Monday, September 01, 2014

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

We are down to Team W in the march through the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Teams.  This one draws mostly from the early days, the days of disco, Star Wars, and a lot of frustrated hockey fans in Washington.

Left Wing: Tony White

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 158 games, 37-28-65, minus-62
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Tony White was not an especially flashy goal scorer when he was rising through Canadian juniors with the Kitchener Rangers.  It was not surprising that he would last until the tenth round of the 1974 amateur draft.  That is where the Capitals picked him (161st overall), one of a stable of 25 picks taken in their inaugural draft.

He would get a taste of the NHL the following season (five games) but spent the bulk of his time with the Dayton Gems of the IHL, where he scored 23 goals in 64 games, more goals than either of his seasons with Kitchener.

That was prelude to a rookie season in 1975-1976 in which White scored 25 goals, he and Nelson Pyatt (26) becoming the first players in team history to hit the 25-goal mark for a season.  It was a frustrating season, nonetheless.  Despite finishing with 32 even strength points, White was minus-43 in 80 games, one of nine players to finish minus-40 or worse in an 11-59-10 season.

That would be White’s high-water mark for goals and points with the Caps.  In 1976-1977 his plsu-minus improved markedly (minus-15 in 72 games), but his offense shrunk almost as much.  His production was halved (12-9-21) from his rookie season.

White slid all the way to the minors in 1977-1978, appearing in just one game for the Caps (no points and a minus-4 in his last appearance for the team) and in 68 games for the Hershey Bears.  After spending a season with the Springfield Indians of the AHL, White was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota North Stars.  He appeared in six games for the North Stars in 1979-1980, his last appearances in the NHL.  After playing most of that season in Oklahoma City with the Stars of the CHL and another with that club, he headed to Europe where he played his last two seasons of hockey with EV Fussen in the West German leagues.

It was good while it lasted, even if it did not last too long for Tony White and the Capitals.  Being a “first,” even on one of those struggling early teams for the Caps was something to note.  That’s why Tony White gets the left wing spot on Team W.

Center: Ryan Walter

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 307 games, 114-163-277, minus-14
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

When the Washington Capitals made Ryan Walter the second overall pick in the 1978 amateur draft, they took a youngster whose progress through Canadian juniors was impressive.  Over a three year period with the Kamloops Chiefs and Seattle Breakers, Walter recorded 130 goals and 308 points.

He did not miss a beat when he joined the Caps in the 1978-1979 season.  A 28-goal, 56-point season was good enough to earn Walter a second-place finish in the Calder Trophy voting for the league’s top rookie.  He also happened to be the only rookie to earn votes for the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play.

Walter put together two more solid years in 1979-1980 (24-42-66) and 1980-1981 (24-44-68) before he had a breakout season in 1981-1982.  In 78 games Walter went 38-49-87, the goals, assists, and points all being career bests.  He also finished eighth in Selke Trophy voting for top defensive forward (right between two forwards who later would play for the Caps – Dale Hunter and Jorgen Petterson).

Instead of that 1981-1982 season being the launching pad for a long and productive career with the Caps, Walter become the personification of “sell high.”  On September 9, 1982 he and Rick Green, a first overall draft pick in the year before Walter was selected, were traded to the Montreal Canadiens for  Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin.  It was arguably the biggest trade in Capitals history, playing a large role in saving the franchise in Washington.

As for Walter’s fate after leaving the Caps, he never was able to repeat with Montreal the level of production he had in the 1981-1982 season with Washington.  After a 75-point season in his first year with the Canadiens he settled into being a 40-50 point player over the next five seasons.  In 1988-1989, having reached his 30th birthday, Walter’s offensive production started to decline as his game evolved into one of being more of a defensive specialist.  In 1990-1991 he registered only one point in 25 games.  Walter signed as a free agent with Vancouver in July 1991, where he played in his last two NHL seasons.

Ryan Walter had quite a range of experiences in his career.  With the Caps he was the young phenom who had fine early seasons, then at the age of 24 and at top of his game he was traded.  He had a long and productive career – more than a thousand games and more than 600 points – but he will always be linked with the biggest trade in team history.  For his early years of play and his role in saving the franchise, Ryan Walter centers Team W.

