Abe Pollin, whose Washington Capitals reportedly lost about $3 million this year while missing the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, said yesterday he still believes Washington could be "one of the great franchises" in the National Hockey League.
Still, Pollin, who has been silent since the end of the season concerning the future of the team, stopped short of assuring the presence of the team at Capital Centre next year. However, he blamed the team's uncertain status on his own organization and not the fans.
"We have never given this city a chance to prove this would be a great hockey city by providing a team the fans could be proud of," Pollin said.
There have been reports in recent weeks that the Capitals and the financially strapped Colorado Rockies would merge and either play at Capital Centre or the new arena in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
"We're evaluating all our options," said Pollin. "All possibilities are being evaluated and discussed and we hope to make an announcement in the not too distant future."
Last November, Pollin said the Capitals would be here at least until the year 2000, but that he would "consider" serious offers from "the right people, with the right numbers" for his Washington Bullets basketball team, the Capitals and Capital Centre.
In November, Pollin said the Capitals were the "major disappointment and major failure of my business career." The Capitals were 1-13 when Pollin fired Coach Gary Green and General Manager Max McNab and replaced them with Bryan Murray (coach) and Roger Crozier (acting general manager). The Capitals finished fifth and last in the Patrick Division with a 26-41-13 record, as the top four teams in the divison made the playoffs.
"The season was a disappointment," Pollin said. "Our poor start was certainly difficult to overcome; and we need to bolster our defense in goal."
Although the Capitals were in last place all year, the team averaged 11,378 fans a game, satisfactory numbers even with the numerous discount ticket plans.
"To give the fans a team they could be proud of, one capable of going to the playoffs or even playing .500 hockey, is something we have never done," Pollin said.
"Everyone in the league feels this could be one of the best franchises in the league and we would sell out regularly," he continued. "I feel those people are right in their assessment."
Pollin would not discuss the futures of Crozier, who is still in an interim role, or Murray, who has two years remaining on his contract.
Sports will be a big part of a new endeavor by Pollin. He has formed a corporation called First County Cable that will seek a cable TV franchise in Montgomery County, capitalizing on sports in its sales pitch.
Pollin said he was delighted that the Bullets made the playoffs, but admitted he was puzzled that the team has averaged only about 8,800 fans per home game. "Maybe they haven't caught on yet," he said. "These guys have the kind of spirit you rarely see on a professional team. I've never seen anything like it before.
"Before the season I told everyone they'd be in the playoffs. Not many people believed me."