In March 2010 Ted Leonsis asked me to meet him. I didn’t know him personally, but from the Capitals and Wizards owner’s very public persona he seemed like a nice and interesting guy, especially compared to other owners in the D.C. market. He didn’t say what he wanted to talk about, though I figured he just wanted to tell me something I’d written was bad. But I was on paternity leave at the time and a little bored, and so I went.
I get to his office in Ballston, Va., and it’s just me and him and he sits me down at a table and brings me a bottle of cold water, and then tells me that I was dead wrong when I wrote that the Caps sending Jaromir Jagr and $20 million in cash to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter in 2004 was “the worst trade in NHL history.” (My article was written six years after the deal, mind you.) To literally illustrate what a tool I was for not supporting shipping the sure-thing Hall of Famer out, Leonsis gives his lecture while standing at a whiteboard with a hockey rink on it, on which he speed-diagrams with a magic marker how Jagr’s selfish and undisciplined play ruined what had been among the league’s best power plays. He dragged the sharpie all over the place to show how the left-handed winger freelanced and chased the puck rather than waiting in his assigned territory. Former captain Adam Oates was cast as Gallant to Jagr’s Goofus in Leonsis’s breakdown. (I eventually looked up the stats, and they did indeed show that when Oates left Washington in 2002, and Jagr stayed behind, the Caps immediately dropped to the middle of the pack on the power play.)
Plus, Jagr wouldn’t go often enough to visit children in the hospital. So, Jagr had to go.
And I’m sitting there watching this powerful, rich, famous guy with my jaw dropped. “Why do you care what I write?” I say when I think he’s done. “You’re Ted Leonsis!” Turns out he wasn’t done. Ted then calls me over to sit by him at his desk and starts clicking his mouse to show me lots of game videos he’d stored on his computer that prove that the NHL wants the Pittsburgh Penguins to win and the Capitals to lose. I was too giddy at what was taking place to retain much of what I was shown, but remember clips of hits by Caps, including Alex Ovechkin, that garnered NHL suspensions, alongside clips of similar hits by Penguins players on Ovechkin and others that went unpunished by the league. I also recall leaving his office thinking: 1)Ted knows his hockey 2)he’s as nice and interesting as I’d figured, and 3)Holy mother of god he’s a big conspiracy guy!
I was reminded of my audience with Leonsis by a Thursday tweet from wayward D.C.-based former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry:
I wonder if McHenry at some point got the same Ted Talk I did. My summit also comes to mind whenever the Penguins get breaks that bring them closer to another Stanley Cup. Breaks, for example, like this one. Maybe Leonsis was just clueing me into the truth.
But celebrity power-play breakdowns and unvisited sick kids notwithstanding, that Jagr trade still looks lousy.