Fans Trust Ted Leonsis, But When Will Their Patience End?

The longtime Capitals and new Wizards owner is a favorite among D.C. sports fans with good reason. But, if postseason glory remains elusive, when do the Daniel Snyder comparisons kick in?

In the near month since the Washington Capitals were swept out of the playoffs, Donald Trump fired his own Presidential ambitions, Maria Shriver terminated her marriage to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Sheen was officially replaced from his "winning" television show.

One need not have taken a major leap to imagine that Capitals owner Ted Leonsis would make changes of his own after another early playoff exit, but so far no heads have rolled, no pink slips have been issued.

You must turn back the calendar back even further to see when the Washington Wizards stopped dribbling the ball for real after a bummer–certainly record-wise–of a season. Few would have been shocked if the Fat Lady sang about ending the run of the team’s coach, general manager or both.

In both cases it seems that he won’t and maybe he shouldn’t, but it needs to be noted if Leonsis–particularly with the Capitals–doesn’t make or oversee any coaching or roster shakeup of the truly significant kind. So far, that seems unlikely.

At some point, the “build it up and postseason glory will come approach” Leonsis has implemented is also destined to be attacked if results don’t change, just like another owner around town. Daniel Snyder has received (overwhelmingly deserved) Washington Monument-sized criticism for making rash and short-sighted maneuvers during his decade-plus tenure.  

Snyder became the Redskins head honcho in 1999, the same calendar year Leonsis became King of the Caps. Snyder's methods might be harder to stomach, but the Redskins have won as many playoff games in that span as the Capitals have won postseason series: two.

Let’s be clear on this: the patient tack Leonsis has followed throughout the bulk of his ownership is definitely my brand of vodka, certainly when compared to an owner getting drunk on signing big names to massive deals over power meals.

However, if winning playoff hockey continues to escape them and bold steps are not taken over the next few months, this will be the Patient Zero of offseasons when historians tell the Capitals tale.

Despite the Capitals recent playoff flameouts, most observers believe the franchise is poised for a long and successful run with their current crop of young talent backed up by a deep minor league system.

The Capitals growth has been running ahead of the curve and thus it was reasonable to stick with the plan of waiting a bit longer before going full throttle on the wheeling and dealing.

I’ve largely defended that method, both this season and others, even when the postseason failures have been something out of the Charlie Brown trying to kick a football catalog. This past season they added quality veteran options, but no transaction was in the “we’re going for the Stanley Cup right now” spirit.

The time for waiting is no more.

I know for some the obvious play is to can coach Bruce Boudreau. Based on his playoff resume, it would be hard to argue against it. Then again too many knowledgeable hockey minds lay the “blame” at the feet, or rather the heart, of the players, not the X’s and O’s or rah-rah spirit of the coach.

As for me, the “significant” move would be on the roster side; adding a prominent locker room leader to take that burden off Captain Alex Ovechkin, prop up the depth and speed on the blue line, make a call on the goaltender.

It’s been suggested the team’s woes lie not in talent or strategy, but chemistry. If the hazardous mix stems from coaching concoctions, send Boudreau and his assortment of oriental rugs packing. If it’s the players, then determine who’s oil, who’s water and clean up accordingly. But now is the time for action, this spring, this summer, this offseason.

As for the Wizards, I might be one of the few in town that can live with Ernie Grunfeld staying put. It’s easy to pile on the GM for giving Gilbert Arenas that ill-fated extension, but what folks forget is for a time the baller formally known as Agent Zero was the numero one most popular jock in this town.

That’s a rarity for pro hoops players in the Nation’s Capital. Don’t think this was lost on then-longtime owner Abe Pollin, who like all in his position, ultimately gave the franchise its direction. That’s also why dealing the fifth pick in the 2009 draft for veterans Mike Miller and Randy Foye during Mr. Pollin’s final year of life was likely no mere coincidence.

No pass will be given on handing Andray Blatche an unwise and unearned extension, but Grunfeld brilliantly maneuvered both ends of the Kirk Hinrich deal and cleared up coveted cap space heading into year two of the Leonsis regime. Yet if someone said enough is enough with Grunfeld, there is evidence to make that case.

As for Flip Saunders, it would be foolish to blame the franchise’s downturn from playoff contender to cellar dweller on the coach. I’m not convinced a staff of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and Tony Robbins could have motivated better, headier efforts out of the current roster.

But this is a case of horses for courses. After riding the veteran Detroit Pistons deep into the playoffs several times, jockeying the Wizards wet-behind-the-ear kids seems like a stretch for Saunders. There is a different energy required for teaching players how to reach the top as opposed to showing them how to merely stand up and to me Saunders seems more philosopher than motivator.

As for the Wizards, Leonsis is barely into his reign as owner so time to judge must wait. After all, in Ted we trust, but some day–and perhaps soon–his plans will need to be verified. The Capitals under Leonsis have fared far better than teams with other owners in town have achieved, but clearly a great wall of frustration is being built in Chinatown. Taking smart, bold action this offseason is a step toward knocking it down.

Doug Munro May 31, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Great article. There's a lot to be said for continuity and Leonsis' loyalty to his people admirably aligns with that philosopohy, but it's dangerous to be stagnant in leadership. It's hard to get mad at Leonsis-he seems like a good guy and he's accessible to the fans-but patience will wear thin soon. The Wizards get a longer leash because they're so bad at the moment, but I would expect fans to clamor for something dramatic from the Caps. I can't imagine canning McPhee, who has built up such a great talent pool, and I'd argue against canning Boudreau, who has an incredible record and pulled off a substantial tactical shift in mid-season this year...so maybe a splashy trade is in order. As mentioned, chemistry is a tough thing to quantify but there seems to be something lacking in that regard with the Caps.
Tom June 01, 2011 at 11:24 AM


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