Ovechkin talks about importance of Olympic torch
Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis met with members of the media this week at the club’s annual media day luncheon, sharing his thoughts on Adam Oates, Alex Ovechkin and, of course, the Capitals’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
On if he thinks the Capitals’ window of opportunity for winning a championship is closing:
Well, when our players are 36 years old I’ll probably feel that. But we still have a relatively young team and our core players are just now entering their prime. So, no, I think this is the key time. I mean, Alex [Ovechkin, 28] and Mike [Green, 27] and Nick Backstrom  are all now of age, where they’re looked at as being veterans. They can reach out to the young players and teach them the ropes. What I’ve been most impressed with so far this camp is that I’ve asked George [McPhee] and Adam [Oates] what will be our starting lineup opening night and they can’t tell me. This has been the most competitive camp and we have the most depth of any team since I’ve owned the team. I think that bodes well. We have a lot of players who are NHL ready. We have depth now if we have injuries and I think our young players now have grown up and they know what it takes. I hear Alex Ovechkin talking about hydration and sleeping and taking care of your body and he’s captain and he should be lecturing Tom Wilson on that. That’s what we expected. That’s just a natural ebb and flow of a player’s career. So I don’t think the window is closed. I think the window is still wide open for us.
On the state of Alex Ovechkin:
I think Alex is in the best shape he’s been in. I think he’s in the best mental state he’s been in. Same with Nick, same with Mike Green. I think a lot of it comes from the trust and belief they have in Adam Oates. I think Adam has done a remarkable job of treating the players as individuals, making them understand that adhering to a system and having team success is the most important thing. But he’s done it in a way that he’s respected and treated everyone as an individual. Coming into camp this year they all know what to expect. They all know the system. A lot of times, you in the media, some fans, they want change, change, change, change. And they don’t realize – you don’t realize – that sometimes change isn’t a positive. Continuity is a positive and players like routine. Players like to know what’s expected of them and what their ice time will be and what position they’ll be playing, and because this year nothing is given, they’re really, really playing hard to impress the coach and impress the GM and I’m hoping that’s going to augur well as we go into the season because we can’t afford to get off to a start like we did last year [2-8-1]. A tougher division, you never know what’s going to happen with injuries during the year. Let’s not get off to a crazy bad start and have to spend the whole year and all our energy just trying to qualify for the playoffs.
On if making the playoffs was taken for granted playing in the Southeast Division:
Yes. Well, I’ll say that we always, the last four or five years, went in thinking we can win the division and that’s how we qualify for the playoffs and this is going to be harder and I think that’s good for us. I think a higher level of competition day in and day out will be positive for the Caps.
On the inability of the Capitals’ core player to get over the playoff hump after six straight seasons in the post-season and no trips to the Conference Finals:
Well, the core hasn't produced a Stanley Cup, but it’s produced well. It's one of the most successful franchises in the league and has one of the best records of any team in the NHL. Again, you shouldn't take qualifying for the playoffs for granted. But this is an important year, obviously, for everybody. We think we have a really, really good team and we want to qualify for the playoffs and we want to go deep in the playoffs and win a Cup.
On Adam Oates visiting Alex Ovechkin in Russia this summer:
When we interviewed Adam Oates one of the things he talked a lot about was the pressures and responsibilities when you’re a great, great player. Adam thought he could relate to Alex in a way that Alex would up his game, and that the relationship would be built on communication and trust, and that if he could establish that rapport with Alex and get Alex comfortable in the role of captain, and that he could even perhaps provide pointers and tips on what does it mean to be a great captain, because [Oates] was a captain of our team. He also was a historic player. He’s in the Hall of Fame and he’s, what, fifth or sixth all-time in assists? [Sixth]. So he could relate to being a great player. He could relate to being on successful franchises. He could relate to being in the Hall of Fame. He could relate to all of the things that Alex went through. But he needed Alex to internalize that he had to improve year over year in every way. And I give an unbelievable amount of credit to Alex Ovechkin. A lot of times players who have great success, their ego gets built up or their entourage and people around them puts stuff in their heads that makes them not be coachable, makes them not want to listen to authority. And that didn't happen. In fact, the opposite happened. Alex welcomed the changes on the power play. Alex welcomed change in position. Alex took to heart all of the things that Adam told him and he ended up having an MVP year. And so he comes in with great rapport and respect for the coach, a belief in the system and the ability to reach out to his fellow players with that belief, with that positive attitude and it’s the most leadership that I've seen exhibited by Alex. In the past I think he's believed that he could lead by example and now I'm seeing him being much more vocal and much more opinionated, grabbing the team and pulling them into one-on-one meetings. When you walk into a hallway and you see Alex talking to a young player like Tom Wilson and he’s talking to him about the importance of drinking water during the game and the importance of hydration, you go, ‘That’s great.’ Because there were times when Alex wasn't drinking enough water during the game and now he’s able to impart that on other players. We expected that from Alex and he’s delivering. He’s always been a high integrity person and now we’re seeing him become a true leader.
On the development and maturity of Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom:
You forget these are young men. They’ve been in the league since they were 19 years old and you wake up and they’re 27 and 28 years old and you’re having children and you’re getting marries and you’re buying homes. Yeah, the focus changes. I think the other thing that happens is that you internalize that careers go by and that you’re blessed and gifted to be a professional athlete. As I’ve told them all along, ‘You’re going to have a great career. You’re going to make a lot of money.’ Now you have to worry about your health and the ultimate team success. Alex has all of the individual goals met. He’s led the league in scoring; he’s been MVP; he’s been Rookie of the Year. What’s missing from his resume is winning a Stanley Cup. It’s great now that he feels he can talk to people about that, but you have to experience it. He said before he would trade all the personal trophies for a Stanley Cup. Now he really has internalized that that’s true. It’s the most difficult goal to achieve in professional sports and he’s very, very focused on that, as is Mike, as is Nick, as is the whole organization.