Sunday, July 27, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team D

Having made our way through the letter “C” in the Washington Capitals’ All-Alphabet Franchise Teams, we are confronted for the first time with a unique problem.   Let’s hope we have a unique solution…

In 38 seasons of hockey, the Washington Capitals have had only nine players whose last names started with the letter “D.”  One of the nine played for the Caps this past season.  We will start with him.

Center: Nicolas Deschamps

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 seasons, 3 games, 0-0-0, minus-1
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Yes, seriously.  This is it.  One center in 38 years, and he played three games for the Capitals.  And, as a player with a small footprint in the NHL, he has a pretty small footprint in his professional development as well.  It started in the 2008 entry draft.  Deschamps was taken by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round with the 35th overall pick with what was a compensatory selection.  The pick belonged to the Phoenix Coyotes, who were awarded this pick when they failed to sign 2004 first round pick Blake Wheeler.   The Coyotes traded this pick and their own second round pick (39th overall) To Anaheim for the Ducks’ first round pick.  The Coyotes selected Viktor Tikhonov, Anaheim took Deschamps and Eric O’Dell.

Deschamps was traded to Toronto for winger Luca Caputi in January 2012, without having jumped to big club in Anaheim (he played a season and a half with the Syracuse Crunch).  He never cracked the Maple Leafs’ lineup, either, logging a season and a half with the AHL Toronto Marlies.

In March 2013 he was dealt by Toronto to Washington for Kevin Marshall, whereupon he landed in Hershey with the AHL Bears.  He finally made it to the NHL, called up by the Caps on February 26, 2014.  He made his NHL debut the following night against the Florida Panthers, getting 7:38 of ice time in a 5-4 Capitals win.

A week later, it was over.  After three games with the Caps, Deschamps was reassigned to the Bears on March 4th.  He would see no further action with the Caps.  Washington declined to offer him a qualifying contract, making him a free agent on July 1st.  On July 23rd he signed a contract with Oulun Kärpät in Finland’s top league, Liiga.

But hey, three games is three games, and when you are the only center who qualifies, you get a sweater on Team D.

Left Wing: Gaetan Duchesne

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 451 games, 87-138-225, plus-68
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 33 games, 10-6-16, plus-7

From 1982 to 1987, Gaetan Duchesne was one of the hardest working players on a team known for its ethic of hard work.  It was typical of an eighth-round (152nd overall) draft pick in the 1981 draft out of the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL.  Although he had a big year in the season preceding his draft (27 goals in 72 games for Quebec), being a prolific scorer would not be part of his body of work as a professional.

He did not even merit being part of a “line.”  The Caps of the period had the “Plumbers Line” of Alan Haworth, Craig Laughlin, and Greg Adams.  But Duchesne, Bob Gould, and Doug Jarvis made for an effective group of checking forwards, part of an overall scheme that made playing the Caps difficult.  In each of his last five seasons with the Capitals Duchesne received votes for the Selke Trophy for outstanding defensive forward.

This is not to say Duchesne was without ability to contribute offensively.  In six full seasons with the Caps he was a very consistent player in this regard.  In his rookie season he recorded 23 points in 74 games, but then rolled off four consecutive seasons in which he put up between 36 and 39 points.  In his sixth season he posted a career high in points (52), assists (35), and plus-minus (plus-18).

That sixth season would be Duchesne’s last in Washington.  In June 1987 he, along with Alan Haworth and the Caps’ first round pick in the 1987 entry draft, were traded to Quebec for goalie Clint Malarchuk and center Dale Hunter.  That first round draft pick became Joe Sakic, as any Caps fan remembers.  It is Sakic and Hunter that folks remember most about that trade, not that the Caps parted with a defensive forward at the top of his game.

Duchesne went on to play another eight seasons with the Nordiques, the Minnesota North Stars, the San Jose Sharks, and the Florida Panthers.  He retired at the end of the 1994-1995 season.  On April 16, 2007, Duchesne passed away after suffering a heart attack while working out.   His son, Jeremy, was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005 (112th overall).  He played in one NHL game, getting 17 minutes of work in goal for the Flyers against the New York Islanders in April 2010.  Gaetan was later remembered by the Caps and then head coach Bruce Boudreau when Boudreau created a tournament during the team’s 2008 training camp.  Three teams competed for the training camp title, the prize being the Gaetan Duchesne Cup.

When Caps fans remember those teams of the 1980’s and their relentless, hard-working approach to the game, it is Gaetan Duchesne they might have in mind as just that sort of player.

Right Wing: John Druce

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 240 games, 57-64-121, plus-22
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 34 games, 16-4-20, minus-7

John Druce played in 274 regular season and playoff games with the Caps, but it is a 15-game run in the 1990 post season for which he is best remembered.  A second-round pick in the 1985 entry draft by the Caps, to that point in his career Druce had a rather non-descript record: 93 games over two seasons, 16 goals, and 26 points, plus one playoff game in which he did not record a point.

Then came April 5, 1990 – Game 1 of the Patrick Division semi-finals against the New Jersey Devils.  Druce scored a goal in a 5-4 Caps win.  He would score three goals in the six-game series that eliminated the Devils, but that was just a hint of what was to come. 

Druce scored a goal in Game 1 of the Patrick Division final against the New York Rangers, a footnote in a 7-3 Capitals loss.  In Game 2, though, Druce recorded his first NHL hat trick in a 6-3 Caps win.  It started a string of three multi-goal games for Druce, who scored a pair in Game 3 (a 7-1 Caps win) and Game 4 (a 4-3 Caps win).  Druce did not record a multi-goal game in Game 5 of the series against the Rangers, but one was enough.  It came 6:48 into overtime to give the Caps a 2-1 win and the series by a 4-1 margin, their first Patrick Division championship.

Druce scored nine goals on 20 shots in five games against the Rangers.  He was not as productive in the next series, scoring twice in four games against the Boston Bruins, and the Caps lost in a sweep.  In all, Druce had an amazing 1990 post-season: 14 goals on 44 shots (a 31.8 percent shooting percentage), eight of those goals coming on the power play.

Druce could not reproduce that level of performance in either of the next two seasons, although he was a productive player with 41 goals and 95 points in 147 regular season games.  In the post-season, though, the magic was gone.  Over the 1990-1991 and 1991-1992 playoffs Druce managed only two goals in 18 games.  Just before the 1992-1993 season Druce was traded with a fourth round pick in the 1993 draft to Winnipeg for forward Pat Elynuik.

