| Washington Capitals|
The bleeding era
The Capitals joined the National Hockey League as an expansion team for the 1974-75 NHL season, along with the Kansas City Scouts. Originally, they were owned by Abe Pollin who also owned the Washington Bullets of the NBA. He had a new arena built in Landover, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, in order to house both the Caps and the Bullets. With Milt Schmidt as the franchise's first general manager and Jim Anderson as its first head coach, the Caps made their debuts in 1974.
With the NHL hastily planting new teams in new cities in order to counter the World Hockey Association, who were acting similarly, a shortage of highly skilled players had to be expected. The Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders had previously had to deal with such a shortage two years before; by the time the Caps and Scouts arrived, the situation was even worse. As a result, both teams were filled with players who, for the most part, lacked professional experience; this situation was obviously a disadvantage against the sixteen other teams in the league. As a result, the Capitals' inaugural season was a real nightmare. Dreadful even by expansion standards, the Caps finished the season with a dismal 8-67-5 record, good for 21 points, far and away the worst record in the league. Even their fellow Scouts, who were all but stellar themselves, could still manage twice as many points during that time. The .131 winning percentage still holds as the all-time NHL's worst winning percentage in history. Among the other sad records they established, were the record for the most road losses (39 out of 40), most consecutive road losses (37) and most consecutive losses. If the first two records still last as of today, the latter was tied by the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks. Coach Anderson said: "I'd rather find out my wife was cheating on me than keep losing like this. At least I could tell my wife to cut it out." Anderson stepped out before the end of the season; Milt Schmidt found himself replacing him behind the bench late in the season.
1975-76 was barely better than the previous. With 25 straight games without a win and a 394 goals against record, the Capitals were en route to a 11-59-10 record, good for 32 points. Max McNab was hired as GM during the season, and Tom McVie took the coaching job. Greg Joly, the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft's first pick overall, who was expected to become a franchise player, failed to live up to the expectations and was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings after the season. Washington fared little better during the next few seasons; they would alternate between dreadful seasons and promising ones where they'd finish just a few points out of the playoffs. But this era, no matter how futile on the ice, had one bright spot. With all the bad seasons and the early draft picks, McNab selected several excellent players (Rick Green, Ryan Walter, Mike Gartner, Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, Gaetan Duchesne and Bobby Carpenter, to name a few) who would change the face of the team in the 1980's, whether by their performance on the ice or by their involvement in major trades. However, the team's overall horrendous performances made talks of a move away from the US capital very serious by the end of 1982; something had to be done to keep the team home. A "Save the Caps" campaign was underway, and two significant events changed the franchise's destiny.
The first such event was the hiring of David Poile as general manager. The second was the first move he did. Poile managed to pull off one of the biggest trade in the history of the Capitals on September 9th 1982 by trading Rick Green and Ryan Walter, who were both long time regulars in Washington, to the Montreal Canadiens for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin.
This move literally turned the Caps into another team. Langway's reliability on the blue line solved one of the problems of the team: its enormous number of goals against. The arrival of Scott Stevens, drafted in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, also was a key factor. At the other end of the ice, Dennis Maruk, Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter went into a goal-scoring frenzy, solving another of the Caps problems. The result was no less than a 29 points jump, which propelled the Caps to a third place in the powerful Patrick Division - this strong result ensured them a first time playoffs participation in almost a decade of existence. They fell to the three-time-defending Stanley Cup champions, the New York Islanders, but still, that was one giant step in the right direction, a step that was enough to shut all the moving talks.
Following this era of mediocrity came a new era of regular season abundance, which had them participate in the playoffs for the next fourteen seasons. If the team usually started the season prety slowly, the Capitals usually ignited in January or February. But regular season success is not warrant of playoffs success; the Caps illustrated it well by failing to advance very far in the playoffs. The Capitals did not lack star players, with the likes of Gartner, Carpenter, Langway, Gustafsson, Mike Ridley, Dave Christian, Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy or Kevin Hatcher, but they still were knocked out of the playoffs in the first or second round of the playoffs for eight years in a row. This resulted in some heartbreaking moments, such as 1985-86, where the team, after finishing the season with 50 wins and 107 points, both franchise records, were kicked out of the playoffs by the New York Rangers in the second round.
