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George Solomon


Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page E02

Ted Leonsis has been the majority owner of the Washington Capitals since 1999.

GS: Hockey fans are angry. What do you tell them?

Leonsis: I can appreciate the fans' disappointment but very few have expressed anger. We have had approximately 150 cancellations since the lockout began. The e-mails I receive and the fans I speak with have been overwhelmingly supportive. They understand the business arrangement with the players has to be altered in order for the Capitals and the NHL to be successful.

GS: How will the lost season impact the Capitals?

Leonsis: We have a great fan base. I continue to be impressed by the knowledge and passion of our fans. However, despite our best efforts, a season without hockey results in lost momentum. As an organization -- and that includes ownership, coaches, front office and eventually our players -- we need to reach out to our loyal fans, continue to touch those who have displayed a casual interest in hockey and begin to introduce ourselves to potential fans in the D.C. and Baltimore regions.

GS: Can you get an agreement before next training camp?

Leonsis: I hope so -- nothing would please me more -- but we don't know. As Commissioner [Gary] Bettman stated this week, the NHL plans to open its arenas for the 2005-06 season, and the league's primary goal is to reach an agreement with the NHLPA as soon as possible.

GS: Many of the fans' favorite players were dealt from the Caps last year, but you had the number one pick in the draft. What kind of team will you have when play resumes?

Leonsis: We are fortunate to have a passionate group of veteran leaders as well as an exciting crop of young, talented players. Yes, we have the number one overall pick in last year's draft -- Alexander Ovechkin -- but we also have 12 former first-round selections younger than 25, many of whom we acquired in trades last year. We are confident that our recent acquisitions will establish a strong, long-term core group of players who will grow up and be successful in Washington.

GS: Considering owners and players care about the sport, how could this have occurred?

Leonsis: Just because you care doesn't necessarily translate into an agreement -- or at least not yet. We love the sport -- enough so that we realize short-term sacrifices are necessary to ensure the long-term success of the league and its franchises.

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