Druce spent one season in Winnipeg before signing on as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings where he spent three seasons.  He wrapped up his career with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997-1998.  After leaving the Caps, Druce would participate in four post-season Stanley Cup tournaments, scoring just one goal in 19 games.  But that 1990 post-season of “Druce on the Loose” remains one of the vivid memories in franchise history and is the reason John Druce is the right wing on Team D.

Defense: Jason Doig

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 120 games, 5-14-19, minus-15
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 6 games, 0-1-1, plus-1

Jason Doig played only two seasons with the Washington Capitals.  It seems as if he played longer, but maybe that’s because he packed some moments into those two seasons.  Getting to Washington in first place took a while.  Taken in the second round (34th overall) by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1995 draft, spent three seasons playing infrequently (28 games) with the Jets/Phoenix Coyotes before he was traded to the New York Rangers in March 1999 with a sixth round draft pick in 1999 for defenseman Stan Neckar.

Doig did not get any more work with the Rangers than he had in Winnipeg or Phoenix, dressing for only 10 games over two seasons before he was traded to Ottawa with Jeff Ulmer for another defenseman, Sean Gagnon.  Doig didn’t get any work with the Senators.  He spent the 2001-2002 season with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL, after which he signed as a free agent with the Capitals.

Doig had more regular work with the Capitals, dressing for 55 games in the 2002-2003 regular season and finishing 3-5-8, minus-3 while averaging 14 minutes a game.  It would be his post-season that was memorable, though, and not in a good way.  The Capitals won Games 1 and 2 in their first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  The Bolts came back to win three straight and looked to close out the series in Washington on Easter Sunday.  The teams fought to a 1-1 tie in regulation, then extended the game through two scoreless overtimes.  Early in the third overtime, the Caps tried to execute a line change, and Doig stepped on.  He did so a bit too soon and found the puck on his stick in the offensive zone before the Caps could get the sixth skater off.  Washington was whistled for too many men on the ice, giving the Lightning a power play.  Just 18 seconds later, Martin St. Louis circled from behind the net and roofed a backhand past goalie Olaf Kolzig, and the Caps were eliminated.

In 2003-2004 Doig played in 65 games, his career high.  One of them would stand out.  On January 28th the Caps visited the Rangers in New York.  Washington took a 2-0 lead early in the second period.  With the Rangers looking to apply some offensive pressure, Eric Lindros tried to generate some momentum with a rush down the left side.   He dropped his shoulder and sped past Mike Grier, but in doing so left his head down.  He did not see Doig stepping up on him.  Doig dropped Lindros in front of the players’ bench. 

Lindros went off, but he was able to jump back on for his next shift, going after Doig after a faceoff.  After a brief wrestling match Lindros went off again, having suffered what would be diagnosed as a concussion, by one count the eighth of his career.  It was his last game of the 2003-2004 season. 

Doig wrapped up the 2003-2004 season having survived the Caps selloff of players, suiting up for 65 games.  It would be his last season with the Caps, though.  Doig signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks in October 2005, but he did not appear in the NHL again after leaving Washington. 

One of the odd quirks of the all-alphabet team is that Jason Doig is the only defenseman in team history whose last name begins with the letter “D.”  It might not be the best way to make a team, but made it he did.

Defense: Doug Mohns

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 seasons, 75 games, 2-19-21, minus-52
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Doug Mohns played 21 seasons for four NHL teams – Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota North Stars, and Atlanta Flames.  In June 1974, at the age of 40 and having just wrapped up his 21st season in the NHL, the Flames traded Mohns to the Capitals for cash.  Having come to the NHL as a defenseman, he was moved to left wing as part of the “Scooter Line” in Chicago with Stan Mikita and Ken Wharram.  By the time he arrived in Washington he was back on defense.

Defense was not a strength of that inaugural edition of the Caps, though.  Of all the players on that team who appeared in at least half of the games, not one had a plus-minus better than minus-25 (Steve Atkinson was minus-26 in 46 games).  Mohns played in 75 games that season, finishing with a minus-52.  He also finished 2-19-21, his 21 points finishing second among defensemen in scoring (Yvon Labre: 27 points).

It was not the easiest way for a long career to come to an end, but that was Mohns’ last season in the NHL.  He did it as the Capitals’ first captain in team history, a bit like E.J. Smith being the first captain of the Titanic.  Mohns passed away this past February.  His toiling hard with little reward, and his being the first captain in team history, not to mention "D stands for 'Doug,'" gets Doug Mohns a spot on Team D.

Goalie: Byron Dafoe

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 10 games, 3-3-1, 3.44, .867
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 3 games, 0-2, 2.61, .857

Washington Capitals fans of recent vintage might remember that in 2006 the club selected a goaltender in the first round (Semyon Varlamov, 23rd overall) and another goalie in the second round (Michal Neuvirth, 34th overall).  It was not the first time the club pursued that strategy.  In 1989 the Caps selected Olaf Kolzig with the 19th overall pick in the first round, then they took Byron Dafoe of the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League with the 35th overall pick in the second round.  Dafoe’s journey to the NHL involved the usual progression – another two seasons in Canadian juniors, a short stint in the ECHL (Hampton Roads Admirals), and half a season in the AHL (split between the Baltimore Skipjacks and the New Haven Nighthawks).

In 1992-1993 Dafoe finally made it to the NHL.  OK, it was 1:25 of one game, a 7-4 loss to the New York Rangers on Veterans Day 1992 which he did not face a shot.  Dafoe found it just as hard to crack the Capitals lineup the following season.  Don Beaupre and Rick Tabaracci were splitting time, while Dafoe (five games) and Kolzig (seven games) were getting infrequent looks.  What he did get in that 1993-1994 season, however, was a couple of playoff starts.  In the opening round of the 1994 playoffs Dafoe got the call in Games 2 and 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  In Game 2 Dafoe allowed only a power play goal and another goal with Mario Lemieux standing in the crease in what would be a 2-1 Penguins win.  In Game 5, with the Caps holding a 3-1 lead in games and looking to close out the Penguins, Dafoe got the nod once more.  He allowed three goals on 22 shots, including the game-winner in the third period by Jaromir Jagr, in a 3-2 loss.  The Caps closed out the Penguins in Game 6 with Don Beaupre in goal.

Dafoe made only four appearances in the 1994-1995 season for the Caps.  That season, one abbreviated to 48 games, featured quite a collection of goaltenders for the Caps.  Jim Carey, Rick Tabaracci, Olaf Kolzig, and Dafoe all appeared for the Caps.  In the playoffs Dafoe appeared only once, part of a rare instance of three goalies appearing for one team in a single game.  Jim Carey started Game 6 in the opening round series against Pittsburgh and was mauled for six goals on 13 shots in 34 minutes of work.  Olaf Kolzig came into the game in relief but injured his knee in what would be his last game of the season.  Dafoe came in to close out the last 20 minutes in a 7-1 loss to the Penguins. 

