Thursday, October 09, 2008

Inside Caps Media Day

Coach Bruce Boudreau talking with the troops during a practice at the Verizon Center Tuesday.

Man, it has been a busy week for me. Last night was the first time all week I slept more than five hours in what seems like forever and now I'm feeling refreshed and ready to blog away. Included in my marathon of journalism the past few days was attending the Capitals media luncheon at Verizon Center on Tuesday since I'll be covering the team for the Washington Post Express this season (for non-DC folks that's the equivalent of amNY or Metro in NYC or the RedEye in Chicago). Basically, it sounds like I'll be writing one or two stories a week until the Redskins season ends, and they'll almost exclusively be feature stories since the Express' deadline is 730 pm. But I get to go to as many home Caps games as I'd like to since the team gave me a season media credential. Good times and I'll definitely be there for the home opener Saturday night.

Optimism abounds with these Capitals after they won seven straight games to close the year, winning the Southeast Division in the process. They then fell in a heartbreaking seven-game first-round series to the Flyers, but that's is justifiably getting overlooked with the team they are bringing back. Ovechvin became the darling of the league and the team has a solid core of young studs. Heading into Friday's season-opener I figured I'd give you a little glimpse into that core — don't take this as anything remotely definitive, these are just some of my observations having spent a couple days with the team so far this preseason.

Why are Russians so weird?
I know it's the cool thing to dress like Eurotrash across the pond, but it just doesn't make sense to me. The Caps have four Russians on their team this year, and three of them happen to be some of the best players on the squad. And yet for some reason, I feel the need to overlook their skills because of the way they dress. On the first day of training camp a few weeks ago I saw Alexander Ovechkin walk in with a low cut tank top that basically exposed his nipple, coupled with capri shorts that were not nearly as cool as Rafa Nadal's. Then there's Alexander Semin, who sports a mullet, there's no way around it, plus he rocks the capris with some of the most metro looking shoes I've ever seen.

At least those two are below the age of 25, so maybe they're just expressing some youthful rebellion or following the latest trend or something. But that doesn't explain me seeing 39-year-old Sergei Federov arrive at camp in pink sunglasses, pink tank top, and capris all while driving a bright red Ferrari. Now the Ferrari was a nice touch, but no 39-year-old, no matter if they dated Anna Kournikova at one point, should be wearing a pink tank top.

The Russians doing an interview with Comcast SportsNet. Pay particular attention to Semin's mullet, third from the right.

The Ovechkin Glare
Clothing aside, I think the intense media scrutiny is starting to wear on Ovechkin. Because of his star level, he's pretty much asked to do everything when it comes to media requests. I only got involved in one interview scrum with Ovechkin on Tuesday and it lasted just one minute because he wanted to get the hell out of there. I have a feeling, especially if the Caps hit a rough patch, that he's gonna go off at some point this season because of all the expectations placed on his shoulders.

But you gotta admire the guy for being so open about his public life. It sure sounds like he's having a good time with the fame:

Another part of Ovechkin's increased visibility is the desire for more knowledge about him, and specifically his personal life.

When he showed up at the NHL awards show with Igor Larionov's daughter, Alyonka, as his guest, photos of the pair immediately made the rounds on the Internet. Where and when he shows up with Victoria Lopyreva, a former Miss Russia, also has garnered plenty of interest.

"You know, everybody has fun. Especially when I am in Moscow, like I don't think about media or what people think or are talking about me," Ovechkin said. "I just want to have fun and I am just normal people. If I go out with different girls, it doesn't matter. I have a thousand girls, and then it is 'Oh, now who's my girlfriend?' If I go out with my friends and I go watch a movie with my friends' girls, then what is ... it is no situation. I think it is good. I think it is normal thing."

