Whether or not the biggest problem for the Caps thus far has been Nicklas Backstrom’s lack of production, or Brooks Laich’s injury, or adjusting to Adam Oates, or poor special teams, the headline will always be “Ovechkin has just one goal through six games.”
So it was that owner Ted Leonsis was asked about his team’s, and his captain’s, slow start on WTOP Wednesday morning.
“Well, we’re concerned too,” Leonsis said. “I’m not so sure that [team] scoring’s gonna be an issue, but it has been to date. And Alex is off to a slow start….He’s having to get integrated into this new system….He needs to play better. I don’t have the answers. Obviously I’m not running the hockey operations. If I knew what to do, I would go see George and Adam, but I don’t, so they’re gonna have to work it out.”
Leonsis said when he talked with Ovechkin during the first few days after the lockout, they mostly discussed the winger’s offseason engagement to tennis star Maria Kirilenko. But Leonsis said he also asked Ovechkin about his biggest concern transitioning from the KHL back to the NHL, and Ovechkin mentioned the significant difference in rink size.
“He gets double-teamed all the time [in the NHL], so he has to keep moving,” Leonsis said. “And that’s the one thing I’ve noticed: when he doesn’t have a good game, he seems to be more stationary, and video coaches show him that.”
Earlier in his hour-long appearance on the station, Leonsis was asked by a caller about the team’s general slow start under new coach Adam Oates.
“Well, obviously we don’t like where we’re situated in the standings,” the owner said. “The team is struggling right now to perfect a new system, and I understand that. We wanted the new system implemented, and we’re struggling to do it. I don’t think it’s an issue with the coach; I think it’s an issue of where the team is right now with implementing these changes.
“Fans always want change, and when you implement change, it’s sometimes hard to get the changes to take positive effect, and then they want more change,” Leonsis continued. “And sometimes you just have to show a little bit of patience and belief. From my experience, the only time that you make a coaching change is when the coach almost tells you when it’s time — when they run out of ideas or they’re not connecting with the players. And you can sense it, and the coaches know it. It’s not a surprise to a coach when a coach gets fired, because they’ve lost the room. And right now our performance has nothing to do with the coach.”
Another caller asked about his organization’s seeming tendency to employ first-time NHL coaches as opposed to more experienced leaders.
“I’m honestly gonna have to ask George [McPhee], and I’ll respond on my blog,” Leonsis said. “There was no plan behind that. The process is that George McPhee hires our coaches and fires our coaches, and I don’t think he has a stated plan that I want to hire first-time coaches….When George interviewed everybody, what was reported back to us was that Adam knew the most about our players, he sold the system that he wanted to implement. And George really thought that with our personnel and what he wanted to institute, he was the best fit for us. But that was a good question; I will ask George and get an answer.”
And as for fans angry about the 1-4-1 start?
“Deserved,” Leonsis said. “I get it. It’s a very zero-sum game. If you win, the food tastes better, and the music sounds better, and when you lose, it amplifies all of the gripes. Someone once said that winning is the best deoderant. That was a genius comment. That’s ultimately the business that teams are in, and there’s not a lot of goodwill that’s put into a bank. It’s a very now-oriented business.”
(Also, I know many people are of the opinion that owners should be seen and not heard. And I know many people think Leonsis occasionally does more harm than good with his frequent public communications. Whatever. I still think the fact that he sits down for 60 minutes with WTOP and answers questions from the hosts, from callers and from e-mailers — as he did on Wednesday — is commendable. Just my opinion.)
(Plus, he talks slowly enough that I can transcribe it live, which I completely appreciate. Although, as always with my live transcriptions, there might be slight mistakes that do not alter his meaning.)