Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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

Team S in our look back at the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Franchise Teams is an intriguing one for its balance of grit and skill, sometimes in the same player.

Left Wing: Alexander Semin

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 469 games, 197-211-408, plus-65
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 51 games, 15-19-34, minus-1

e·nig·ma (iˈnigmə) -- noun: a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.

Some guys are hard to figure out.  None more so, perhaps, than Alexander Semin.  It always seemed that when Semin was around, if he wasn’t doing something incredible, something odd was happening.  First there was the price the Caps paid to get him.  Washington traded a first and a second round pick in the 2002 entry draft, plus a sixth round pick in the 2003 draft to the Dallas Stars for the 13th overall pick in the 2002 draft.  The Caps used that pick to take Semin, an 18 year old winger with Traktor Chelyabinsk in Russia.

Then things got strange.  Semin’s progress post-draft went sort of sideways.  He spent another year in Russia, skating for Lada Togliatti, after which he came to North America.  In 2003-2004 he appeared in 52 games for the Caps, finishing with ten goals and 22 points in 52 games. The odd thing about that was that there was no 53rd game.  After the Caps defeated the New York Rangers in the team’s last home game of the season, Semin missed the flight to Pittsburgh for the season finale.  The next flight he was scheduled to take was cancelled, and the flight after that did not depart Washington until after the puck drop in Pittsburgh.  The team was not happy

His season was not over; he went to the Capitals’ AHL affiliate Portland where he played in four regular season and seven playoff games for the Pirates.  It might have made for a nice segue into the next season, that of the 2004-2005 lockout.  Semin could have resumed his development in Portland while the league was dark. 

It was a good idea, except Semin did not report, choosing to play once more for Lada Togliatti in Russia.  The Caps suspended Semin for failure to report to Portland. 

When the NHL returned to action in 2005-2006 the Caps did so without Semin.  This time it was a question about his obligation for military service.  Apparently, that service could be fulfilled on a hockey rink.  Semin skated 42 games, split between Lada Togliatti and Khimik, while the mess was being sorted out in the courts in the U.S

Finally.  Finally, Semin made it back to Washington in the 2006-2007 season, and he played as if nothing ever happened.  His 38 goals in 77 games was 13th in the league.  Of those finishing ahead of him, only teammate Alexander Ovechkin was younger than the 22-year old Semin.  It was the first of a four-year period in which he was among the top ten-goal scorers overall (tied for 10th with 138) and tied for fifth with Sidney Crosby in goals per game (0.50).  On top of that, Semin received votes for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward in the 2008-2009 season.  OK, so he finished tied for 35th, but that was a higher finish than Daniel Alfredsson, Eric Staal, and Patrick Sharp, among others.

That four-year run would end on the sourest of notes, though.  In the regular season Semin set a career high in goals with 40 in 73 games, one of seven 40-goal scorers that season.  He finished 13th in the league in total points for a club that set an NHL record for a non-original six team in total standings points (121).

The playoffs were another matter.  In the opening round series against the Montreal Canadiens he started off with a six shot effort in Game 1, but did not score.  Then it was five shots in Game 2, no goals.  Five more shots in Game 3, no goals.  By the time the seven-game series was over, Semin recorded 44 shots – most of any player in the first round – without a goal. It was not a record for futility, but he could see it from where he was – tied for fourth all time in total post-season shots without a goal. The Caps lost that series in seven games.

Semin, while still a productive offensive player, never recovered from that.  His goal total dropped to 28 in 65 games of the 2010-2011 season, then to 21 in 77 games of the 2011-2012 season.  By that time Semin, who was wrapping up his third straight one-year contract (this one paying $7 million), did not appear to be player in whom the Caps wanted to invest an elite-level amount of money.  He signed a five-year/$35 million deal with the Carolina Hurricanes in October 2012.

Ninety players have appeared in at least 200 games for the Caps in their history.  Semin is sixth in goals per game, tenth in points per game  He was one of the most gifted talents ever to skate for the club.  The mystery is why he didn’t produce even more.  But hey, we’ll always have this from 2009…

Alexander Semin, the best damned bongo player on Team S.

Center: David Steckel

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 291 games, 23-35-58, plus-3
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 24 games, 5-4-9, even

When David Steckel was drafted in the first round (30th overall) by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2001 Entry draft, his stock was high and climbing.  The 25th-ranked North American prospect in NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term evaluations, he jumped to 16th in the final rankings.  He had just completed a successful freshman year at Ohio State University, finishing third (behind Western Michigan’s Jeff Campbell and teammate R.J. Umberger) in freshman scoring in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (17-18-35 in 33 games).

Unfortunately, for those who might have projected him as a scoring line forward, that would be his high-water scoring mark at Ohio State.  It made for a sluggish start to his development toward an NHL career.  After four years with the Buckeyes, Steckel moved on to the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ AHL affiliate, for the 2004-2005 season.   After a lackluster season with the Monarchs (7-10-17 in 63 games), the Kings and Steckel parted ways. 

At the end of the summer of 2005 Steckel was signed by the Capitals as a free agent and assigned to Hershey.  His production improved greatly under then head coach Bruce Boudreau, doubling his point production from the previous season in Manchester (34 points) as the Bears won a Calder Cup.  In 2006-2007 Steckel’s offense made another big jump (30-31-61 in 71 games) as the Bears went to their second consecutive Calder Cup final. What he was not getting was much of a chance in Washington. 

Steckel appeared in seven games in the 2005-2006 season for the Caps and in five games the following season, failing to record a point in any of the 12 games overall.  Those two seasons in Hershey did seem to prepare him well for what was to come.  In 2007-2008 he made the big club for good, appearing in 67 games and recording his first NHL points (5-7-12 in 67 games), primarily as a defensive, bottom six forward.

It would be that role which Steckel played for the Caps, adding his singular skill in taking faceoffs, over his three full seasons.  He did not become more productive offensive forward, never scoring more than eight goals nor finishing with more than 19 points. 

His 2010-2011 season started with the same pace at which he played his previous three seasons.  In the 2010 portion of the season Steckel was 4-4-7 in 33 games.  Then, Steckel was the focal point in one of the most consequential games – plays, in fact – of the season.  On New Year’s Day, the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.  With less than a minute left in the second period and the Caps holding a 2-1 lead, the Caps were trying to move the puck out of their own zone.  When Karl Alzner tried to backhand the puck up the left side and out of danger, the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby tried to block the clearing attempt.  When he failed, he circled to turn up ice and pursue the play.  In doing so he crossed into the path of Steckel, who was staring up ice to join the play.  When they collided, Steckel’s shoulder caught Crosby flush.  The result was a concussion, the effects of which would impact Crosby and the Penguins for the remainder of that season and the next.  Whether Steckel intentionally hit Crosby (or failed to do enough to avoid the collision) was a matter of some discussion,  but there could be no question about its importance as far as Crosby, the Penguins, and their competition going forward were concerned.