After that season Dafoe was traded to the Los Angeles Kings with Dmitri Khristich for a first and a fourth round pick in the 1996 entry draft.  That did not work out so well for the Caps, as it turned out.  With that first round pick the Caps selected Alexandre Volchkov.  Dafoe went on to win 168 NHL games with the Kings, Boston Bruins, and Atlanta Thrashers after leaving Washington.  And no Byron Dafoe review is complete without his Dancing With The Stars moment…

Byron Dafoe might not have had a long history with the Caps, but it was enough (not to mention he’s the only goalie who qualifies) to get him a spot on Team D.

Team D… short on experience in places, but long on heart in others.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team C

Two letters down and… well, a lot to go. So, let’s get on with “Team C” in the teams by the alphabet in Washington Capitals franchise history.

Left Wing: Geoff Courtnall

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 159 games, 77-77-154, plus-38
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 21 games, 6-14-20, minus-1

We might have gone with tenure here and taken Jason Chimera (331 games with the Caps), but Geoff Courtnall was not only the best offensive talent at left wing in club history, he was one of the top offensive players in Caps history. Only six players with more than 100 games played for the franchise averaged more points per game than the 0.97 points per game posted by Courtnall in his two seasons with the club.

Courtnall was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Boston Bruins in July 1983 after a three-year junior career with the Victoria Cougars. After four years in the Bruins’ system he was traded in his fifth season to the Edmonton Oilers as an extra in what was a goaltender swap, Bill Ranford to Edmonton and Andy Moog to Boston in March 1988. After spending the rest of the 1987-1988 season in Edmonton, and winning a Stanley Cup in the process, he was traded to the Caps for Greg Adams in July 1988.

The 1988-1989 season with the Caps was a breakout year for Courtnall. He showed improvement over his first four full seasons in the league, progressing from 12 goals in his rookie season to 36 goals split between Boston and Edmonton in 1987-1988, but in his first season with the Caps Courtnall recorded his first (and only) 40-goal season, a 42-goal effort in 79 games. He led that edition of the Caps in goals, power play goals (16, tied with Mike Ridley and Dave Christian), was second in game-winning goals (6, tied with Bengt Gustafsson), and was second in power play assists (19, tied with Gustafsson).

The following season Courtnall recorded 35 goals and 74 points for a team that went to the Wales Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. He followed that up with four goals and 13 points in 15 post season games, second on the club in scoring to John Druce in his magical 14-goal, 17-point post-season.

That might have been where the story of Courtnall and the 1989-1990 season ended, the second year of what might have been a long career with the Caps. It didn’t end there, though.  Had Courtnall and three other players made better decisions on a May evening in 1990, the history of the player and the club might have taken an entirely different direction. However, that second season was the last one for Courtnall in Washington. In July 1990 he was traded to St. Louis for Mike Lalor and the late Peter Zezel. Courtnall went on to play ten more seasons with St. Louis and Vancouver after leaving Washington.

It is those on-ice accomplishments in two brief seasons that land Geoff Courtnall on the Team C roster.

Center: Bobby Carpenter

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 490 games, 188-207-395, minus-38
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 26 games, 9-9-18, plus-2

This is a two-fer. First, there is Bobby Carpenter, the “Can’t Miss Kid” taken third overall in the 1981 entry draft, the highest-drafted American hockey player at the time. He stepped onto the ice the following October, played in all 80 games for the Caps, and scored 32 goals. He was one of two teenagers (Dale Hawerchuk being the other) to record 30 or more goals in the 1981-1982 season. Carpenter followed up that rookie season with 32 goals in 1982-2913, 28 in 1983-1984, and a career-high 53 goals in 1984-1985. His 145 goals over his first four seasons was the second most of his 1981-1982 rookie class (Hawerchuk: 175).

Then, it fell apart. Carpenter’s goal total was sliced almost in half the following season, to 27 goals. He started squabbling with head coach Bryan Murray over how he was being used (he was moved to left wing). The Carpenter-Murray feud degenerated into such a mess that general manager David Poile tried to intervene, and those efforts went nowhere. Finally, in November 1986, Poile and the player met, and Carpenter agreed to a trade. Poile later told Carpenter not to report to practice, that his services were no longer required.  On New Year’s Day 1987 Carpenter was trade to the New York Rangers with a 1989 second round draft pick for Mike Ridley, Kelly Miller, and Bob Crawford.

Five years, three teams, and 335 regular season games later, “Bob Carpenter” returned to the Caps. By this time, the 1992-1993 season, Carpenter had ceased to be a goal-scorer and evolved into more of a checking forward role. He was tied for 12th on the team in goals with Todd Krygier (11) and was 12th on the club in points (28). The checking part did not turn out so well; he was a team-worst minus-16 for the season.

This spot ended up being closer than we thought it might. Guy Charron (118-156-274 in 320 games with the Caps) and Glen Currie (38-77-115 in 307 games) might have had a case to make. But in the end, it was Carpenter’s early career performance that earned him a spot on Team C.

Right Wing: Dave Christian

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 504 games, 193-224-417, plus-20
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 49 games, 17-19-36, plus-7

This was a hard one. It finally boiled down to a choice between high-powered skill and steady production. Between Dino Ciccarelli and Dave Christian. In the end, the tie breaker was the factor we did not employ in picking the left wing, for which there was no clearly equivalent alternative to Geoff Courtnall.  We went with the steady player.

Dave Christian was a 2nd round/40th overall draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1979 after completing two seasons with the University of North Dakota. After he was drafted he left UND, but not to join either the Jets or a minor league affiliate. Christian was a member of the U.S. Olympic Team that played in 66 games in international competition, including seven at the Winter Games in Lake Placid in 1980 where Team USA won a gold medal.

After his international experience in 1979-1980 Christian joined the Jets for the remainder of the 1979-1980 NHL season and three to follow. After the 1982-1983 season he was traded to Washington for the Caps’ first round pick in the 1983 draft. In six-plus seasons with the Caps, Christian was a steady, reliable scorer who recorded 20 or more goals in each of his six full seasons with the club. That included a career-high 41 goals in the 1985-1986 season.

Although Christian was more of the steady goal scorer, he holds the team record for consecutive games with at least one assist (9, tied with Bengt Gustafsson), set in the 1986-1987 season. He also played against type as far as the 1980’s player is concerned. In more than 500 regular season games with the Caps, Christian had but a single fight. March 15, 1986, against St. Louis’ Mark Hunter, for the record.

