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Leonsis mum on status of Grunfeld and Wittman, says Caps needed fresh start

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Ted Leonsis joined 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Thursday and answered questions about the Wizards’ postseason run and the Capitals’ future.

“We have two check marks done now this year,” Leonsis said of the Wizards, reiterating that neither he nor the team is satisfied after one playoff series win. “We qualified for the playoffs — we thought this would be the year that we would take that step. We did that and then we played a team that is fantastic. That Chicago team is unbelievably talented and tough, filled with vets, and no one picked us to win. Everyone loves an underdog. By punching through and winning three games on the road in Chicago, to me, really said something about our mental toughness. That’s not a fun place to play. We moved through. The good news that I sensed after the win — there was not a lot of celebrating. The guys are very focused on the next round.”

Leonsis declined to comment on the futures of Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about people’s contracts when you’re in the playoffs,” Leonsis said. “What I’ve said all along, and what I’ll say is, I only can worry about what I’m dealing with on a one-to-one basis with management. When we bought the Wizards not even four years ago, I made the assessment that there was less risk in blowing the team up and starting from scratch than there was in trying to build around it.

“We had lots of conversations with Ernie and Ernie was very, very straightforward with me, which was, ‘Well, I can guarantee you that you’re going to be really, really bad.’ We played five rookies the first year that we owned the team. We had five starting players who were rookies. We weren’t trying to tank; we just had so many first-year players. … Everyone in the organization has done a good job, but it starts with the players, and then the coach.”

Leonsis was also asked about what led to his decisions to not renew the contract of Capitals General Manager George McPhee and to fire Coach Adam Oates.

“George and I articulated a plan with [Capitals President] Dick Patrick seven years ago,” Leonsis said. “We’re going to be bad until we’re good and we executed a very simple plan. We kept trading veteran players for picks and prospects. The team wasn’t good for a couple years and then we had this nice run and made the playoffs. We were improving, but we just didn’t have playoff success.

“After we started to not have playoff success we started to deviate a little bit from the plan, trading young players or picks for veteran players to try and get us over the hump. Last year it took us a really concerted effort the last month of the season to qualify for the playoffs and we lost in the first round. And then this year we didn’t make the playoffs. And so you come to that realization that our upside is being capped now and we’re probably better served in bringing in a fresh set of eyes and a fresh set of voices, and empowering a new team, a new group of executives, and listening to them, and listening to what they would do, because all we want to do is win a Stanley Cup.”

Asked specifically about why he got rid of Oates, who had one year remaining on his contract, Leonsis said he felt like it was time for a change.

“I just thought that we needed different signals,” Leonsis said. “We probably need to go outside of the Caps family, if you will, and bring somebody in who will be unvarnished in their opinions. It just felt like it was time to — we had a good infrastructure and really good people in lots of positions, but sports teams they end with how you performed under the general manager and the coach. I just felt a fresh start was needed at this time.”