- The Washington Times
Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Washington Capitals will host their own version of “A Christmas Carol” on Sunday at Verizon Center.

Christmas past - honoring one-time Capitals forward and Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gartner by retiring his jersey.

Christmas present - the team has lost just one out of 16 home games so far this year and is coming off a 3-2 win Friday night over Buffalo.

Christmas future - more of Christmas present: 12 1/2 more seasons of Alex Ovechkin in a Caps uniform.

It seems like Christmas these days for anyone following the Caps. There was the gift of the Caps’ remarkable comeback from a 4-0 deficit Tuesday to beat Rangers 5-4 in overtime at Madison Square Garden, and then they followed it up by coming home and beating the Sabres.

But Capitals owner Ted Leonsis wasn’t feeling too festive after the victory over the Rangers. Oh, he was elated at the win, particularly when it came with 10 Caps players sidelined with injuries.

Some of the e-mails that Leonsis was getting though, weren’t exactly Christmas cards.

On his blog, “Ted’s Take,” Leonsis wrote: “Some folks didn’t reach for their remotes last night and change the channel. Instead they pounded out emails to me with rants, curse words, demands and some pretty basic “how could you?” emails. Trade this guy, fire that guy, sell the team, etc. etc. I received two of these gems moments after the Rangers scored their fourth goal.

“I will remind those who sent the emails that we are all in this together. We must stay positive and a quick apology note now would be nice as well.

“I do have to say though that I am getting weary of this process. I am not sure why I have to become a punching bag for some fans after losses - or in some cases - even after goals scored against.

“I would like to rise above the fray. Be nice. Be positive and enjoy the ride we are on as a team. I understand your passion but it is getting old having to read venom and angst and fury. What I may just do is block you from my email and make sure you are not allowed ever to post again on our message boards as well. There is no need for the over the top rants so I am really asking you if you are “true long term fans” just tone it down a notch. Be nicer and perhaps don’t hit the send button as much. Would that be too much to ask? Thank you.”

These should be the good times for Leonsis. You can understand abuse during the recent years after the team was torn down and struggled to build itself back up again. You can certainly understand shots coming his way after the Jaromir Jagr deal turned sour.

But now? When it seems the Capitals are on the verge of something special?

A few days later, Leonsis was feeling a little more festive. I asked him in an e-mail why he thought he was getting these shots when it seemed like Capitals fans should be enjoying the start of what could be a golden age of hockey in this town.

“Our fan base is very satisfied,” he responded. “The metrics are a sign of the health of the business and the well being of our fans - our attendance and revenues are skyrocketing (up more than 30 percent each); our renewal rates are best in our history (more than 92 percent) - our TV ratings are booming (up more than 140 percent) and our web site traffic is climbing fast.

“Even with that, there are a [handful] - literally - of fans that are always angry and post under fake names or aliases. Most don’t even live in the area. They hammer me and our fans with scathing emails. It comes with the territory. But the venom is so small compared to the joy and love for this team that it is a small price to pay to be interactive and connected with our fan base.”

That connection will be celebrated Sunday night with the retirement of Gartner’s No. 11. Even that, though, irritated some fans, who questioned why the Capitals would retire the number of a player who spent just half of his 20-year career in Washington, from 1979 to 1989, then moved on to the North Stars, Rangers, Maple Leafs and Coyotes.

But he was an important figure to an early generation of Capitals fans, a four-time All-Star while he was here. He played with Washington longer than any other team. And he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2001.

“He is a NHL Hall of Famer,” Leonsis wrote in an e-mail. “The numbers speak for themselves. We are honored to welcome him and his family back to D.C. and to Verizon Center. His work on and off the ice in the NHL and for the Washington Capitals is exemplary.

“He was a star in the old school NHL and I am sure would be a star in the new look NHL too - wicked speed, heavy shot, and all desire - and joy for the game.”

A joy for the game. Some people have it. Some don’t.

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