry. Just making it so that it’s a profitable industry going forward here so that everyone can make money and the fans can enjoy what we put on the ice. You’ve kind of got to shrug it off a little bit, but it’s still going to linger there.”

Around the league, those plugged in to collective bargaining talks seemed to take owners’ stances and questionable offers more personally than others. Now that it’s over, Caps NHL Players’ Association rep Jason Chimera said “You’ve got to kind of put that aside.”

“You realize how much of a business it is once you become part of the CBA negotiations and realize how much it involves, what it is and you’ve got to kind of put it in the past,” Chimera said. “There was a lot of hard feelings when it was happening, but business is business.”

Leonsis is, first and foremost, a businessman. Thursday night in his first press conference since the hiring of coach Adam Oates in June, he downplayed his role in the lockout, calling himself more of a “proxy” for what owners wanted. He said it might be an exaggeration to claim he said more than 500 words in 50 negotiating sessions.

And he denied reports that he was a “hardliner” among owners. Leonsis said what he wanted most was a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue and a 10-year CBA.

The owners got that. And now he wants to move forward and believes there are no hard feelings from players.

“There’s no overhang at all. The players want to play, the players love playing for our fans,” Leonsis said. “They, frankly, like being in Washington. We built a world class franchise and the only thing that’s missing from the resume for all of these players is getting to the finals and winning a Cup. That was the most frustrating thing for everybody, that weren’t playing and we weren’t able to take that next step and, so you know, this week has been a blur.”

Some Caps players have moved past the lockout and Leonsis’ part in it.

“At this point I think everyone’s so happy just to be playing I don’t think it really matters,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Probably deep down some guys, especially the the guys that were directly involved in all the meetings might have some sort of animosity. But personally I’m just happy to play hockey.”

That hockey is a “business” has been one of the most widely spoken phrases since last summer, when the lockout was imminent.

And while players didn’t experience a 24 percent rollback like after the 2004-05 lockout, they know even more now that it’s business.

“It all comes down to money. A lot of these teams are losing money and they don’t want to lose money anymore, I think that’s a big part of it,” Chimera said “You can’t blame them you can’t blame our side for wanting to keep our money and their side for wanting to keep their money. Everyone was [ticked] off during the thing, emotions were running pretty high, but it is what it is. You put the past in the past and forget about it.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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