It is perhaps a mark of Christian’s steadiness as a player that despite scoring 193 goals over 504 games with the Caps he had only two hat tricks. But he was a player who averaged 31 goals per 80 games (the season standard at the time) over his Caps’ career. That gets Dave Christian a spot on the right side of Team C.

Defense: Sylvain Cote

Regular Season (with Capitals): 10 seasons, 622 games, 75-195-270, plus-60
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 40 games, 6-14-20, minus-9

Sylvain Cote is perhaps one of the most underrated, underappreciated players in Caps history. A first round (11th overall) draft pick of the Hartford Whaiers in 1984, Cote came to Washington by way of trade in 1991, exchanged for the Caps’ second round pick in the 1991 entry draft (who happened to be Andrei Nikolishin, who Hartford would trade later to Washington and who played 407 games with the Caps himself).

Cote immediately posted in 1991-1992 what would then be a career year – 11 goals, 29 assists, and 40 points. He did even better the following season: 21-29-50. He then set what would be his career high in points (51) in his third season with the Capitals. That 21-goal season in 1992-1993 made him one of three defensemen on that squad to record 20 of more goals (Kevin Hatcher: 34; Al Iafrate: 25), and Cote is one of eight defensemen in franchise history to record 20 or more goals in a season. Cote also recorded at least one goal in each of the five post-seasons in which he participated with the Caps (6-14-20 in 35 games).

In his first five seasons with Washington, Cote missed only 11 games. However, in October of the 1996-1997 season, Cote injured a ligament in his right knee, an injury that would help limit him to 57 games. The following season Cote struggled with one goal and 16 points in 59 games, and in March he was traded to Toronto for defenseman Jeff Brown.

Cote spent the rest of the 1997-1998 season and the next two seasons wandering the NHL landscape with Toronto, Chicago, and Dallas. In July 2000, though, Cote returned to Washington as a free agent. He spent his last three NHL seasons with the Caps. In that third and last season, Cote suited up for one game before being released after reassignment to Portland in the AHL.

Cote retired with some high rankings among defensemen in his career with the Caps:

  • Games played: 622 (6th)
  • Goals: 75 (7th)
  • Assists: 195 (7th)
  • Points: 270 (7th)
  • Plus/Minus: plus-60 (5th)
  • Power play goals: 25 (7th)
  • Shorthanded goals: 5 (T-1st, with Kevin Hatcher)

It is a resume that qualifies Sylvain Cote as a defenseman on Team C

Defense: John Carlson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 316 games, 33-101-134, plus-25
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 37 games, 5-8-13, minus-1

When the Washington Capitals traded Steve Eminger and the 84th overall pick in the 2008 draft to the Philadelphia Flyers for the 27th overall pick in the 2008 draft it was quiet acknowledgment that Eminger, the former 12th overall pick of the Caps in 2002, was not going to be what they hoped for when he was drafted out of Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League.

The Caps addressed their problem of the underachieving defenseman with their selection at 27th overall – John Carlson out of the Indiana Ice of the USHL.  Carlson’s progress up the Caps developmental ladder was steady and methodical.  A year in Canadian juniors with the London Knights in 2008-2009, followed by a 13-game stint with the Hershey Bears in the first of two consecutive post-seasons ending in a Calder Cup.  Then, 48 games with the Hershey Bears in 2009-1010, with an interlude as a member of Team USA in the World Junior Hockey Championships in which he scored the goal medal goal in overtime against Team Canada.  Carlson would be called up to the Caps late in the 2009-2010 season, getting 22 games worth of work, followed by appearances in all seven games of the Caps’ seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs.  Carlson returned to Hershey for their second run at a Calder Cup, playing in 13 games and helping hoist the trophy a second time.

In 2010-2011 Carlson stuck for good with the big club, and he has not been out of the lineup since.  He has played in all 294 games over the past four seasons.  In the first of those seasons he finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting for NHL rookie of the year, earning more votes than any other rookie defenseman, including Montreal’s P.K. Subban.

In his four full seasons in the NHL Carlson has shown himself to be a consistent offensive producer.  His goals, assists, and points per game are as follows:

His first four seasons do not reflect especially impressive possession numbers (three years of Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of less than 50 percent), his performance numbers look better – two seasons with goals-for at 5-on-5 of better than 55 percent and goals-for percent relative to the Caps’ percentage when he was not on ice in positive territory. 

Carlson has had his bouts with inconsistency on a game-to-game basis, as might be the case with any young defenseman, but he has been getting more responsibility, too.  His total ice time has increased over the last three years from 21:52 per game to 24:31 per game last season, putting him in the top-20 among league defensemen.  Most notably, his power play ice time has increased from 1:25 in 2011-2012 to 2:13 in 2012-2013 to 3:08 this past season.

John Carlson is on a path that could place him among the best defensemen in Capitals history, which is no mean feat, given the defensemen who have worn the Caps' sweater.  But even with just four full seasons under his belt he is a clear choice for a spot on Team C.

Goalie: Jim Carey

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 139 games, 70-48-15, 2.37 GAA, .904 SV, 14 SO
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 10 games, 2-5, 4.62 GAA, .816 SV, 0 SO

Jim Carey was a second round (32nd overall) pick for the Washington Capitals in the 1992 entry draft.  By the time he completed his first year at the University of Wisconsin in 1993 he was on the radar as a potential number one goaltender down the line.  After another year with the Badgers, he graduated to the Portland Pirates in 1994-1995, where he posted a record of 30-14-11, 2.76, .909, with six shutouts.  That was just a taste.

Carey was called up to the Caps late in that 1994-1995 season and did not miss a beat.  He was unbeaten in his first seven appearances (6-0-1) with a goals against average of 1.41 and a save percentage of .939.  Through 17 appearances he was 13-2-2, 1.87, .922, with three shutouts. 

What followed were some ominous portents.  Carey was 5-4-1 in his last 11 regular season appearances.  Then, in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carey allowed three goals on 11 shots in 21:38 of work.  Olaf Kolzig relieved Carey with the Caps down, 3-1, but the Caps rallied to win Game 1, 5-4.  Carey ended up having a miserable series, going 2-4, 4.19, .834, and getting pulled twice before losing Game 7, allowing two goals on 17 shots in a 3-0 loss.

It might have been treated as a speed bump on his rush to stardom when Carey was named rookie of the year in 1994-1995, then went 35-24-9 (2.26, .919, nine shutouts to lead the league) on his way to a Vezina Trophy the following regular season.  But in the playoffs, the Penguins stood in the middle of the road once more.  And, it was uglier than the previous year.  In Game 1, Carey was chased after giving up four goals on 16 shots.  But, just as in the previous year, the Caps rallied to win that Game 1, this time by a 6-4 score.  Carey sat in Game 2, a 5-3 Caps win, but he got the start in Game 3. 