Right Wing: Tommy Williams

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 307 games, 114-163-277, minus-14
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Expansion teams generally have two kinds of players on their rosters.  There are the youngsters thrown into a lead role because there isn’t much by way of talent to hold them back in the minors, and there are the veterans on the back nine of their careers playing a leadership role or filling in the blanks until the young club can build itself into a competitive one.

Williams might be considered the latter.  By the time he arrived in Washington from Boston in a cash deal in July 1974, he already had 13 seasons under his belt, 11 of them in the NHL and two in the fledgling World Hockey Association.  It was a solid, if unspectacular career to that point, Williams recording 131 goals and 351 points in those 11 NHL seasons with three teams, and 31 goals and 89 points in two years with the New England Whalers in the WHA.

In coming to Washington, Williams was experiencing his second tour with an expansion team.  He was a member of the WHA Whalers in their inaugural (and championship) season in 1972-1973.  His experience with the Caps was not quite as successful.  On a team that set a league record for futility, Williams was third on the team in games played (73), and led the team in goals (22), power play points (19), and total points (58).

Williams played another season with the Caps, and plagued by an ailing back he was limited to 34 games in which he scored eight goals and recorded 21 points.  He retired after that season, second on the franchise list of all time goal scorers (30, since eclipsed).  It might not have been the end of a career one would dream of, but Williams was certainly appreciative of what he experienced, including being the only American in the NHL for a time Part of that experience was being a member of the first Washington Capitals teams and being an important part of them.  It is the reason he gets the call on the right side of Team W.

Defense: Brendan Witt

Regular Season (with Capitals): 10 seasons, 626 games, 20-63-83, minus-50
Playoffs (with Capitals): four seasons, 31 games, 4-0-4, minus-10

By the time Brendan Witt was hit by an SUV while on his way to get a cup of coffee in downtown Philadelphia on the morning of a game in 2009,  he had long established himself as one of the toughest players in the NHL. 

When Witt was taken in the first round of the 1993 entry draft by the Capitals (11th overall), there were no pretensions that he was an offensive, or even a two-way defenseman.  In two years with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, Witt recorded just five goals and 35 points in 137 games.  He did compile 474 penalty minutes in those 130 games, though.  What the Caps were getting, even with Witt still being a teenager, was a tough, physical defensive defenseman. 

They were also getting a stubborn one, or a principled one, depending on where you sit on the matter of signing entry level contracts.  It took the Caps almost two years to sign Witt to a deal, almost losing him to his re-entry into the 1995 draft.  But sign him they did, and he established himself as a player who seemed fearless in applying his physical skills.  In his first two seasons he was third among Caps’ defensemen in total penalty minutes (173), but he played in only 92 games, far fewer than the two defensemen in front of him – Joe Reekie (256 minutes in 143 games) and Mark Tinordi (231 minutes in 127 games).  That penalty total included 15 fights, including quite a bout in Philadelphia…


It was the beginning of a ten year career in Washington in which Witt did not do much by way of scoring (20 goals, 83 points), but did make a physical impression on opponents (1,035 minutes in penalties, 53 fights).  His no-nonsense style of play helped earn him a co-captaincy for the 2001-2002 season with Steve Konowalchuk.

After that 2001-2002 season the Caps started a decline.  In 2002-2003 they finished second in the Southeast Division but dropped a six-game opening round playoff series to the Tampa Bay Lightning after holding a 2-0 lead in games.  Oddly enough, it was Witt who scored the only goal by a Capitals defenseman in that series.

In 2003-2004 the Caps collapsed, and they started selling off assets in preparation of a rebuild.  Witt, who was still just 28 years old, was not among the players being sent away for picks and prospects.  Things were different, though, after the league went dark for a year due to labor-management problems.  The 2005-2006 season was going to be a difficult one for the Caps, and Witt was not inclined to play through a rebuild.  He requested a trade in August 2005 to a team that had better chances of playoff success.  

