It has been nine months since the Washington Capitals hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time, and while it took just a few days to parade the chalice down Constitution Avenue, they have yet to take it to the White House, as has become tradition for title-winning teams. Now the Capitals have just one month left to complete that last bit of ceremony.
The organization remains in talks with the White House about a possible date to visit, according to a person with knowledge of situation, but time is running out with the regular season finale scheduled for April 6. That’s an unofficial deadline for the Capitals, who are poised to be in the playoffs, at which point teams try to limit distractions for their players. If a date can be agreed on for a visit, it probably will be at the end of this month, perhaps during Washington’s four-game homestand March 20-26.
The Clemson football team visited the White House a week after its Jan. 7 victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game, but that turnaround was considered abnormally quick. Most major professional championship teams have received invitations in recent years, though they have been met with some controversy during President Trump’s administration. Trump canceled the 2018 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ visit to the White House after some players said they would skip the ceremony to protest the president and his rhetoric.
When the Golden State Warriors won the 2017 NBA championship, multiple players, including Stephen Curry, said they were not in favor of a visit to the White House. They were later disinvited by Trump. The Warriors won another title last year, and rather than visit the White House during their trip to Washington in late January, they met with former president Barack Obama. The team visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture during its trip to Washington the previous February.
“I think we’ll have the Caps. I mean, we’ll see,” Trump said in June. “You know, my attitude is if they want to be here, the greatest place on Earth, I’m here. If they don’t want to be here, I don’t want them.”
After the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2017, they visited in October, ahead of their game against the Capitals. Visiting the White House should be more convenient for a team based in Washington, but the limited options for an out-of-town club make for a simpler choice of date and add a sense of urgency. The Capitals and the White House are believed to have discussed dates in January and February to no avail.
“What I have said is, we’re in Washington, D.C., and the players and the coaching staff have to decide,” team owner Ted Leonsis told The Washington Post in October. “I’m not going to influence, and if we go to the White House, I will go to the White House. … I’m sure at some point as the season gets started, there’ll be a team meeting, and they’ll talk about it and come out and tell us what to do.”
The subject hasn’t been brought up in Washington’s locker room, and in the week after they won the Stanley Cup, most Capitals players said they would want to visit the White House. “Can’t wait,” captain Alex Ovechkin said in June. Forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who is black and Canadian, was the first to say he would not want to be part of a White House ceremony because “the things that [Trump] spews are straight-up racist and sexist,” he told Canada’s Postmedia. Smith-Pelly is no longer with the Capitals after he was waived and sent down to the American Hockey League in a salary cap-clearing move two weeks ago. Forward Brett Connolly later joined Smith-Pelly in saying he would also skip a White House visit.
“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” Connolly said in August, adding, “It has nothing to do with politics.”
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” added Connolly, who is Canadian. “I think there’ll be a few guys not going, too. Like I said, it has nothing to do with politics. It’s about what’s right and wrong, and we’ll leave it at that.”
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