It was a disaster, for the goalie and the team.  Carey allowed four goals on 19 shots in 60 minutes of work in a 4-1 loss.  It stopped the series momentum for the Caps.  That momentum would tilt in the other direction when the Penguins won in four overtimes in Game 4 in Landover with Olaf Kolzig in goal.  When the Caps lost Game 5 in front of Kolzig, Head Coach Jim Schoenfeld played a hunch and started Carey in Game 6.  It didn’t work.  Carey allowed two power play goals on four shots in six minutes of work.  Pittsburgh scored another first period goal, then held on for a 3-2 win to close out the Caps and Jim Carey’s playoff career.

Whether the experience against the Penguins shattered his confidence or teams figured him out, Carey struggled the following season.  He went 17-18-3, 2.75, .893 with one shutout before he was traded to Boston with Anson Carter, Jason Allison, and a draft pick for goalie Bill Ranford, Adam Oates, and Rick Tocchet.  Carey did not find his game in Boston and was demoted to Providence before being released by the Bruins in 1999.  Carey caught on as a free agent with St. Louis but played in only four games before deciding he had enough.

Carey’s is one of the most mysterious, confounding stories in hockey memory.  That he could fall so far so fast, from a Vezina Trophy winner to being out of hockey entirely just three years later is an amazing tale.  However, Carey’s achievements remain sprinkled through the Caps’ record book:
  • First Vezina Trophy winner in team history
  • Second in shutouts (14)
  • Lowest career goals against average (2.37)
  • Third most games played in a season (71 in 1995-1996)
  • Third most minutes in a season (4,069 in 1995-1996)
  • Third most wins in a season (35 in 1995-1996)
  • Third highest winning percentage in a season (.722 in 1994-1995)
  • Most shutouts in a season (9 in 1995-1996)
  • Lowest goals against average for a season (2.13 in 1994-1995)
  • Second longest shutout streak (200:04 in 1995-1996); third longest shutout streak (184:04 in 1994-1995)

This, not the playoff struggles, is what we remember that merit a spot on Team C for Jim Carey.

There is is, Team C.  It is one of the more interesting teams one might have put together for the Caps, a team of talent, but not without its demons, too.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team B

We kicked off our look at the Washington Capitals all-time franchise teams through the alphabet with Team A. Now it’s time to look at the next team in line…Team B

Left Wing: Craig Berube

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 419 games, 26-38-64, minus-32
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 38 games, 1-0-1, minus-5

This was the toughest position to fill on Team B. There was quite a mix from which to pick – scorers (Andrew Brunette, Randy Burridge), grinders (James Black), guys who toiled hard and well for bad teams (Garnet “Ace” Bailey), bruisers (Donald Brashear). In the end we took the player who logged the most games as a Cap at the position.

That’s right, Craig Berube logged more games at left wing than any other player eligible for Team B. In fact, Berube dressed for almost twice as many games with the Caps (419 regular season games) as the next two players ranked in games played with the club (Bailey and Brashear, 427 combined games). Although he is most often associated with the Philadelphia Flyers (the team he now serves as head coach), Berube played in more games with the Caps than he did with any other NHL club (323 games with Philadelphia).

Not an especially gifted offensive player, Berube certainly made his presence felt in other ways. After being obtained from the Calgary Flames in 1992 in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick, Berube would go on to lead the club six times in his seven seasons with the club in penalty minutes, and he ranks third all-time with the club in career penalty minutes with 1,220; trailing only Dale Hunter (2,003) and Scott Stevens (1,630). His 305 penalty minutes in 1993-1994 ranks second in penalty minutes in a season in team history (Alan May: 339 PIMs in 1989-1990).

Berube recorded only one goal in the post-season with the Caps, but it was one of the more important goals scored in team playoff history. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Buffalo Sabres in 1998. The Caps and Sabres fought to a scoreless draw through two periods in Buffalo, the Caps exhausting themselves by having to kill off seven Sabre power plays in the process. Just 2:34 into the final period, Berube broke the tie, firing a slap shot past goalie Dominik Hasek off a face-off to give the Caps the lead. It was his first career playoff goal. Joe Juneau scored later in the period for insurance, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead in games in a series they would go on to win in six games to reach their only Stanley Cup final in team history.

The following season, the 1998-1999 campaign being one that was disastrous for the club overall, Berube was traded for cash to Philadelphia in March. It was not his last appearance with the Caps, though. Berube was signed as a free agent by the Capitals in July 2000. He played in only 22 games of the 2000-2001 season (0-1-1, minus-3) before being traded to the New York Islanders in January 2001 for a ninth-round draft pick with which the Capitals selected a goaltender, the late Robert Müller.

Center: Nicklas Backstrom

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 495 games, 127-367-494, plus-74
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 57 games, 15-28-43, plus-13

As difficult as it was to select a left winger for Team B, picking the center was a no-brainer. Leaving behind the fact that Niclas Backstrom has played in almost as many games with the Caps (495 regular season games) as the rest of the Team B eligible centers combined (511), Backstrom is already all over the Capitals record book:

  • Games Played (career): 495 (24th)
  • Seasons with 82-games played: 4th (T-1st)
  • Goals (career): 127 (19th)
  • Assists (career): 367 (5th)
  • Assists-per-game (career): 0.74 (2nd/minimum: 100 games)
  • Points (career): 494 (8th)
  • Points-per-game (career): 1.00 (5th/minimum: 100 games)
  • Plus-Minus (season): plus-37 (4th)
  • Plus-Minus (career): plus-74 (T-6th)
  • Multi-point games (career): 134 (3rd)
  • 2-point games (career): 90 (4th)
  • 3-point games (career): 30 (3rd)
  • 4-point games (career): 10 (3rd)
  • 5-point games (career): 4 (T-2nd)
  • 3-assist game (career)s: 17 (1st)
  • 4-assist games (career): 9 (1st)

Since Backstrom came into the league in 2007-2008, only a dozen players have averaged more points per game.  Only four players active in all seven of those seasons averaged more assists per game: Sidney Crosby, Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton, and Evgeni Malkin.

One could make a case that Backstrom is already the best pure center drafted by the Caps in franchise history (Michal Pivonka and Bengt Gustafsson each played wing intermittently in their respective careers).  If there is a smudge on his sparkling record to date with the club it is his recent post-season performance.  In his first three post-season appearances Backstrom was 12-18-30, plus-13 in 28 games.  However, in his three most recent appearances in the playoffs he is 3-10-13, even, in 29 games.