It might have affected Steckel some, too, with all the discussion back and forth about whether the hit was intentional or not.  Never a big numbers player in the NHL, his offense dried up almost completely.  Over his next 23 games he was 1-2-3.  Meanwhile, the Caps had bigger problems.  They still had their perennial problem of how to fill their second line center role.  With the trading deadline approaching, much speculation in the media focused on how good a fit New Jersey’s Jason Arnott would be in that role for the Capitals.  With the Devils dropping out of the playoff race, moving a veteran to free up salary cap space made sense.

The Capitals and Devils completed a trade on February 28th with the Caps sending Steckel and a second round pick in the 2012 entry draft to New Jersey for Arnott.  Steckel wrapped up the 2010-2011 season in New Jersey, then was traded by the Devils to Toronto in October 2011.  After a 76-game season with the Maple Leafs in 2011-2012, he played just 13 for the Leafs in 2012-2013 before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks in March 2013.  He found playing time increasingly scarce with the Ducks spending most of the 2013-2014 season with the Norfolk Admirals and the Iowa Wild of the AHL.

David Steckel was a largely anonymous sort of player who did a lot of the little things that teams have to have done to win games.  The four seasons in which he played in at least 57 games was the winningest four-year stretch in Capitals history (195 wins), and Steckel was a part of that.  Enough to get him a jersey for Team S. 

Right Wing: Bob Sirois

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 282 games, 91-120-211, minus-54
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

In 1974-1975, Bob Sirois was a 20-year old property of the Philadelphia Flyers, a former third round draft pick (53rd overall in 1974) who had worked his way up from Rosemount National to Laval National, to Montreal Red-White-Blue, to Montreal Juniors, all of the QMJHL before getting his chance with a team that would win a Stanley Cup championship. 

Except he played in just three games that season for the Flyers, none of them in the playoffs.  But hey, there would be another chance, right?  The Flyers of the mid-1970’s were a powerhouse. 

It did not work out that way, either for the Flyers (who have not won a Stanley Cup since) or for Sirois.  After dressing for only one game for the Flyers in the 1975-1976 season he was traded to Washington in December 1975 for future considerations that become John Paddock.  Well, at least he was going to a team who made history of their own in the 1974-1975 season. 

Sirois might not have joined a top-notch team, but he got the chance to play.  He scored 10 goals in 43 games to finish the 1975-1976 season and 13 in 45 games in the 1977-1978 season, one in which he was one of only two Capitals to finish with a positive plus-minus (plus-1; Bill Riley was a plus-4 in 43 games).

Sirois got more playing time in the seasons to follow – 72 games in 1977-1978 (24 goals), and 73 games in 1978-1979 (29 goals).  With those 53 goals he was second on the club to Guy Charron (66) over those two seasons.  In the 1978-1979 season he was selected to play in the NHL all-star game, but he suffered a leg injury late in the season, denying him the chance to join Dennis Maruk and Tom Rowe as 30-goal scorers for that club.

Injuries derailed Sirois’ 1979-1980 season, limiting him to 49 games, and would force him into retirement.  After missing a season he tried to make a comeback with the Hershey Bears in the AHL, but after just 13 games with the Bears, his career was over at the age of 27.

Bob Sirois was one of an early crop of goal scorers for the Caps whose records were largely buried under an avalanche of losses.  Even with the injuries he suffered over his five seasons with the Caps he was one of the most productive players in that era of Capitals hockey.  For that, Bob Sirois plays on the right side on Team S.

Defense: Neil Sheehy

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 131 games, 4-9-13, plus-7
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 21 games, 0-3-3, minus-5

Born in Fort Frances, Ontario; raised in  International Falls, MN; then off to Cambridge, MA, and Harvard University for hockey and an education.  Quite a road it was, and that was before he arrived in the NHL.  That would take a bit longer.  After he completed his four-year tour at Harvard in 1983 he was signed as a free agent by the Calgary Flames. 

What Sheehy did after that was to establish himself as a defenseman who played with a general sense of ill humor.  Over his first four full seasons in the NHL, split between Calgary and the Hartford Whalers from 1984-1985 through 1987-1988, Sheehy ranked tenth in penalty minutes per game among players who appeared in at least 200 games.

In July 1988 Sheehy and his brand of disagreeableness was traded from Hartford to the Capitals with Mike Millar for Grant Jennings and Ed Kastelic.  He did not disappoint.  In 72 games he scored just three goals and recorded seven points, but he did have 179 penalty minutes.  The next season, he outdid himself.  He managed only one goal and six points in an injury-shortened 59 game season, but he finished tied for ninth overall with 291 penalty minutes, a career high.  He was fifth among those ten defensemen in penalty minutes per game, a number fueled by 15 fights.  He was part of a group that finished second in the league in fighting majors.

It was not just a team that could fight, and Sheehy was not just a defenseman who could, well, fight.  The Caps advanced to the Wales Conference final, Sheehy leading the league in penalty minutes in the post-season along the way (92 in 13 games).  It might have made for a great story, the Caps going deeper in the playoffs than ever before.  Unfortunately, it was not the story that would be the takeaway at the end of the season.  There would be another, unseemly one, in which Sheehy would beinvolved.  

Sheehy’s career went downhill quickly after that.  He missed the 1990-1001 season entirely as a result of a broken ankle and back surgery.  He was then made available in the 1991 expansion/dispersal draft.

He was not selected. He was signed as a free agent by the Calgary Flames in 1991 where he played one more season before his NHL career came to an end.   The Capitals portion of Neil Sheehy’s career was short, but it did not lack for drama.  In an era when hard-nosed (and hard-knuckled) play was prized, he did his part.  That is why he plays on the blue line on Team S. 

Defense: Scott Stevens

Regular Season (with Capitals): 8 seasons, 601 games, 98-331-429, plus-88
Playoffs (with Capitals): 8 seasons, 67 games, 9-44-53, plus-7

Rod Langway might be the most consequential player in Washington Capitals history.  When all is said and done, Alex Ovechkin might be, in time, the most productive player in Capitals history.  But for sheer prolificacy, there is no player in franchise history who can hold a candle to Scott Stevens.  But we will get to that.

For Stevens and the Caps it started with the 1982 entry draft in which Stevens was taken fifth overall, the third defenseman taken behind Gord Kluzak and Gary Nyland.  Stevens was an immediate fixture in the Capitals lineup, providing a blend of skill (second in goals and tied for fourth in points among rookie defensemen) and grit (first by a mile in penalty minutes, 195 to Dan Mandich’s 169 among rookie defensemen) in his rookie season in 1982-1983.  If there was a problem with the mix it might have been that Stevens had a short fuse.  A very short one.  His 14 fights in the 1982-1983 season tied for fourth among all players.