Local Sportscasters
Covering various Michigan sports through my college years, I got used to seeing television cameras and anchors around whatever press conference I was attending (especially when doing things for the basketball and football teams). But it wasn't really that big of a thing to me since I had no idea who these Detroit television personalities were. Plus, the people who would show up to these pressers from the Detroit television stations either didn't know anything about sports or chose to hide their knowledge by asking the hokiest and most asinine questions imaginable. Well, now that I'm back in DC, I've gotten a chance to meet some of the people I watched growing up.

Some general impressions are that everyone who works for the Post, including their former sports editor George Solomon, have been real cool and nice. But maybe that's because I work for the same company as they do. I watched FOX 5's head sports anchor, Dave Feldman, skip nearly the entire media food line by doing the whole pretending to talk with someone then casually merge in back of them, effectively cutting 3/5 of the people ahead of him. It was a tried and true tactic during my Skeeps days in Ann Arbor, but I didn't expect to see it at a media event at the Verizon Center.

Also the girl who took over for George Michael on NBC4, I think her name is Lindsay Czarniak, well, I don't want to sound unprofessional, so I'll just say I'm jumping on that bandwagon early just like I did with Erin Andrews. I never actually talked to Lindsay, but I need to find a way to do so in the future. I haven't watched her on TV yet, but I've heard from others she's actually pretty good. The combo of looks and talent that got Erin to the top.

Lindsay Czarniak interviewing Nicklas Backstrom. I see big things for both in the future.

Backstrom is my favorite to interview so far
Nicklas Backstrom, the Swede centermen back for his second season, is a real cool dude, let me tell you. Never mind that he hasn't even turned 21 yet, the guy just seems real laid back and comfortable with his surroundings. I'd expect big things out of him this year after he got off to a slow start last season. And he's European and dresses like a normal human being.

Honestly, aside from Ovechkin and Federov, none of this year's Capitals come off as that superstar who is too good to do an interview. And with Ovechkin I can understand his reluctance considering just how many media requests he probably receives every day. But I guess, all these players have to act this way, since besides the diehards nobody has really heard of many of them aside from Ovechkin and Federov. My early impression is that Brooks Laich and Chris Clark are the best quotes on the team.

The NHL Could Be in Financial Trouble
In fact all leagues could be with this terrible economy, but the NHL could be hit harder than the rest since they have an awful TV deal. From the Caps perspective, they are doing well right now as ticket sales are way up and excitement around the city is at an almost all-time high. And yet I couldn't help but notice when I was talking to owner Ted Leonsis Tuesday, that he still wanted to up his season ticket sales another couple thousand. Now, that's a natural stance for an owner to take, but what does that say about teams like Florida or Nashville or Atlanta that don't have nearly the amount of optimism surrounding their seasons?

Leonsis made it clear the Caps need to increase revenue by about 15 percent this season and that even last year, when the team went to the playoffs, he still didn't break even. It just makes you wonder when even the team with the best player in the league can't pull a profit. This is a big year for the NHL in general after finally taking some positive steps in terms of popularity following a couple years of post-lockout decline. They really can't afford to have a season without the premiere teams in the playoffs or at least making deep runs. I think in a dream world, the NHL would want something like Pens vs. Caps (capitalizing on the Ovie/Crosby rivalry because apparently the two aren't exactly friends) or either of those teams against the Rangers or the two big Canadian teams (Montreal or Toronto in the Eastern Conference Finals). And for God's sake, the last thing they need is a Carolina or a Calgary going far. That could be disastrous.

With the NHL on Versus until 2010-2011, I think there's a definite ceiling on the league's growth since they've done an awful job of getting the word out on when their games are actually on TV. For instance, other than Graham, did you know the NHL season opens up tonight with a doubleheader on Versus. Didn't think so. If I'm the big boys in New York running the league, I do whatever it takes to sign with a major network (cough cough ESPN) no matter the hit in TV revenue it takes.

And speaking of Leonsis, the guy is so jolly and happy with his team the talk of the town these days, that I almost forgot he tried to beat the crap out of one of his fans a couple years ago.

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