When Washington Capitals owner Abe Pollin quashed reports Tuesday night that his hockey team was up for sale and possibly headed for Hamilton, Ontario, he cited the club's new investors (who have) "strengthened the team's financial stability."
Last summer, Pollin, who had said he would sell, move or fold the franchise that had lost more than $20 million, introduced four area businessmen as potential investors who would back the club if four conditions were met by Aug. 24.
The Capitals, who will play the New Jersey Devils at the Meadowlands tonight (WDCA-TV-20, 7:35), did get a rent decrease at Capital Centre and an amusement tax break from Prince George's County. And local businesses agreed to guarantee sellouts of the club's first 10 home games. But season-ticket sales lagged around 6,000, instead of the 7,500 Pollin had wanted.
Dick Patrick, Jim Lewis and Marty Irving, Virginia businessmen, and Albert Turner of Maryland became limited partners in the Capitals. Patrick is also the team's executive vice president.
"Hopefully, we anticipate others (owners), but those were the first four in," Pollin said yesterday. "There are some people who are interested, but no one else has invested yet. We do look forward to others, but there is nothing definite, no time frame."
Pollin said yesterday that no matter how many additional investors become involved with the team, he would retain control.
"Basically, the way I understand it, there will be other people," Patrick said. "I'd expected others to be involved when we got started. I had heard him (Pollin) refer to others, and I wouldn't be surprised if he does get some new people interested. But right now, it's just four of us."
In his prepared statement Tuesday night, Pollin said his commitment "remains firm . . .the Capitals are Washington's team and they will remain here."
Reports out of Hamilton indicated that a businessman there, Russ Boychuk, claimed to have been negotiating with Pollin to purchase the club and move it. Boychuk reportedly spoke with a Hamilton television station about the situation, and reportedly told at least one Toronto reporter he had talked to Sue Mills, a member of the Prince George's County Council.
Mills, who cast the only vote against the amusement tax break for the Capitals last summer, said yesterday she had never heard from Boychuk.
"He never got through to me, and I got all my messages (Tuesday)," she said yesterday.
Boychuk, reached yesterday afternoon, denied ever having spoken to Mills or Pollin. A sports promoter, Boychuk said he is a member of one of several groups "actively pursuing a franchise for the Hamilton area."
Mills has said she would introduce legislation to repeal the Capitals' tax break, but said yesterday that such legislation "has been drawn up for weeks. It was a campaign commitment. It was a known fact that I was against this (tax cut)."
Such legislation, if approved by the new council, would not affect the Capitals through the current season.
Pollin regards the possibility of repeal as "rumors and nothing more."
Pollin said his goals, and those of his new partners, are simple. "I want to win the Stanley Cup and to see the place (Capital Centre) filled up," he said.
Asked about the current crowds -- the Capitals have averaged 12,567 in 14 home dates -- Pollin said, "Well, we've (the team) just started to come along, and a middle-of-the-week game is always tough. These are the first few of the games not guaranteed sellouts, also."