However, even with that blemish, Backstrom compares favorably overall against forwards in the post-expansion era.  His points per game over his first seven years (1.00) is right in the neighborhood of such as Mark Messier (1.07), Mats Sundin (1.05), Mike Modano (1.02), Doug Gilmour (0.99), Pavel Datsyuk (0.99), Bill Barber (0.98), and Lanny MacDonald (0.96) in each of those players first seven seasons in the NHL.  Backstrom is the clear choice as center on the Capitals’ “Team B,” and is on an arc to become one of the best players of his era in the NHL.

Right Wing: Peter Bondra

Regular Season (with Capitals): 14 seasons, 961 games, 472-353-825, plus-74
Playoffs (with Capitals): 10 seasons, 73 games, 30-26-56, plus-9

This was an easy pick, too.  Bondra played more games for the Capitals (961) that the other six eligible right wingers combined (815).  He is among the most accomplished offensive performer in franchise history to date.  He is the franchise leader in goals (472) and points (825).  He is eighth in club history in assists (353), despite the fact that in each of his last 11 seasons with the club he recorded more goals than assists.  He holds a number of other club records:

  • Most All-Star Game selections: 5
  • Fastest three goals in game: 2:06 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Fastest four goals in game: 4:12 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Fastest five goals in game: 24:46 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Most shorthanded goals (career): 32
  • Most game-winning goals (career): 71
  • Most hat tricks: 19
  • Most shorthanded goals (season): 6 (1994-1995), tied with Mike Gartner
  • Most game-winning goals (season): 13 (1997-1998)
  • Most goals (game): 5 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994), tied with Bengt Gustafsson
  • Most goals (period): 4 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Most 20-goal seasons: 13
  • Most consecutive 20-goal seasons: 13
  • Most 30-goals seasons: 9, tied with Mike Gartner and Alex Ovechkin

Much of Bondra’s career was spent in the “dead puck era” between 1994-1995 and 2003-2004, which makes those records even more impressive.  From his rookie season (1990-1991) through 2002-2003 (Bondra’s last full season with the club), only Brett Hull (570), Jaromir Jagr (506), and Brendan Shanahan (474) scored more goals than did Bondra (451).  In his prime years – 1994-1995 through 1997-1998 – no one recorded more goals than the 184 on Bondra’s ledger.

Until this past season, Bondra was the franchise record holder in power play goals (137).  For Caps fans who recognize Mike Green laying out passes for Alex Ovechkin to wire one-timers from the left wing circle into the back of the net, Bondra was the trigger man for similar plays from the right wing circle, one-timing passes from Sergei Gonchar.

What set Bondra apart as a goal scorer in franchise history, though, was his ability to score shorthanded.  He recorded at least one shorthanded goal in nine seasons with the club and twice had five or more.  In both of those seasons he led the NHL in goals scored.  In fact, his six shorthanded goals in the 1994-1995 campaign was a singularly amazing achievement, coming as it did in an abbreviated season of just 48 games.  On an 82-game basis that would be 10 shorthanded goals, and only two players in NHL history recorded more than 10 shorthanded goals in a season (Wayne Gretzky twice, and Mario Lemieux).

Bondra was a victim of the selloff of 2004, when the Capitals jettisoned a number of veterans in favor of prospects and draft picks.  Bondra was to Ottawa for Brooks Laich and a 2005 second round draft pick .  That second round pick was later traded to Colorado along with Washington’s own second round draft pick for the Avalanche’s  first round pick in 2005.  With that pick, the 27th overall in 2005, the Caps selected Joe Finley (parenthetically, the Dallas Stars selected new Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen with the next pick, but we digress).

Peter Bondra is one of the iconic figures in Capitals franchise history.  He and current Capital Alex Ovechkin are the two purest goal scorers in the Caps’ record book, the only two players to have recorded more than 400 goals for the club (you might argue Mike Gartner belongs; he had 397 goals with the Caps).  Bondra is the clear choice to man the right side on Team B.

Defense: Timo Blomqvist

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 223 games, 4-51-55, plus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 13 games, 0-0-0, minus-6

Timo Blomqvist was a fifth-round draft pick by the Caps in 1980, the 89th overall selection.  It was a particularly fruitful round, as fifth rounds go, with six of the 21 players selected recording more than 200 NHL games played.  In his four seasons with the club (1981-1982 through 1984-1985) only Rod Langway (239) and Scott Stevens (235) played in more games than did Blomqvist (223), only five of the 18 defensemen who played for the Caps in those years had more points than the 55 recorded by Blomqvist, and only Stevens (617) and Randy Holt (525) recorded more penalty minutes than Blomqvist (264). 

Blomqvist was a transitional player for the Caps, having been part of those early years when the team struggled (for example, 26-41-13 in his rookie year) and then being a part of what would be the Caps’ first playoff club (1982-1983).  It might be a moment from his last year with the Caps (1983-1984), though, that is most memorable…

After that 1983-1984 season Blomqvist played a year with the Binghamton Whalers of the AHL, then signed with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent where he played the 1986-1987 season, his last in the NHL.  He returned to Europe after that, catching on with MoDo HK Ornskoldsvik.  He continued playing in Europe until 1998.  While he might be remembered only in the dim recesses of old Caps fans’ memories, he merits a spot on Team B.

Defense: Pierre Bouchard

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 106 games, 8-16-24, minus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

So there you are, an eight-year veteran with the most storied franchise in NHL history.  Almost 500 regular season games played, and you played for five Stanley Cup winners.  Then, at the start of your ninth season in the league, you are exposed in the waiver draft.  You are claimed by a team that has yet to post a winning percentage as high as .400 in any of its first four seasons, a team that has as many franchise wins (60) as your club had in the 1976-1977 season alone.

That was the lot of defenseman Pierre Bouchard, who went from the penthouse, through the outhouse, and right to what is under the outhouse, in a manner of speaking.  It was a case of being too clever by half on the part of the Montreal Canadiens.  The Canadiens tried to game the process and enter into an arrangement with the Caps to reclaim Bouchard after the waiver draft, but league president John Ziegler intervened, nixing the transaction and leaving Bouchard wearing the American shades of red, white, and blue.

Bouchard was not happy with the turn of events and sat out almost the entire 1978-1979 season.  He did return to play for Washington in 1979-1980, in which he played 54 games and recorded 14 points.  After appearing in 50 games in the 1980-1981 season, he appeared in only one game in 1981-1982, spending 62 games in Hershey with the AHL Bears.  He retired after the 1981-1982 season.