As he moved on from his rookie season he did not lose his orneriness, but he channeled it better.  After an early career marked by frequent fisticuffs (he averaged 11 a year over his first five seasons), he dropped cut that total almost in half over his next three seasons (an average of six per year).

Meanwhile, his offensive production improved significantly.  Over five seasons, from 1984-1985 through 1988-89 he had four 60-plus point years.  Only four defensemen had more points than the 319 Stevens recorded over that span.  He also produced on special teams.  With 32 power play goals over that five-year span, he was tied for sixth among all defensemen.

The combination of skills Stevens provided was a perfect complement to the stay-at-home style of Rod Langway on the blue line and the more offensive-oriented play of Larry Murphy.  All in all, Stevens played in eight seasons for the Caps, and his name is all over the record book:
  • Most points, defensemen: 2nd (429)
  • Most assists, defenseman: 2nd (331)
  • Most penalty minutes: 2nd (1,630)
  • Most penalty minutes, defenseman: 1st (1,630)
  • Most assists, defenseman (season): 1st (61)
  • Most power play goals, defenseman (season): 2nd (16)
  • Most points, defenseman (game): T-1st (5;  December 6, 1987 vs. Los Angeles; Caps won 10-3)
  • Most points, playoffs: 7th (53)
  • Most points, playoffs, defenseman: 2nd (53)
  • Most assists, playoffs: 2nd (44)
  • Most assists, playoffs, defenseman: 1st (44)
  • Most playoff games played, career: 9th (67)
  • Most playoff games played, career, defenseman: 4th (67)
  • Most penalty minutes, playoffs, career: 3rd (180)
  • Most penalty minutes, playoffs, career, defenseman: 2nd (180)

It came to an end, though, after that eighth season with the Caps in 1989-1990.  Stevens was implicated in the unfortunate incident outside a Georgetown bar described above in the summary of Neil Sheehy’s career with the Caps.  It was not that, though, that ended his career in Washington.  It was a contract. More precisely, an offer sheet tendered by the St. Louis Blues to the restricted free agent.  The deal offered was for four years and $5.145 million. 

As any Caps fan knows, the Capitals did not match the offer and lost the defenseman to the Blues in exchange for five first round draft picks.  This is where the idea of Stevens being the most prolific player in Capitals history emerges.  Those five first round draft picks, in addition to whatever contributions they might have made themselves, begat several generations of Capitals players.   

The line is still active.  Prospect forward Michael Latta came to the Capitals with Martin Erat when they traded Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators (this is through the “Brendan Witt” lineage among those five first round picks).  Chris Brown and a fourth round draft pick in 2015 are with the Caps as a product of the trade of Erat to the Phoenix Coyotes.  And, another asset coming to the Caps as part of the Erat-to-Phoenix trade – Rostislav Klesla – was traded to Buffalo in a deal that brought goalie Jaroslav Halak to Washington with a third round draft pick in 2015.  Halak was subsequently traded to the New York Islanders for a fourth round pick in the 2014 draft that the Capitals packaged to trade up into the third round.  That pick became Nathan Walker.

Scott Stevens would go on to bigger and better things as a member of the New Jersey Devils.  Three Stanley Cups, enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Caps fans think, “it might have been us.”  Still, the echoes of Stevens’ career in Washington persist: Michael Latta, Chris Brown, Nathan Walker, and a player yet to be determined from the 2015 draft.  One cannot help but wonder, though, what might have been.  We will just have to settle for Scott Stevens manning the blue line for Team S.

Goalie: Wayne Stephenson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 76 games, 22-31-15, 3.65, 1 shutout
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Wayne Stephenson was a late bloomer, even if you consider that goaltenders take a while to develop.  He was never drafted by an NHL team, his career starting off as a 19 year old in 1963 with the Winnipeg Braves of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.  That was the start of a wandering journey that included stops with the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Winnipeg Nationals, the Canadian National Team (including his appearance in three games of the 1968 Winter Olympics), and the Kansas City Blues before he got his shot at the age of 27 with the St. Louis Blues. 

Stephenson spent three seasons in St. Louis before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in September 1974 for a second round pick in the 1975 amateur draft and the rights to Randy Andreachuk.  In Philadelphia, Stephenson was stuck behind Bernie Parent, who backstopped the Flyers to a Stanley Cup in 1974 and was about to repeat the feat in 1975.  Stephenson, who was 7-2-1 for Philadelphia in limited work in the regular season, did appear twice in the 1975 post season for the Flyers, winning both games in route to the Cup.

The following season Parent was sidelined with a neck injury in pre-season that would limit him to 11 games.  Stephenson filled the void admirably, going 40-10-13 with a 2.58 goals against average and one shutout.  He split time with Parent in the post-season, each goalie posting a 4-4 record as the Flyers’ two-year reign as NHL champions ended.

Stephenson played two more seasons in Philadelphia before he was traded to Washington in August 1979 for a third round pick in the 1981 entry draft.  He shouldered the heaviest load between the pipes, appearing in 56 games for the Caps in the 1979-1980 season with a record of 18-24-10 and a 3.57 goals against average.  At the time, his appearances, wins, and goals against average were franchise records.

The 1980-1981 season was not kind to Stephenson, a combination of injuries and newly arrived goalie Mike Palmateer shouldering most of the load limited him to 20 appearances and a 4-7-5 record.  It would be his last season in the NHL.

Wayne Stephenson passed away in 1965 from brain cancer.  While he was with the Caps, though, he was a feisty sort with the proper attitude for a goalie on a struggling team...

That’s got to get him the nod in goal for Team S.

Team S.  And ornery bunch with just a touch of weirdness.  You could make a movie about these guys.  “S” for Slap Shot?

Monday, August 25, 2014

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

Team R is next on our trip through the All Alphabet Franchise Teams of the Washington Capitlals.  If you came to be a Capitals fan in the Ovechkin era, you might not recognize these players.  Trust us, we are not making them up.

Left Wing: Torrie Robertson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 62 games, 10-13-23, minus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Over the 1980’s – the 1980-1981 through 1989-1990 seasons – only seven players recorded more penalty minutes than Torrie Robertson.  He was one of nine players to record at least two 300-minute seasons in penalties.  He had 160 fights.

Torrie Robertson did not often play well with others.

He was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1980, a third round pick (55th overall) from the Victoria Cougars of the WHL where he showed a blend of offense (41 goals and 88 points in 141 games over two seasons) with a certain edgy play (439 penalty minutes).  Robertson played one more year with Victoria, and then it was off to Washington for three games at the end of the 1980-1981 season. 

