On Monday, Ted Leonsis and the Washington Capitals visited the White House just seven blocks west of Capital One Arena for a private tour. Eventually, they met President Donald Trump in the Oval Office with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. After meeting the President, the team took photos with him.
I get it. We live in a more polarized political climate than before given the current President’s agenda and his behavior. He hasn’t welcomed NBA champions into the White House since he took office. More professional athletes are vocal about their political views than in the past. And on the surface, it appears that most NBA players at least are not fans of the current President.
And though most of the Capitals went to the White House, some key players from the Capitals’ championship team like goalie Braden Holtby, forward Devante Smith-Pelly and forward Brett Connolly said that they would not attend.
At its core, championship teams visiting the White House and the President is a ceremonial thing. It’s just one of the key things that championship teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB do ... at least until 2017. But most championship teams come from other places within the U.S. The Capitals represent D.C., they won their first playoff championship and Capital One Arena is just a few blocks away from the White House. They’re effectively neighbors.
I’m not one to say that Leonsis and the Capitals should or shouldn’t visit the White House. But that visit to the White House also caps off a victory lap for the Capitals. They won the Stanley Cup. They had a big championship parade on Constitution Avenue. The players all got to have the Stanley Cup in their homes. AND they even got to meet the President for the ceremonial pleasantries. So I’m happy that Leonsis and the Capitals were able to fully experience life as NHL champions.
But here’s where things pivot to the Wizards. The Wizards are trending down with an injured roster and will almost definitely be out of the playoff race later this week. They have little salary cap room to pick up any free agents who want to get paid more than the mid-level exception. And they have spotty commitment to player development.
Thomas Bryant and Tomas Satoransky aren’t playing much because they deserve to, even though they really deserve to. They’re playing a lot because Scott Brooks looked for any other veterans first and THEN relented on them as a last resort.
Meanwhile, the Capitals are holding steady as a Stanley Cup contender and in position to win the perennially tough Metropolitan Division for a fourth consecutive season. And they still manage to develop younger players better than the Wizards.
For what it’s worth, Leonsis acknowledged to NBC Sports Washington’s Ben Standig last Saturday that the Wizards probably won’t make the playoffs. “We’ll have to figure out what to do in the off-season,” he said.
After experiencing an NHL championship, I just hope that that inspires Leonsis to re-commit the Wizards to a winning long-term strategy and that there are major changes. Sure, the wins won’t be there right away. And I’m fine with that. But I hope he can apply some of the lessons and things he learned from the Capitals to the Wizards while understanding that both the NHL and NBA also have differences.