Alan May has a FULL preview of the Caps' season
Prior to the Washington Capitals’ open practice at Verizon Center Thursday night, team owner Ted Leonsis met with members of the media to discuss his role in the NHL lockout, his thoughts on the Capitals and the possibility of Alex Ovechkin playing in the 2014 Olympics. In the third and final part of the Q and A, here are excerpts of the interview:
On what he expects from the Capitals:
I think it’s unclear for all 30 teams. We’ve had six days to get ready and health will play a big role in the success of a lot of these teams. I was very grateful when I heard Nick Backstrom was healthy. That [concussion history] to me was very concerning, because we missed him 40 games last year and you saw how the team performed without your first-line center. And now we’ve got a lot of strength down the middle with [Mike] Ribeiro. So if we can stay healthy and the players can integrate what Adam wants, and what Adam wants is pretty basic hockey. To play aggressively offensively and our players like that. But the payment for that is more responsibility in the defensive end. That was the system they had in New Jersey last year, all of the players in New Jersey loved playing in that system. One, because it is a lot of fun; two, it involves everybody and you have to roll all four lines; and three, because they had great success, they went to the Stanley Cup Finals. So Adam has immediate buy-in from our players and like any team, your best players and your highest-paid players, if they buy in and buy in with enthusiasm that trickles down to the rest of the players. Alex Ovechkin is psyched right now. Adam has told him, ‘I’m going to use you in every situation, you’re going to play a lot of minutes. But to those who much is given, much is expected, and I entrust you, Alex, that you can be one of the best players in the game. But you’re going to have to play hard in every one of those situations.’ And he’s psyched. You can see it in his eyes. You can see it when Adam is drawing on the board. He’s the first one down and he’s spending a lot of time in the film room with Adam. ‘You want me to play right wing? I’ll play right wing. You want me to play back on the power play? Fine. Do you want me to play in front of the net? I’ll do that, too.’ He knows and he trusts that Adam is just trying to put him in position where he can be more successful. What I’ve learned is that teams win, but your stars have to buy in and right now our stars have bought in and it should [bode] well for a real good locker room and real good chemistry. We have some new players that we’ve had to get into the system, but for the most part all of our [core] players have returned and are healthy. Mike Green is very, very healthy and is the best he’s looked in three years. Those three guys [Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green], really we have to depend on them a lot, lots of minutes and generate lots of offense.
On Alex Ovechkin participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia:
You know, I’ve said this before. It’s a players’ league. If the union and players demand and really want to go to the Olympics then we should let them. I think it’s great for the league, but the players should drive that and they have the union to do that in discussions. It was never brought up or discussed at all during the negotiations. If they [NHL owners] don’t [allow players to participate] and Alex still wants to go to the Olympics, I’m going to be honest. I’m going to let him go because I think it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing for him to have something great in Russia. He’s going to be a torch bearer and it’s very important to him and his family and who am I to get in the way of him wanting to fulfill that. I know that’s a slippery slope because if Nick says that he wants to play for Sweden, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it. But I think I’m going to lean on the side of the players on that one.