The following season Robertson got a more thorough introduction to the NHL, dressing for 54 games with the Caps (spending 21 games with the Hershey Bears of the AHL).  Despite the somewhat limited playing time, Roberson finished second on the team in penalty minutes (204) to Randy Holt (250).  He also had eight goals and 21 points, suggesting that there was a bit of offense to contribute as well.

Robertson never really got that chance with the Caps.  In 1982-1983 he played in only five games with Washington, playing primarily (69 games) in Hershey.  It would be his last year in the Capitals organization. Just before the start of the 1983-1984 season Robertson was traded to the Hartford Whalers for forward Greg Adams.  By the time his career in Hartford ended with his trade to Detroit in March 1989, he became the Whalers’ all-time leader in penalty minutes.  It was a mark he held until 1997, when Kevin Dineen passed him. 

Robertson’s career ended after a season and change in Detroit in 1989-1990.  In ten seasons he came up one goal short of 50 and one assist short of 100 for his career.  But he had 1,751 penalty minutes, 208 of them with the Capitals.  His was not the flashiest career in Capitals history, but teams are not likely to take liberties with Torrie Robertson on the left side of Team R.

Center:  Mike Ridley

Regular Season (with Capitals): 8 seasons, 588 games, 218-329-547, plus-49
Playoffs (with Capitals): 8 seasons, 76 games, 19-41-60, minus-8

Mike Ridley took something of an unconventional path to the NHL.  He was never drafted by an NHL club, and his formative amateur years were spent playing for the University of Manitoba of the Great Plains Athletic Conference in Canada (today the Canada West Universities Athletic Association).  After two seasons with Manitoba, Ridley was signed as a free agent by the New York Rangers in September 1985.

Ridley wasted no time making a mark.  The next season he was skating with the big club, playing in 80 games, finishing third among rookies in total points (65).  He finished fourth in voting for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.  In the post season, he introduced himself to Capitals fans in an unpleasant way.  He assisted on both goals by Pierre Larouche for New York in Game 6 of the opening round of the 1986 playoffs.  The Rangers won that game, 2-1, to eliminate the Caps in six games. 

Ridley was on a pace to improve his offensive numbers in his sophomore season (16-20-36 in 38 games) when he was traded to the Caps on New Year’s Day 1987 with Kelly Miller and Bob Crawford for Bobby Carpenter and a second round draft pick in the 1989 entry draft.  Ridley scarcely missed a beat with the change in scenery.  In the 1987 portion of the season he went 15-19-34 in 40 games.

It started an eight-year career in Washington in which Ridley would have the third highest number of games played (588), the highest goal total (288), the highest assist total (329), the highest point total (547), and the fourth highest plus-minus total (plus-49) despite often drawing difficult defensive assignments. Three times in his seven full seasons with the Caps he received votes for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward.

Although never drafted by an NHL team, the draft would become an important part of Mike Ridley’s history with the Capitals.  On draft day 1994 the Capitals took advantage, or so they thought, of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ willingness to make deals.  The Leafs had already made a huge trade, sending Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson, and a first round pick to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin, Garth Butcher, and a first round pick.  Later, the Leafs would obtain Ridley from the Caps along with a first round pick for Rob Pearson and the first round pick Toronto had just obtained from Quebec.

For the Caps, the trade was a bust.  Pearson played 32 games for the Caps, never scoring a goal for them, and the first round pick – Nolan Baumgartner – was a huge disappointment, playing in only 18 games over four seasons for Washington.  Meanwhile, Ridley played all 48 games of the abbreviated 1994-1995 season for Toronto, going 10-27-37.  Unfortunately, his style of game was not compatible with what head coach Pat Burns wanted.  He was traded to Vancouver for Sergio Momesso after one season with the Leafs. 

Ridley spent two seasons in Vancouver, but back problems cut into his playing time and effectiveness.  His NHL career came to an end after the 1996-1997 season.

If there was a word to describe Mike Ridley’s style of play, it might be “crafty.”  He parlayed a modest skill set into a very productive career with that craftiness.  Among Capitals players with at least 250 games played with the club in franchise history, he ranks sixth in points per game (0.93), behind only Dennis Maruk, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Gartner, Nicklas Backstrom, and Adam Oates.  It makes for a resume that puts Mike Ridley in the middle on Team R.

Right Wing:  Tom Rowe

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 191 games, 56-58-114, minus-39
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Who was the first American-born player to score 30 goals in an NHL season?   You might have gone through a lot of names before you came to “Tom Rowe.”  But there it is.  Tom Rowe accomplished the feat in the 1978-1979 season, his third with the Caps after Washington drafted him in the third round of the 1976 amateur draft.  It was part of a year to year improvement that saw him go from one goal in 12 games in 1976-1977, his first with the Caps, to 13 in 63 games in 1977-1978, to 31 goals in the 1978-1979 season.  The strange thing about that first season and the one goal; he scored on his first shift in his first game, beating Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers.  He had a touch.

It did not last, though.  In his fourth season with the Caps, his goal-scoring touch seemed to have left him.  In 41 games he scored only ten goals before he was traded to the Hartford Whalers in January 1980 for Alan Hangsleben.  Rowe played in parts of three seasons with the Whalers, scoring 23 goals in 115 games.  In January 1982 he returned to Washington as a free agent.  Rowe appeared in only six games in the 1981-1982 season for Washington, recording one goal and one assist.

Following the 1981-1982 season Rowe signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent.  In the 1982-1983 season he split time between the Red Wings, scoring six goals in 51 games, and the Adirondack Red Wings in the AHL.  From Detroit he moved on to Edmonton for the 1983-1984 season, but he never dressed for the Oilers.  Rowe appeared in 50 games with the Moncton Alpines of the AHL in what would be his last season in professional hockey.

In an era where the Caps struggled quite a bit, Tom Rowe made some history.  It might not be widely remembered among Caps fans these days, but it is enough to get him a spot on Team R.

Defense: Joe Reekie

Regular Season (with Capitals): 9 seasons, 515 games, 11-64-75, plus-86
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 48 games, 3-4-7, minus-1

Joe Reekie played long before the “fancystat” era of hockey.  It might be a good thing for his reputation.  These days, plus-minus is a widely dismissed statistic.  It might (or might not) be the worst statistic in hockey todaybut in the 1985-2002 era, corresponding to Reekie’s career in the NHL, it was as good a measure as there was to evaluate what happened, good or bad, when a player was on the ice. 

