The possibility that the Washington Capitals could be moved if sold was confirmed today by the team's legal counsel and alternate governor, Peter O'Malley.
"All along, (team owner) Abe Pollin has quietly sought out ways to keep the team in the city," he said. "But I think now the situation economic might force other alternatives."
O'Malley, attending the National Hockey League Board of Governors meeting here, emphasized that Pollin's primary goal is finding a way to keep the franchise in Washington.
Last week Pollin indicated as much when he said he was seeking investors for the team, saying he wanted his hockey team in Washington.
Because the financing terms of the Capital Centre stipulate that both the Capitals and Bullets must stay in the building, any potential move of the team could present difficulties for a new owner. Reminded of this, O'Malley said only, "No problem is insurmountable."
Pollin is in San Diego for the NBA meetings and has refused to comment further on the Capitals' situation.
O'Malley would not identify any potential investors, but he indicated that Pollin's desire to sell at least part of his interest in the team is not new. "He has entertained the possibility of sharing the responsibility for more than one season," he said.
Although NHL President John Ziegler said yesterday that the Capitals' situation was not a problem at the league level, O'Malley described the Washington problem today by saying, "You use a correct term when you say 'serious,' because that's what it is, a serious problem.
"In terms of the league, well, they (other teams) have learned over the years that Abe has never asked for relief, he's just solved his own problems."
Asked if he could predict a timetable for solving the Capitals' financial woes, O'Malley smiled and said, "Fast. At a certain point, events dictate. That's what I meant when I referred to the situation economic--schedules for events in the building have to be made up."
O'Malley said the club is conducting itself as though it will be actively operating next year, with the exception of taking season ticket orders. "Abe simply isn't going to mislead anybody. He's not going to take a ticket unless he can be sure of what is happening."
O'Malley said reports that the team lost $3 million last season are close. He said estimates that it has lost $15 million since its 1974 beginning are "an understatement." During the team's eight-year history, Washington has never reached the NHL playoffs.
At today's session, the governors did not discuss the Capitals; the subject can be called on 48 hours notice.
Ziegler said that no proposals regarding the Capitals were brought before the board. "Abe has indicated publicly he's looking for someone to buy the team. His first choice is operation in Washington, but he would also consider operation of his team in another city," Ziegler said.
"It seems Abe Pollin has said he has lost as much money as he can afford to lose on the team and would like to find a buyer for the Capitals or a partner for the operation. His friends within the league have steered any potential buyers or partners in his direction."
O'Malley would not divulge whether Pollin is actively seeking partners or outright buyers, saying only that the term investors is broad enough to cover it.
Ziegler was asked about likely new sites for the Capitals, if, indeed, they were to leave Washington. "I wouldn't answer that if you paid me money," he said.
But now that the Colorado team has moved into the new Meadowlands arena in New Jersey, new markets capable of supporting a major league hockey franchise seem scarce.
O'Malley summed up the Capitals' problems by repeating that Pollin "has always just solved his own (NHL-related) problems. In this instance, he might need another miracle."