The next season, another such moment happened, perhaps even a worse one than the previous season, when Washington faced the Islanders in the Patrick Division Semifinal. This series was capped off by a classic, the Easter Epic game, which ended at 1:56 am on Easter Sunday 1987. After a thorough domination by the Capitals, who outshoot New York 75-52, they still lost in overtime after goaltender Bob Mason let a blue line shot by Pat Lafontaine in. With Gartner and Murphy traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse, the Caps underwent the 1989 NHL playoffs with confidence, but again faltered due to poor goaltending, which led to a first round ousting by the Philadelphia Flyers. They finally reached the Wales Conference in 1990, only to be swept in four games by the Boston Bruins.
The 1990's: a continuing story
New stars were on the rise in Washington in the 1990's. Forwards Peter Bondra and Joé Juneau and defenceman Sergei Gonchar joined an aging core of players, hoping to bring the Caps to the ultimate goal. In 1993, Washington was favourite for a win over the Islanders in the first round, yet were upset in six games. The Isles' win was darkened by a gesture from Dale Hunter, who out of frustration checked by behind New York's Pierre Turgeon after he had scored the series-clinching goal. Turgeon awkwardly fell on the ice and suffered a separated shoulder; he had to miss the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This move earned Hunter a 21 games suspension, to be served from the first game of next season. At the time, no suspension for an on-ice incident had ever lasted that long in NHL history.
A first championship: the Eastern Conference's
In 1998, after 24 years of existence, the Capitals, led by a strong 52 goals season by Peter Bondra, by Hunter, Juneau and Adam Oates who retrieved their youth's form and Olaf Kölzig who maintained a solid .920 save percentage, finally managed to achieve an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. The Capitals defeated the Bruins, the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres en route to their first (and to date only) Stanley Cup finals appearance. In order to achieve this, they had to win six overtime goals (three against both Boston and Buffalo). But this proved not enough, and the Detroit Red Wings swept them in four games.
That same season, Oates, Phil Housley, and Dale Hunter all scored their 1,000th career point, the only time in NHL history that one team had 3 different players reach that same milestone in a single season.
In 1999, the very year after participating to the Stanley Cup finals, Washington missed the playoffs. Injuries had plagued the team throughout the season. They bounced back the next season, though; they went to win back-to-back Southeast Division titles in 2000 and 2001. Still, both times they fell in the first round to the Penguins. Following the second such occurence, Adam Oates demanded to be traded. The management refused, however; they went even further and stripped him from his captaincy.
Hoping to put an end to their playoffs problems, the Capitals traded three young prospects (Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jaromír Jágr. The five-time Art Ross Trophy winner signed the most lucrative contract in NHL history: $77 millions over seven years (11 millions per season, or approximately $134,000 per game), with an option on an eighth year. However, Jágr failed to live up to the expectations and the Capitals failed not only to defend their division title but also to make the playoffs, and that, despite a winning record. The presence of the superstar however drew record crowds; an average of 17,341 fans showed up every game, and at the end of the season, it's 710,990 fans who attended to the Caps games.
In the summer of 2002, more roster changes were made in order to make it to the Stanley Cup. They signed highly regarded Czech Robert Lang as a free agent, reuniting him with his Pittsburgh teammante Jágr. At first, it seemed to have worked. Washington was back to the playoffs in 2003. They met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and gave themselves a 2-0 lead in the series after two matches. Still, they managed to lose the series in six games; game six went into triple overtime at the MCI Center; Washington lost on a power play goal, a power play caused by a blunder by Jason Doig who skated on the ice too early, resulting in a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty against the Caps.
Return to the abysses
In 2003-04, the Caps unloaded a lot of their very costly talent. That was a cost-cutting spree, but also an acknowledgement that they had failed at building a Stanley Cup contender team by signing high-priced veterans. Jágr was a disappointment in Washington, failing to figure among the top scorers of the league or be included in the All-Star Team during his Captials tenure. The Caps did try to trade him, but due to his salary, no team was willing to pay so much for an underperformer, especially since there was only a year left to the current CBA (Collective Bargain Agreement). In 2004, the Capitals could finally get rid of him, sending him to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter and an agreement that Washington would pay approximately four million dollars per year of Jagr's salary, with Jagr himself agreeing to defer (with interest) $1 million per year for the remainder of his contract to allow the trade to go ahead. Soon afterwards, Bondra was dealt to the Senators, Lang left for Detroit and Gonchar to Boston. Lang's trade marked the first time in the history of the National Hockey League that the league's leading scorer was traded in the middle of the season. The Capitals ended the year 23–46–10–6, tied for the second worst record, along with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Luck smiled upon the Capitals in 2004. They won the Draft Lottery allowing them to select first overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. They selected Alexander Ovechkin with this pick. With the 2004-05 NHL season completely lost due to the labor dispute between the league and the players, Ovechkin stayed in Russia with Dynamo Moscow. Several other Caps capitalized on the lost season to go play part or all of the season in Europe; these players include Olaf Kölzig (Eisbären Berlin), Brendan Witt (Bracknell Bees) and Jeff Halpern (EHC Kloten and HC Ajoie). In the 2005 summer, they signed Andrew Cassels, Ben Clymer, Mathieu Biron and Jamie Heward and acquired Chris Clark and Jeff Friesen via rade.