In Reekie’s nine seasons with the Capitals he was a plus-86.  That number led the Caps over the 1993-2002 period Reekie was with the team, and it wasn’t close for second place (Sergei Gonchar: plus-58 in eight seasons over that period).  Reekie had a knack for compiling very good plus-minus numbers despite having a limited offensive game. 

He had decent offensive numbers for a defensive defenseman in his first eight-plus seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning (87 points in 370 games), but with the Capitals his numbers were more modest.  Of the 53 defensemen to play in at least 200 games for the Capitals, Reekie ranks 45th in points per game.  On the other hand, there is that plus-minus.  Of the nine defenseman with fewer points per game, only two (John Erskine and Neil Sheehy) are in plus territory, and neither are close to Reekie’s plus-86 (Erskine is plus-14 in 350 games; Sheehy was plus-7 in 131 games).

Reekie’s offense was not needed on a team employing such as Calle Johansson, Sylvain Cote, Sergei Gonchar, and Phil Housley on the blue line.  Reekie’s job was to be the silent partner, the one who was solid in his own end, freeing up his partners to attack more the offensive zone.

If Reekie had a “best” season with the Caps, it might have been the Stanley Cup final season of 1997-1998.  In 68 games he was 2-8-10, plus-15.  The Caps were 34-24-10 in games in which he played, 6-6-2 in games he did not.  In the post-season he appeared in all 21 games and was 1-2-3, plus-4.

He played for four more seasons with Washington over which he was a victim of age and declining ice time.  From playing more than 20 minutes a night during his peak years with the Caps, Reekie saw his ice time drop to 15 minutes a game by the 2001-2002 season.  Defensemen young (Jean-Francois Fortin: 19:25) and old (Frantisek Kucera: 20:39) were passing him on in average ice time that season.  In January, what seemed inevitable came to pass.  Reekie was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for a fourth round pick in the 2002 entry draft.  He played in 17 games for the Blackhawks in what would be the wrap-up to his 17-year career.

From the time Joe Reekie arrived in Washington from Tampa Bay for Enrico Ciccone and a pair of draft picks to the time he was traded to Chicago, he was among the steadiest defensemen ever to play for the Capitals.  Perhaps his numbers do not stand out, but such is the burden of being a defensive defenseman before the age of fancystats.  There just were not many ways to evaluate the success of a defenseman like Reekie.  Still, what measures were available did make Reekie stand out among his peers in that era of Capitals hockey, and he gets a spot on the blue line of Team R.

Defense: Bob Rouse

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 130 games, 9-33-42, minus-7
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 21 games, 4-3-7, minus-1

In a sense, Bob Rouse’s career with the Washington Capitals might be described as that of a “best supporting actor.”  In March 1989, after having spent parts of six seasons with the Minnesota North Stars to start his career, he was traded with the more well-known Dino Ciccarelli to Washington for Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy.  Two years later, he was traded with Peter Zezel to Toronto for Al Iafrate.

In between, “support” was an apt word to describe his play.  Not a flashy player, Rouse was a good example of the stay-at-home defenseman.  After following up his season-ending 13 game stint with the Caps following his trade from Minnesota (0-2-2, plus-2), he was an important part of the Caps’ 1989-1990 team that reached the Prince of Wales Conference final in the playoffs for the first time.  He appeared in 70 games for the Caps in the regular season, finishing with four goals and 20 points. 

In the 1990 playoffs Rouse continued an odd spike in his offensive output that he displayed in the 1989 playoffs in which he scored two goals in six games (half of his regular season output over 66 games).  Rouse once more scored two goals (this time in 15 games), once more half of his regular season total. The two goals matched Scott Stevens for the team lead among defensemen for the post-season.

The next season Rouse continued his steady play, posting five goals and 20 points over 47 games.  However, with the Caps having lost Scott Stevens to free agency, they might have been looking for a upgrade in offense at the position to make up for the loss of Stevens’ production.  In Toronto, Al Iafrate was having a sub-par year due to off-ice problems and requested that the Maple Leafs trade him.  Those were ingredients for a trade, and the deal that sent Rouse and Peter Zezel to Toronto for Iafrate was made in January 1991.

Rouse played another nine seasons in the NHL with the Maple Leafs, the Detroit Red Wings, and the San Jose Sharks, displaying the same steady, stay-at-home style he showed in Minnesota and with the Caps.  He retired after the 1999-2000 season. 

The Caps have had a lot of sturdy, hard-nosed defensemen over the course of their history – Rod Langway, Mark Tinordi, Timo Blomqvist, Scott Stevens among them, some famous, others less so.  Rouse was out of the same mold, perhaps less famous than some.  However, he was an important part of one of the Capitals’ most successful teams and as such gets a spot on Team R.

Goaltender: Pat Riggin

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 143 games, 67-46-19, 3.02, .884, 6 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 10 games, 2-5, 2.91

Over the first eight seasons of Washington Capitals hockey, goaltenders combined for a rather grisly overall record: 163-375-102 with a 4.23 goals against average.

In June 1982, the Caps made a trade for yet another contestant in the franchise goalie competition. They sent Howard Walker, George White, a sixth round pick in the 1982 entry draft, a third round pick in the 1983 entry draft, and a second round pick in the 1984 entry draft to Calgary for winger Ken Houston and goaltender Pat Riggin. That trade, with seven assets being exchanged, was the biggest trade in Capitals history until March 1997 when the Caps acquired Bill Ranford, Adam Oates and Rick Tocchet from Boston for Jason Allison, Jim Carey, Anson Carter and a 3rd round pick in the 1997 entry draft.  Never in franchise history were more assets exchanged in trade.

Riggin and Al Jensen, who arrived in Washington the previous season from the Detroit Red Wings, immediately became a tandem to reckon with. In the 1982-1983 season, Jensen appeared in 40 games, Riggin in 38, the latter posting a 16-9-9 record with a team best 3.36 goals against average. The formula worked; the Capitals reached the playoff for the first time in franchise history.

Things did not go so well in the playoffs, either for Riggin (0-1 in three appearances, a GAA of 4.75) or the Caps, but first things first. Making the playoffs after so long a period of frustration was a big step.

The following season the tandem routine worked again. Riggin (41 appearances) and Jensen (43) split the work roughly evenly, Riggin finishing with 21 wins and a GAA (2.66) and save percentage (.890) that led the team. His performance and that of Jensen were good enough to allow them to finish tied for third in Vezina Trophy voting and for the two to combine to win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. In the post-season Riggin and the Caps were excellent in the first round, a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in a best-of-five series for the franchise’s first playoff series win in which Riggin won Game 1. Things did not go as well in the second round. After the Caps beat the Islanders in Game 1, 3-2, neither Riggin nor Jensen could establish any rhythm. Each goalie would be pulled once over the next four games, all Islander wins to eliminate the Caps.