He was still with the club to start the 2005-2006 season, but he was not there to end it.  In March 2006 he was traded to the Nashville Predators for Kris Beech and a first round draft pick (that would become Semyon Varlamov).  Witt played out the season in Nashville, then he signed with the New York Islanders as a free agent the following summer.  He played four seasons on Long Island, until he was placed on waivers by the Islanders in January 2010.  When he cleared waivers he was sent to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.  After he wrapped up the season with the Sound Tigers, the Islanders bought him out of his remaining contract years, bringing his NHL career to an end.

Brendan Witt was one of a kind, a player who seemed to be of an era before that in which he played, a tougher, simpler era, "old school," if you will.  It made for an interesting mix that made him one of the enduring characters in franchise history, one of only seven defensemen to appear in more than 600 games for the Caps.  He and Scott Stevens are still the only defensemen in team history to play in more than 600 games and accumulate more than 1,000 penalty minutes.  We would not presume to leave Brendan Witt off of Team W.

Defense: Bryan Watson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 155 games, 4-26-30, minus-24
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Bryan Watson made the rounds in his career.  Undrafted as player in Canadian juniors with the Peterborough Petes, he started his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1963-1964 season.  Two years in Montreal were followed by stops in Detroit, Montreal (again), Oakland with the Seals, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit (again), and finally, in 1976, with Washington, courtesy of a trade sending former number one overall pick Greg Joly to the Red Wings.

Never an offensive producer from the blue line (13 goals and 122 points in 14 seasons before suiting up for the Caps), Watson’s game was going to have to provide more in the category of “intangibles."  Well, except perhaps for his lively nature.  Despite being ordinary in size (5’9”, 175), he did not let that prevent him from mixing it up from time to time.  In the five seasons immediately preceding his arrival in Washington, he rolled up 70 fights.

The fighting and penalties were less frequent with the Caps, Watson’s value being on the ice for a team just struggling to be competitive.  The clock was ticking louder for Watson, though, and he was released by the Caps after appearing in 20 games of the 1978-1979 season.  Although his release brought his NHL career to an end, he caught on with the Cincinnati Stingers of the WHA and played 21 games before calling it quits for his professional hockey career.   When he left the NHL he did so as the league’s all-time leader in penalty minutes at the time (2,176 minutes).

Watson, who was approaching the end of his career when he came to Washington, played parts of three seasons with the club.  As it turned out, he was the oldest skater on each of those three teams (the oldest player on two of them), the most experienced among a collection of youngsters and journeymen.  He did not entirely lose his feistiness (16 fights in 155 games) and still did not have much in the way of offensive punch (four goals, 30 points in 155 games), but his presence and experience was an important part of the Caps getting through those rough early years in the history of the franchise.  That is why “Bugsy” gets a spot on the blue line on Team W.

Goaltender: Bernie Wolfe

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 120 games, 20-61-21, 4.17, 1 shutout
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Being a goaltender for the early editions of the Washington Capitals was an unforgiving exercise in despair.  The Capitals did not have a goaltender finish a season having played at least 20 games with a goals against average of less than 3.50 until 1982-1983, when both Pat Riggin (3.36) and Al Jensen (3.44) did it.  There were nine goalies over the first eight seasons in franchise history who played in at least one season with 20 or more games who failed to finish below that 3.50 goals against average mark. 

Bernie Wolfe was one of those goalies.  He and Ron Low would “fail” the most times over that eight-year period, three times apiece.  But let us not heap the blame on the goalies in general or Wolfe in particular.  It was a team effort, and it made for a hard way to make a living for a goaltender. 

Over a four-year period from the 1975-1976 season through 1978-1979, Wolfe appeared in more games than any of the eight goaltenders the Caps employed.  His 4.17 goals against average was typical of the period.  He did however, work against the Capitals type in one respect.   He won in his first NHL appearance, a 6-2 win over the Kansas City Scouts on October 30, 1975. 

Wolfe had another first as well during his stay in Washington.  On January 10, 1977, in the Capitals’ 202nd game in franchise history, Wolfe recorded his first (and only) career shutout, a 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings.  It was part of what would be his “best” season with the club (7-15-9, 3.84 goals against average).