In his two full seasons with the Caps, Bouchard was third among defensemen in total games played (remember, these were the lean years; 19 different defensemen played for the Caps in those two seasons).  His best years might have been behind him, but he provided a bit of stability to an unsettled defense (ok, a bad one), and it is enough to get him a spot on Team B.  Think of it as a consolation prize for the unhappy waiver ending.

Goaltender: Don Beaupre

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 269 games, 128-96-27, 3.05 GAA, .887 SV, 12 SO
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 36 games, 18-15, 2.98 GAA, .896 SV, 2 SO

Don Beaupre was a second round draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1980.  After playing one game in his ninth season with the North Stars, Beaupre was traded to the Caps in November 1988 for the rights to Claudio Scremin, a tenth-round draft pick of the Caps in 1988.  Beaupre made his first appearance for the Caps on November 12, 1988, serving mop-up duty in relief of Clint Malarchuk in the third period of a 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  He would spend the next several months toiling for the Baltimore Skipjacks in the AHL, not getting another shot with the big club until February 20, 1989, another stint in relief of Malarchuk, this time getting the third period of a 6-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.  It was a significant game in one respect.  It would be Malarchuk’s last appearance with the Caps; two weeks later he would be traded to the Buffalo Sabres as part of a deal that brought defenseman Calle Johansson to the Caps.

Meanwhile, Beaupre was getting more regular action.  And, he was taking advantage of it.  Beginning with a 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on February 22nd, Beaupre went on a 5-2-0 run in which he had a GAA of 2.15 and a save percentage of .919.  The late season run gave enough of an impression for the Caps to allow Pete Peeters, the other goaltender on the parent club blocking Beaupre’s way, to depart as a free agent to Philadelphia the following June.

Over the next five seasons Beaupre got most of the work and posted a regular season record of 128-96-27, 3.05, .887, very respectable numbers for the period.  His post-season numbers were not much different: 36 games played with an 18-15 record, a 2.98 GAA, and a .896 save percentage.  But those post-season numbers had an odd aspect to them.  Take the 1990 run in which the Caps advanced to the Wales Conference final for the first time in team history.  Beaupre, who appeared in 48 games in the regular season, appeared in only eight games in the post-season (4-3 record), splitting time with Mike Liut (nine appearances, 4-4 record).

In a way, Beaupre was representative of a problem the Caps had in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  They were a hard working team that got respectable goaltending on their way to regular season success.  But they – and most notably their goaltending – just never could seem to rise that last extra measure to propel the Caps deep into the playoffs, save for that 1990 run.

Nevertheless, Don Beaupre is the second ranked goaltender in team history in games played (269) and wins (128).  Until Jim Carey joined the club in 1994, only Pat Riggin had a career goals against average lower than Beaupre’s in team history.  He merits a place on the Capitals’ “Team B” as its goaltender.

Team B… it will score a lot of goals, and it will allow a lot.  Make sure the lights on the scoreboard work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team A

We are now officially in hockey’s off-season, that time between the first week of the unrestricted free agent period, when the best offerings on the buffet are picked over, and the first week of training camp, generally devoted to rookie development. 

In other words, we are going to be stuck for subject matter for the next couple of months.  You might recall that we tortured your senses last summer with a look at which Capitals fit in what spaces in the periodic table of the elements.  In this summer's slow spot in the calendar we are going to look at something a bit more hockey-related, the best of the Capitals through the alphabet.  First up, Team “A”…

Left Wing: Greg Adams

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 331 games, 55-98-153, plus-39
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 36 games, 2-11-13, minus-1

The National Hockey League has had two players named “Greg Adams” dress for games, both of whom were left wingers.  One played in 17 seasons covering more than 1,000 regular season games with five teams, plus another 81 playoff games over ten post-seasons, including a Stanley Cup final run.  The other one played for the Capitals. 

Not that the Greg Adams who played for the Caps had a bad run.  An undrafted player out of Canadian juniors (Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League), Adams was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1979.  After being traded to the Hartford Whalers in 1982, he came to the Caps in October 1983 in a trade for Torrie Robertson.  

In his first two seasons in Washington he played intermittently, dressing for 108 of 160 games, posting eight goals and 26 points.  In 1985-1986, though, Adams was matched with Alan Haworth and Craig Laughlin in what would become perhaps the most famous line in Capitals history, ‘The Plumbers Line,” a name given to them for their hard working, grinding style of play and also as a play on the term “plumbers,” which had relevance to Washington, a reference to the “plumbers” of the Nixon administration of the early 1970’s.  Adams played in 78 games that season, recording a scoring line of 18-38-56, plus-24, all career highs.

Adams followed that 1985-1986 career year with a solid 14-goal, 44-point season over 67 games in 1986-1987, but slipped to just 27 points in 1987-1988.  He was traded after that season to Edmonton for the rights to left winger Geoff Courtnall.  Adams played only 49 games in Edmonton before being traded to Vancouver late in the 1988-1989 season.  He was waived by the Canucks after that season and was picked up by the Quebec Nordiques to start the 1989-1990 season.  Playing just seven games with the Nordiques, Adams was traded in December to the Detroit Red Wings, with whom he finished the season in what would be the last of his career.

Center: Jason Arnott

Regular Season: 1 season, 11 games, 4-3-7, plus-3
Playoffs: 1 season, 9 games, 1-5-6, plus-4

This came down to a battle of the Jason’s – Allison and Arnott.  We took Arnott on the basis of his late-season contributions in the 2010-2011 season after being acquired by the Caps at the trading deadline from the New Jersey Devils.

Arnott’s arrival in Washington had been widely rumored in the run-up to the 2011 trading deadline.  The Devils were falling out of playoff contention, and the Caps had the perennial problem of filling a second line center role.  When the Devils agreed to a deal that included center David Steckel and a second round 2012 draft pick, the Caps had their man.

Having the reputation as a leader and as a big-game performer, Arnott displayed both early with the Caps.  In his first game with Washington, it was his feed from the corner to Brooks Laich to the top of the crease that led to a game-tying goal against the New York Islanders in the final minute.  The Caps won, 2-1, in the overtime session.  Two nights later, in his second game, it was Arnott’s goal with less than five minutes remaining in regulation that broke a 2-2 tie against the St. Louis Blues in a 3-2 Caps win.

As to his leadership abilities, he was given the nickname the “Semin Whisperer” for his perceived ability to bring out the more skilled, less “enigmatic” attributes of then Capitals winger Alexander Semin.  While this might have been more perception than reality, perception has its place from time to time. 

In nine playoff games with the Caps in 2010-2011 Arnott recorded points in five contests and was "even" or better in all nine games. It helped the Caps dismiss the New York Rangers in five games in the opening round (Arnott was 1-2-3, plus-2), but it could not keep the Caps from being swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning (0-3-3, plus-2 in four games).  Following the 2010-2011 season Arnott signed as an unrestricted free agent with the St. Louis Blues.