When Jensen missed significant time to injury in the 1984-1985 season, Riggin took over the number one duties. He made a career high 57 appearances (in 80 games), winning a career high 28 games. For the second straight year he received consideration for the Vezina Trophy, finishing fourth in the voting. By the time the post-season came around, the tandem routine was restored, but it lost its magic. Riggin won Game 1 over the Islanders, 4-3, in overtime. However, after sitting out Games 2-4 in favor of Jensen (who was fine in Games 2 and 3, but was ineffective in a 6-4 loss in Game 4), Riggin was called upon to stave off elimination in Game 5 of the best-of-five series. He allowed only two goals, but it was one too many as the Islanders eliminated the Caps for the third straight post-season.

Riggin got off to a slow start in the 1985-1986 season. Over his first seven appearances he was 2-3-1, 3.74, .827. It made things easier for the Caps to work out a trade with Boston for a slow-starting goalie of their own. Pete Peeters was 3-4-1, 3.84, .873 in his first eight appearances. The two were traded for one another on November 14th.

Riggin finished the 1985-1986 season and started the 1986-1987 season in Boston, but after ten appearances with the Bruins in the 1986-1987 season he was traded to Pittsburgh (again, for a goalie, this time Roberto Romano) where he wrapped up his NHL career after the 1987-1988 season.

Pat Riggin was a small goalie (5’9”, 170), even by 1980’s standards. But he was very effective for the Capitals in a particular role, working in tandem with Al Jensen. He was an important part of the Capitals making the final leap from also-ran in their early years to playoff team. He helped set in motion a 14-year streak of playoff appearances by the Caps, and it makes him the goaltender for Team R.

Team R… ornery, crafty, historic, steady, rugged, and… short.  It is quite a mix.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

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

We are coming in to the final turn before heading into the home stretch of our look back at the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Franchise Teams.  Having done 14 of these pieces, we take up number 15 and the letter “P.”

Left Wing: Matt Pettinger

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 334 games, 52-47-99, minus-44
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

The 2000 NHL entry draft was sprinkled with youngsters who would become stars in the NHL: Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Niklas Kronwall, Brooks Orpik, Ilya Bryzgalov.  The player taken just ahead of Bryzgalov did not become a star, but he gave evidence that he would be a solid contributor at both ends of the ice for whatever team drafted him.  The mystery is why he didn’t fulfill that modest promise. 

Matt Pettinger was taken in the second round (43rd overall) by the Washington Capitals in that draft.  His selection was part of a trend of the period for the Caps.  From 1998 through 2003 five of the Capitals’ six top selections were taken from Western Hockey League (Jomar Cruz, Kris Beech, Brian Sutherby, Nathan Paetsch, and Eric Fehr).  Eight of the Caps’ 12 top-two selections (including Pettinger) came from the WHL.

Following his draft by the Caps, Pettinger graduated to the Portland Pirates of the AHL for the 2000-2001 season.  He was also called up to the big club on two occasions, getting ten games of NHL experience.  He would have to wait until the 2001-2002 season to record his first NHL points, though.  He played in 61 games in that 2001-2002 season, going 7-3-10.  That was followed by a season in which he spent almost all of his time in Portland (69 games) getting less than four minutes of ice time in one game with the Caps.

Pettinger had a modest 2003-2004 season with the Caps, dressing for 71 games and recording 12 points, and then the 2004-2005 lockout put a temporary halt to his progress.  When the NHL came out if its hiatus, Pettinger took a big step up in production.  In 71 games for the Caps in 2005-2006 he tied for third on the club in goals scored (20).  He was on his way to similar production in the 2006-2007 season, but late in the season he suffered a fractured thumb that cost him ten games.  Still, Pettinger finished with 16 goals.

Just about to turn 27 years of age at the start of the 2007-2008 season, with 36 goals in his previous two seasons, one might have expected that Pettinger was entering his prime years with the potential to be a 20-goal scorer with a physical edge to his game.  It did not start that way in the 2007-2008 season.  Pettinger went his first ten games without a goal and had just one over his first 27 games.  It never got better.  While the Capitals were making a run toward a playoff spot after a poor start and a coaching change, Pettinger’s slump had no end.

His playing time having been cut from about 18 minutes a game over his first 15 games to less than 13 minutes a game over his last 15 games ending on February 24th, Pettinger was traded to Vancouver for Matt Cooke, having scored just two goals in 56 games.  Pettinger scored four goals in 20 games for the Canucks, but it was the start of a quick downward spiral that carried him out of the NHL entirely in two years.

Pettinger was assigned by Vancouver to their AHL farm team in Manitoba at the start of the 2008-2009 season, then was placed on waivers just two weeks later.  He was claimed from the Canucks by the Tampa Bay Lightning and appeared in 59 games for the Lightning, going 8-7-15.  Tampa Bay chose not to resign Pettinger after the 2008-2009 season, and he retured to Vancouver as a free agent in November.  Most of his 2009-2010 season was spent with the Canucks’ AHL farm team in Manitoba; he appeared in only nine games for the Canucks, scoring one goal in what was his last NHL season.

Since leaving the NHL, Matt Pettinger has been playing in Germany, having played nine seasons in the NHL.  Seven of those NHL seasons were spent in Washington, those years largely being ones in which the Caps struggled.  For a brief time, though, he displayed a promising mix of timely goal scoring and physical play that helped make the Caps, if not successful, a team that could be respected for its hard work.  For that he gets a spot on Team P.

Center:  Michal Pivonka

Regular Season (with Capitals): 13 seasons, 825 games, 181-418-599, plus-18
Playoffs (with Capitals): 11 seasons, 95 games, 19-36-55, plus-13

When fans think of the great centers in Washington Capitals history, they probably think of Nicklas Backstrom, Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, or Bengt Gustafsson.  Michal Pivonka seems to be forgotten in that conversation.  Here is what they forget…
  • Games Played: 825 (5th in team history) 
  • Goals: 181 (T-10th)
  • Assists: 418 (1st)
  • Points: 599 (4th)
  • Power Play Goals: 56 (7th)
  • Shorthanded Goals: 12 (5th)

That he would put together such a resume for the Caps was amazing given the way he came to the club in the first place.  The 1984 entry draft was the draft of Mario Lemieux, but it was also a draft in which 14 players from Czechoslovakia were selected.  Pivonka was the third Czechoslovak taken in that draft, selected by the Caps in the third round (59th overall) after Petr Svoboda and Milan Chalupa.  Czechoslovakia still being within the Soviet bloc of countries in eastern Europe, it was extremely difficult for hockey players to make their way to North America.  Pivonka defected to the West in 1986 after two years of planning with the Capitals.  