|#||Player||Catches||Acquired||Place of Birth|
|1||Brent Johnson||L||2005||Farmington, Michigan, United States|
|60||José Théodore||L||2008||Laval, Quebec, Canada|
|#||Player||Shoots||Acquired||Place of Birth|
|2||Brian Pothier||R||2006||New Bedford, Massachusetts, United States|
|3||Tom Poti||L||2007||Worcester, Massachusetts, United States|
|4||John Erskine||L||2006||Kingston, Ontario, Canada|
|23||Milan Jurcina||L||2007||Liptovský Mikuláš, Žilina Region, Slovakia|
|26||Shaone Morrisonn||L||2004||Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada|
|52||Mike Green||R||2004||Calgary, Alberta, Canada|
|55||Jeff Schultz||L||2004||Calgary, Alberta, Canada|
|89||Tyler Sloan||L||2008||Calgary, Alberta, Canada|
|#||Player||Position||Shoots||Acquired||Place of Birth|
|8||Alexander Ovechkin C||LW||R||2004||Moscow, Moscow Oblast, Russia|
|10||Matt Bradley||RW||R||2005||Stittsville, Ontario, Canada|
|14||Tomas Fleischmann||LW||L||2004||Kopřivnice, Moravia-Silesia, Czech Republic|
|15||Boyd Gordon||C||R||2002||Unity, Saskatchewan, Canada|
|16||Eric Fehr||RW||R||2003||Winkler, Manitoba, Canada|
|17||Chris Clark||RW||R||2005||South Windsor, Connecticut, United States|
|19||Nicklas Bäckström||C||L||2006||Gävle, Gävleborg County, Sweden|
|21||Brooks Laich||C||L||2004||Wawota, Saskatchewan, Canada|
|25||Viktor Kozlov||RW||R||2007||Tolyatti, Samara Oblast, Russia|
|28||Alexander Semin||LW||R||2002||Krasnoyarsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia|
|39||Dave Steckel||C||L||2005||Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States|
|87||Donald Brashear||LW||L||2006||Bedford, Indiana, United States|
|91||Sergei Fedorov - A||C||L||2008||Pskov, Pskov Oblast, Russia|
|92||Michael Nylander||C||L||2007||Stockholm, Stockholm County, Sweden|
- Doug Mohns, 1974-75
- Bill Clement, 1975-76
- Yvon Labre, 1976-78
- Guy Charron, 1978-79
- Ryan Walter, 1979-82
- Rod Langway, 1982-93
- Kevin Hatcher, 1993-94
- Dale Hunter, 1994-99
- Adam Oates, 1999-2001
- Steve Konowalchuk & Brendan Witt, 2001-02 (co-captains)
- Steve Konowalchuk, 2002-03
- No captain, 2003-05
- Jeff Halpern, 2005-06
- Chris Clark, 2006- present
- 5. Rod Langway, D, 1982-93, number retired November 26, 1997
- 7. Yvon Labre, D, 1974-81, number retired November 22, 1980
- 32. Dale Hunter, C, 1987-99, number retired March 11, 2000
- 99. Wayne Gretzky, number retired league-wide February 6, 2000
Franchise scoring leaders
Nat Player Pos GP G A PTS PPG Peter Bondra RW 961 472 353 825 .86 Mike Gartner RW 758 397 392 789 1.04 Michal Pivoňka C 825 181 418 599 .73 Dale Hunter C 872 181 375 556 .64 Bengt-Åke Gustafsson RW 629 196 359 555 .88 Mike Ridley C 588 218 329 547 .93 Calle Johansson D 983 113 361 474 .48 Dennis Maruk C 343 182 249 431 1.26 Scott Stevens D 601 98 331 429 .71 Kevin Hatcher D 685 149 277 426 .62
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