Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis ‘all in’ on NHL game in Russia

The Washington Capitals are all in on playing a regular-season game in Russia, perhaps as soon as next year, according to team owner Ted Leonsis.

After captain Alex Ovechkin travelled to China this past summer to serve as an international ambassador for the league, he came back and expressed interest to the Capitals’ front office in playing an NHL game in Russia. Leonsis said the 34-year-old saw the impact he had in reaching young players and teaching them about the NHL in China and wanted to replicate it in his home country.

“Alex has suggested that we do it and we feel he has done everything we ever asked him, so we have become advocates,” Leonsis said. “If we can figure it out, we are all in on this. We will wait to see if the league can handle the scheduling and how it will work with the U.S. and Russia, but we would like to do it and we think it would be good for the game.”

The 2020-21 season is the last on Ovechkin’s 13-year deal with the Capitals. The Capitals have four prominent Russians on their roster: Ovechkin, centre Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenceman Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov. Ovechkin was the first Russian captain to win the Stanley Cup.

“He has been perfect in how he has handled everything, and so it is a small way we can say thank-you and he deserves that,” Leonsis said. “We have a lot of Russian players, and they are talking about us playing St. Louis. They have a great Russian player. I’ve never been to Russia so I look forward to doing it if we can; if we can get permission and they can work everything out. Really right now it’s more in the league’s hands.”

The Blues have two Russians on their roster: Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev.

As of Thursday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is having “preliminary discussions to explore the possibilities” of a game in Russia either next season or the following. Bettman had previously expressed to reporters that if the league were to do games in Russia it would be “regular-season games with two NHL teams.”

The league already announced two overseas games next season as part of its 2020 Global Series: the Boston Bruins vs. the Nashville Predators in the Czech Republic, and the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. the Colorado Avalanche in Finland. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to a Russian reporter in November that the Global Series calendar can have additions.

“The logistics are not simple and so I can’t predict if it’s realistic,” Bettman said, “but it is something that is certainly under discussion and for a lot of reasons, could be very attractive because obviously if the Capitals were to go to Russia, bringing Alex Ovechkin back to Russia with his teammates would be a big deal.”

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