He joined the team the following season, and it was a successful one.  In 1986-1987 he finished fifth in scoring (43 points) among rookies.  After suffering something of a sophomore slump the following season (11-23-34 in 71 games), Pivonka’s production did not improve in 1988-1989.  Scoring only five goals in his first 47 games for the Caps, he was assigned to Baltimore of the AHL.  

The wake-up call had its intended effect.  Over the next six seasons Pivonka proved himself an adept playmaker and point producer.  Over those years he was 15th among NHL forwards in total assists (323), this being an era of Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, and Steve Yzerman.

In 1996-1997, Pivonka suffered a knee injury in an early season game against the St. Louis Blues.  While Pivonka was a victim of frequent injuries over his career to that point, he was largely able to play through them.  This injury, however – a meniscus tear in his right knee – set in motion a series of absences due to injuries.  He played in only 54 games in 1996-1997, his lowest in a full season since 1988-1989 when he split time between Washington and Baltimore.  The following season he appeared in only 33 games in the regular season, most of his absence due to a wrist injury suffered against Pittsburgh in November.  He would appear in only 13 of the Caps’ 21 post season games, missing the eight in the Caps’ run to the Stanley Cup finals as a result of a shoulder injury.

In 1998-1999 Pivonka was one of many Capitals to contribute to more than 500 man-games lost to injury.  He missed the first 29 games of the season to the shoulder injury he sustained in the playoffs the previous spring.  As it was he played in only 36 games, reduced to a defensive specialist skating only 13 minutes a night.

Before the 1999-2000 season the Capitals made an effort to trade Pivonka.  The Capitals were close to a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning but were unable to consummate that deal.  Instead, Pivonka was assigned to the Kansas City Blades where he played his final season of pro hockey.

Michal Pivonka has perhaps the most unremembered career among those Capitals who might be considered greats in the history of the franchise.  Having endured a difficult journey just to play in the NHL, he evolved as a player, first playing a role as an player focused on his offensive game, and then when injuries started wearing his body down, using his experience to become a solid defensive specialist.  He certainly deserves to play in the middle on Team P.

Right Wing:  Jean Pronovost

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 90 games, 23-38-61, minus-16
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Jean Pronovost was not drafted by any NHL team, but it did not stop him from being one of the more prolific goal scorers of his era.  Over his first 12 seasons in the NHL his 368 goals was topped by only six players: Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Jean Ratelle, Garry Unger, Marcel Dionne, and Rick Martin.

That was before Pronovost came to Washington.  Pronovost compiled that goal total over ten seasons in Pittsburgh with the Penguins and another two in Atlanta when he was traded to the Flames for Gregg Sheppard in September 1978.  In July 1980 he made his way to Washington, traded to the Capitals for cash.

Pronovost came to the Capitals as the team was beginning to emerge from its early history struggles.  In 1980-1981 Pronovost played in all 80 games, posting 22 goals and 58 points for a team that would finish with the best record in its seven-year history to date (26-36-18 for 70 points).  His goal total was good for fifth on the club.

The following season Pronovost appeared in only ten games for the Caps (1-2-3, minus-7).  He spent most of the 1921-1982 season in Hershey with the Bears where he played in 64 games, going 35-31-66.  It was his last season of professional hockey.

Jean Pronovost was one of three brothers who played in the NHL following Marcel, a hall of fame defenseman who played with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, and Claude, a goaltender who appeared in three games for the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.  Pronovost carved his own niche between his brothers, being a member of the “Century Line” in Pittsburgh with Syl Apps and Lowell MacDonald, and being once a 52-goal scorer.  By the time he arrived in Washington he was not the goal scorer he once was, but he still had some pop.  Enough to get him a sweater on Team P.

Defense:  Robert Picard

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 230 games, 42-114-156, minus-44
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

If one looks for a silver lining in the early years of the Washington Capitals, it might be in the fact that bad records meant high draft picks.  Having a number one overall draft pick in 1974 (Greg Joly) did not prevent the Caps from finishing the following season with the league’s worst record, perhaps the worst in league history.  In fact, the Caps were bad enough in their first three seasons to have two more top-three picks.  Rick Green was taken first overall in the 1976 amateur draft, and Robert Picard was taken with the third overall pick in 1977.

He was not happy.  So unhappy, in fact, that when a better deal came around from the Quebec Nordiques of the World Hockey Association – five years and $625,000 – he took it.  The league had second thoughts, fearful of a lawsuit by the NHL if Picard dressed for Quebec.  The WHA barred him from playing with the Nordiques, to which Picard responded, ““I’d rather deliver pizzas in Quebec City” than play hockey in Washington.”  Pizza sales must have been slow in Quebec City.  Picard reported to the Capitals less than a week later.
Picard, who as a defenseman with Montreal in the QMJHL put up bigger goal totals over each of his four seasons in juniors, was expected to do big things in Washington, and he jumped right into the Capitals lineup in the 1977-1978 season.   He appeared in 75 games and finished fourth among rookie defensemen in points (37).  He almost doubled that total the following season, setting what would be career highs in goals (21) and points (65).  He finished sixth among 12 defensemen getting votes for the Norris Trophy that season.

The problem with setting a career high in two offensive categories at the age of 21 when big things are expected of you is that attitudes can sour as the numbers start heading south.  That is what happened when Picard slipped to 11 goals and 54 points in 1979-1980.  Even though he finished 11th among NHL defensemen in points and led the Caps’ defensemen in scoring by better than a two-to-one margin (Rick Green had 24 points), the Caps traded the 23-year old Picard to the Toronto Maple leafs with Tim Coulis and a second round pick in the 1980 entry draft for goalie Mike Palmateer and a third round pick in the 1980 draft.

In hindsight, it probably was not a bad deal.  Picard played another ten seasons with five teams.  Only once did he record double-digits in goals (12 with the Winnipeg Jets in 1984-1985) after doing so in each of his three years in Washington.  Only once twice did he surpass his lowest point total in Washington (37 in his rookie season) – 38 with Montreal in 1982-1983 and 41 in 1985-1986 split between two teams.  It was in that 1985-1986 season that Picard’s journey brought him full circle.  He was traded from the Jets to the Quebec Nordques, by this time in the NHL after the NHL/WHA merger of 1979.  He played parts of five seasons with the Nordiques before being traded to Detroit (with another former Capital — Greg Adams – for Tony McKegney).  After 28 games with the Red Wings in 1989-1990 Picard’s NHL career came to an end.

Robert Picard had a stormy stay with the Capitals, but it was a productive one over his three seasons with the club.  It just wasn’t quite what folks expected.  Nevertheless, he gets the call on the blue line for Team P.