Right Wing: Steve Atkinson

Regular Season: 1 season, 46 games, 11-4-15, minus-26
Playoffs: none

As you can tell, the letter “A” is not especially kind in the historical record of right wingers in the Capitals organization.  Only three such players skated on the right side in franchise history, all of them in those difficult early seasons in the 1970’s.

Atkinson had the best numbers of any of the three right wingers eligible for our “Team ‘A’” squad, 11th among forwards in scoring and tied for fifth in goals in his lone season with the Caps during the inaugural 1974-1975 campaign despite playing in only 46 games.  Getting to Washington was a long and winding road for Atkinson.  He was drafted sixth overall by Detroit in the 1966 amateur draft, but was shortly thereafter traded to Boston.  Boston sold his rights to Hershey in 1970 but was then claimed by St. Louis immediately thereafter in the intra-league draft.  That December he was waived by St. Louis and claimed by Buffalo.  Failing to cement a place there, he was taken by Dayton-Houston in the general player draft of the World Hockey Association in February 1972.  He remained with the Sabres, though, but he was left exposed in the 1974 expansion draft and was claimed by the Capitals.

That season with the Capitals was noteworthy for two things for Atkinson.  First, he was called a “snail” by general manager Milt Schmidt after one game, upon which he was demoted to the Richmond Robins.  By the time he was recalled, Schmidt was gone (replaced by Max McNab), but the Caps were still struggling.  Atkinson finished the season with the club, but in the other noteworthy thing with respect to that season, it was Atkinson’s last in the NHL.  He played one more season of professional hockey, that with the Toronto Toros of the WHA.

Defense: Peter Andersson

Regular Season: 3 seasons, 160 games, 9-33-42, plus-9
Playoffs: 2 seasons, 5 games, 0-1-1, minus-2

There were four defensemen eligible to be named to “Team A,” and three of them were named “Andersson” (or a variation thereof).  Peter Andersson was the most accomplished of the three.  Andersson’s story is one of overachievement in a way.  He was drafted in the ninth round out of Sweden – 173rd overall in the 1980 NHL draft – although his draft class was quite deep (Andy Brickley, drafted dead last and 210th overall, played in 385 NHL games).

Andersson made the jump from Sweden to the Caps in 1983.  He skated in 42 games in his rookie season and finished seventh in points among Caps defensemen (10).  He followed that up with another ten-point season in 1984-1985 in 57 games on a squad that finished with its second consecutive 100-point season.  His third season was perhaps his best with the Caps, 6-16-22 in 61 games in 1985-1986.  However, on a team that would finish with its best franchise record to date (50-23-7), he was second worst in plus-minus, suggesting he was something of a defensive liability (this was long before Corsi or Fenwick measures).  He was traded late in that season to Quebec for the Nordiques’ third round draft pick in the 1986 draft, used to select goalie Shawn Simpson. 

Andersson finished up that 1985-1986 season with the Nordiques, but it would be his last in the NHL.  He returned to Sweden after that season and continued to play in European leagues and represent Sweden in international competition (including the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics) through the 1994-1995 season.

Defense: Karl Alzner

Regular Season: 6 seasons, 345 games, 7-55-62, plus-10
Playoffs: 4 seasons, 31 games, 1-4-5, minus-2

Karl Alzner is the only current Capital to make “Team A.”  He happens to be the only player eligible for Team A who is still playing in the NHL (Keith Aucoin remains an unrestricted free agent).  Alzner has more games logged as a Capital than any other member of Team A, despite being only 25 years old.  Part of what is viewed as Washington’s top defensive pair, the “defensive” defenseman to partner John Carlson’s more two-way game, Alzner is third among current Capitals defenseman in total games played with the franchise (behind Mike Green and John Erskine).

Alzner is one of only nine players (four defensemen) to have played in all 294 games of the past four seasons.  He has done so averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time a night over each of those four seasons.  Given the nature of his game as a “defensive” defenseman, his offensive numbers might not shine, but he did finish third in assists among defensemen in three of those four seasons, suggesting that he does get involved in the offensive end of the ice from time to time.

With Alzner being a player of recent vintage, he has a history in the emerging “fancystat” era.  As such, his recent 5-on-5 possession metrics are not especially impressive (below 50 percent Corsi-for in his last three seasons), and in terms of performance he has regressed.  In the latter respect his goals-for percentage at 5-on-5 is well below 50 percent in his last two seasons, and his goals for percentage relative to the team’s percentage when he is not on ice is in negative territory.   

By objective measure, he has slipped in the last couple of seasons.  In a way, his progress has mirrored that of the Caps, a team that has teetered on the edge of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.  However, he was a top-five draft pick, has played in almost 400 regular season and playoff games, much of it on the top pair of a playoff-worthy team.  He is worthy of a spot on our hypothetical “Team A” in Capitals team history.

Goalie: John Adams

Regular Season: 1 season, 8 games, 0-7-0, 6.90 GAA
Playoffs: none

Team A had better score goals, because its goalie is both inexperienced and had his struggles with the Caps.  Okay, so John Adams is the only goalie in Caps history who would qualify for “Team A.”  Adams was an undrafted goaltender who played with the Port Arthur North Stars of the Thunder Bay Junior A Hockey League, the Dayton Gems of the International Hockey League, and the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League before seeing NHL action.  There was an odd detour along the way, though.  In 1970, while with the Dayton Gems, he was recalled to the Boston Bruins, who held his rights.  He did not play a game during his recall, but the Bruins happened to win the Stanley Cup that season.  The Bruins chose to have Adams’ name engraved on the Cup despite his having yet to appear in an NHL game.

That first NHL appearance would not come until the 1972-1973 season when Adams made 14 appearances for the Bruins, going 9-3-1 with a 3.00 goals against average.  That would do it for Adams’ career with in Boston; he was traded to the San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League the following summer.  After spending a year in California, Adams was purchased by the Caps in July 1974, just in time for the Caps’ inaugural season.  He ended up with two more sweater numbers worn (30 and 32) than wins (zero) with Washington.  Not that this was especially unusual for that season.  The Caps suited up three goalies in 1974-1975, two of them (Michel Belhumeur being the other) failed to get a win.  For Adams it was his one and only season with the Caps, and it was his last year in the NHL. 

Adams did have that one season with the Caps, though, which is good enough for him to get the call for “Team A” in Caps franchise history.

And there you have it… “Team A” in our first look at all-franchise teams by the alphabet for the Washington Capitals.