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Leonsis: “For us this year the big story has been health.”

By Sky Kerstein
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Ted Leonsis

(Credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

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Monumental Sports & Entertainment and Washington Capitals chairman and majority owner Ted Leonsis joined NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Comcast-Spectacor & Philadelphia Flyers chairman and founder owner Ed Snider, executive director of USA Hockey & USA Hockey Foundation Dave Ogrean, Thurgood Marshall College Fund President  & CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. and United States House of Representatives Brian Higgins (D-NY), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) & Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) for the Congressional Hockey Caucus Briefing on Capitol Hill.

The briefing emphasized the importance of hockey on the youth in urban areas and the positives it brings on the ice and off the ice  They also talked about the success stories all over the country in the inner cities.  Everyone understood the importance and seriousness of the message, but there were also plenty of laughs.

One of the funnier moments occurred when Capitals owner Ted Leonsis smiling told Flyers owner Ed Snider that the “Flyers suck.”  Snider responded a few minutes later saying “Washington sucks too.”  It was a pretty funny moment.  The Capitals host the Flyers on Sunday and when asked if there would be any carry over, Leonsis said, “Ed and I are really good friends, I really admire him.”  He also added that they have a “really good rivalry.”

This was also the first time since Monday’s NHL trade deadline that Ted Leonsis has talked about the current state of the team.

“For us this year the big story has been health,”  Leonsis said.  “We’ve never really had this kind of hardship of losing core players for such long periods of time, when you lose your number one defenseman and your number one center you really have to do the gut check and I think the team is now responding.”

The Caps have played their last 25 games without center Nicklas Backstrom who has a concussion while defenseman Mike Green, abdominal surgery, has missed 47 games this season, but has played in the Caps last six games.  Backstrom, who arguably was the Caps best player this season, still isn’t skating and it us unknown if he’ll play again this season.

“We just want to qualify for the playoffs, that will be the first step.  I think that will be an accomplishment because losing Nick Backstrom, the quarterback of your power play, the guy whose your number one center, is a really big blow,”  Leonsis said.  “I don’t know whether he’ll come back, we’re hopeful, but the team is preparing and playing like he won’t come back.”

Many thought the Caps would try to get a center to help ease the wound of losing Backstrom, but the Caps made no moves at the deadline.

“It wasn’t from lack of trying and I’d like to tell you there were some good deals on the table that [General Manager] George [McPhee] thought were right to run by [Team President] Dick Patrick and then eventually to me, there were no deals,”  Leonsis said.  “It wasn’t a we couldn’t sell because the price wasn’t right or we couldn’t buy because…there were just no deals to speak of.”

Leonsis went on to say, “There just weren’t any sellers.”

Which as Ted Leonsis points out, isn’t a bad thing for the league.

“It’s probably the greatest time in league history where everybody thinks they can make the playoffs,”  Leonsis said on the parity in the league.  “I think ultimately its very very good for the league.”

Leonsis also called it a “brand new phenomenon” with the lack of deals on NHL deadline day.

Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter was hired on November 28th, 2011 to coach the Capitals and Ted Leonsis gave his opinion on the job he’s done so far.

“I’m a Dale Hunter fan, he’s a man of few words, he’s a traditionalist, he wants the team to play the right way,”  Leonsis said.  “I think the biggest issue, as I’ve said, is that we’ve been so shorthanded at key positions.”

Leonsis also said Hunter has “been as advertised” and that Hunter’s system “will serve us better in the playoffs”.  But did point out they have to make the playoffs first.

The Caps are currently in the eighth seed and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference and three points out of the lead in the Southeast Division.  With 19 games left, the Caps, who have won the Southeast Division for four straight seasons, are in a position they aren’t used to.

“Right now if the season ended today we’d qualify [for the playoffs],”  Leonsis said.  “But we got a lot of work to do to make sure we get in.”

Listen here to the full audio of Ted Leonsis following the Congressional Hockey Caucus Briefing on Capitol Hill today.

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