Defense: Tom Poti

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 230 games, 11-64-75, plus-32
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 27 games, 2-10-12, plus-16

The 1996 NHL entry draft was quite a draft for defensemen.  Eleven defensemen in all from that draft have played in at least 800 games, including Chris Phillips, Zdeno Chara, the late Ruslan Salei, Sami Salo, Michal Roszival, and Tom Poti, drafted in the third round (59th overall) by the Edmonton Oilers.

Poti went on to play two seasons with the Boston University Terriers in Hockey East after his draft year, then jumped to the Oilers for the 1998-1999 season.  In his fourth season with the Oilers, he was traded to the New York Rangers with Rem Murray for Mike York and a fourth round pick in the 2002 entry draft.  He spent parts of four seasons with the Rangers, becoming more unpopular over time among Ranger fans for what was seen as his indifferent play in his own end of the ice.  After the 2005-2006 season he escaped Manhattan, but not New York, signing as a free agent with the Islanders. 

It would be the next season when Poti left the Empire State altogether, signing a four-year/$14 million free agent contract with Washington.  When he took the ice for the Capitals, it was as a veteran among a cadre of very green defensemen.  Mike Green was 22 years old, Jeff Schultz was 21.  Shaone Morrisonn was still just 25 years old, Milan Jurcina was 24.  Poti and Brian Pothier (both 30 years old) were the vets, but Pothier was limited to 38 games after sustaining a concussion against the Boston Bruins in January that ended his season.

Being the veteran presence might have been a new role for Poti, but he took to it.  In his first three seasons in Washington he recorded 66 points and was a combined plus-38.  However, injuries began to take their toll.  In 2008-2009 he lost 30 games to injuries, primarily groin problems.  Then, in the 2010 playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens, Poti suffered an orbital bone fracture in Game 6 when a backhand shot from Mike Cammalleri hit Poti in the face.  It was almost a career-ending moment.  

Poti came back from the eye injury for the 2010-2011 season, but that year would be undone largely because of the return of groin problems and a fractured pelvis.  He played in only 21 games that season, none after January 12th.  The groin problems kept out for the entire 2011-2012 season, and once more it was potentially a career-ending event.  

But return he did.  After an absence of two years, almost to the day, Poti returned to the Capitals lineup on January 19, 2013 – opening night of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season as it turned out.  Injuries would derail his return again, though.  Poti’s season ended on St. Patrick’s Day when he managed only seven minutes of ice time in a 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.  This time, it was a back injury.  He missed the last 20 games of the regular season and the Caps’ first round playoff loss to the New York Rangers. 

It would be his last season in the NHL.  However, for his perseverance in the face of repeated injuries, Poti was selected by the Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to be the club’s nominee for the 2013 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”

Despite the injury problems that plagued his last four seasons in Washington, Poti played in 825 games in the NHL, 230 of them for the Capitals.  By the time he came to Washington he was not quite the offensive producer he was in his early career, becoming more of a two-way defenseman.  It was his experience that was valuable to a team with defensemen just coming into their own in the NHL – Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson, Karl Alzner.  Tom Poti’s leadership makes him a deserving player for Team P.

Goalie:  Pete Peeters

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 139 games, 70-41-15, 3.06, .887, 7 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 30 games, 15-15, 3.14, .889

In the 1977 amateur draft, 15 goaltenders were selected before the Philadelphia Flyers got around to taking Pete Peeters in the eighth round (135th overall).  By the time his career ended in 1991 only Greg Millen (604 games) of the 24 goalies taken in that draft would appear in more games than Peeters (489).  None would win more games than the 246 games Peeters won over his 13-year career.

Seventy of those wins came with the Capitals over four seasons.  Peeters, who played in Philadelphia for four seasons to start his NHL career, and then another three in Boston after the Flyers traded him for Brad McCrimmon in June 1982, came to Washington early in the 1985-1986 season.  It was part of a goalie-goalie swap with the Bruins, who took Pat Riggin in exchange.

The Caps had been employing something of a time-sharing relationship between their goalies, Riggin and Al Jensen splitting much of the time over the previous few seasons.  Peeters fit into this routine upon joining the Capitals, getting 34 appearances over the rest of the 1985-1986 season while Jensen was getting 44 overall.  In the post-season, it was Peeters who got the call.  He backstopped the Caps to a sweep in the opening best-of-five round against the New York Islanders, allowing only four goals.  He was not quite as sharp to open the second round against the New York Rangers, but he was sharp enough to win two of the first three games, allowing eight goals.  Peeters and the Caps collapsed after that, however.  In Games 4-6 Peeters allowed 12 goals, and the Caps lost them all, dropping the series in six games to the heavy underdog Rangers.

Peeters put up solid numbers over the next three seasons, winning 51 of 93 decisions.  The post season was another matter.  In 1987 against the Islanders he was just 1-2 in three appearances and was held out of Games 6 and 7 in favor of Bob Mason as the Caps dropped the series to the Islanders in seven games.  The following season Peeters was strong in Games 5-7 (eight goals allowed) as the Caps rallied from a 3-1 deficit in games to win a seven game series against Philadelphia.  In the second round against the New Jersey Devils he was inconsistent, allowing a single goal in Game 1, and then allowing five in a 5-1 loss in Game 2.  After splitting time with Clint Malarchuk in a 10-4 loss to the Devils in Game 3, Peeters got the call in Game 4 in New Jersey.  His night came to an abrupt end when this happened…

Peeters, who was knocked unconscious and suffered a mild concussion on that play, returned for Game 6, winning a 7-2 decision, but he allowed one too many goals in a 3-2 loss to the Devils in Game 7 to eliminate the Caps.

In 1989 it was another case of late playoff series problems.  After the Caps took a 2-1 lead in games over the Flyers in the first round of the post-season, Peeters dropped three consecutive decisions, allowing 16 goals in the process as the Caps lost the series to Philadelphia.

Following that 1989 post-season, Peeters signed as a free agent with the Flyers, the team that originally drafted him.  He spent two years with Philadelphia, going 10-20-6, his career coming to an end after the 1990-1991 season.

In an odd sort of way, Pete Peeters is a symbol of Capitals hockey, both of the period and in the historical context of the franchise.  He had decent regular season records in his four seasons in Washington, but his goals against average in the post season got progressively worse over his four playoff years, and he was especially ineffective in the late stages of series (he was 4-8 after Game 3’s in his playoff appearances for the Caps).  Still, he is tied for fourth in wins in franchise history (with Jim Carey) and is third all-time for the Capitals in playoff wins (30).  For that, he gets the nod as starting goalie for Team P.

Team P has a mix of skill and grit that would make it look good on paper.  However, there are a sufficient number of issues with this team to make one wonder if it would be as good at the sum of its parts.  Capitals history in a nutshell.