Two more seasons followed for Wolfe in the Capitals organization that saw him losing playing time, first in 1977-1978 to Jim Bedard (25 appearances to 43 for Bedard), and again in 1978-1979 (18 appearances to 30 for Bedard and 37 for Gary Inness). 

Wolfe retired from the NHL after that 1978-1979 season, but it would not be the end of his hockey career.  Not quite.  The NHL was about to expand in the 1992-1993 season, and that meant holding an expansion draft.  Teams were allowed to protect two goaltenders and 14 skaters (the San Jose Sharks were exempt from exposure of players owing to their being an expansion team the previous season).  One of the goalies to be left unprotected by each team had to have at least 60 minutes of NHL experience. 

Some teams were creative about how they dealt with the goalie provisions.  It is worth noting that six goalies played in only one game in the 1991-1992 season.   Chjcago did not want to expose any of their three top goalies – Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, and Jimmy Waite – to selection in the expansion draft and solved that problem by dressing Ray LeBlanc for one game in 1991-1992 (he was not selected in the expansion draft).  Calgary dressed Scott Sharples for one game – the season finale – in what would be his only NHL game, allowing the Flames to hold on to Mike Vernon, Jeff Reese, and Trevor Kidd. 

The Caps went one better, or rather tried to.  They wanted to protect Olaf Kolzig, Don Beaupre, and Jim Hrivnak.  They might have had the solution in exposing Mike Liut, but he retired after the 1991-1992 season and thus was not an option.  Faced with the possibility of losing a goaltender for whom the team had plans, general manager David Polie signed Bernie Wolfe to a contract on June 15th.  That would be 40-year old Bernie Wolfe, 13 years removed from the NHL and working as a financial planner in the Washington area.  The league’s response to this imaginative idea was “nice try.”  The Caps were told to go back and do it again, and they signed Steve Weeks to a contract the following day (he was not selected, either).

And so, Bernie Wolfe’s NHL career finally came to a definitive end.  All of it – four seasons of play and one day as a backup backup backup goalie over an 18 year period – makes for one of the more interesting tenures in Washington Capitals history.  That gives Bernie Wolfe the job of goaltending for Team W.

Team W reaches back to the earliest days of the franchise for much of its roster.  There is a lot of pain and heartache in those early years for those players.  One the other hand, Brendan Witt, a player of more recent vintage, dished out a lot of pain and heartache (and headache and rib-ache).  All told, there are more than 3,800 regular season and playoff experience on this team.  That is a combination that makes for a team that perhaps you don’t want to play against. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

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

Team V.  “V” for victory?  Well, those might be hard to come by for this team, one that had flashes of excellence but for whatever reason could not sustain it, at least with the Washington Capitals. 

Left Wing: Aaron Volpatti

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 58 games, 2-1-3, minus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Revelstoke, British Columbia, was the birthplace of Bruce Holloway, a defenseman of modest achievement, drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 1981, appearing in two games for the Canucks in 1985.  That might have been Revestoke’s contribution to the NHL but for Aaron Volpatti, who was born there at just about the time Holloway’s NHL career was reaching its peak (May 20, 1985).

Volpatti would also make his way to Vancouver, an undrafted free agent signed by the Canucks in March 2010 after he completed four years with the Brown University Bears in the NCAA.  The signing earned him a ticket to Manitoba to play 13 games with the Moose of the AHL (five in the playoffs) to wrap up the 2010-2011 season. 

Volpatti’s progress was quick after that.  He split time between Manitoba (53 games) and Vancouver (15 games) in 2010-2011, then stuck with the big club 2011-2012.  He had trouble cracking the lineup, though, appearing in only 23 games.  His appearances were punctuated by a certain feistiness.  Despite playing in only 23 games he was third on the team in fights (5).  Offense, however, was not his thing – one goal, one point.

The next season it was much of the same.  He was in the lineup infrequently, and when he was in the lineup his game was characterized more by belligerence (four fights in 16 games) than offensive production (one goal).  It was not a combination that the Canucks found promising, and he was placed on waivers in February.  The Caps claimed him on February 28th. 

He picked up with Washington more or less where he left off in Vancouver.  His first game with the Caps was on March 2nd against the Winnipeg Jets.  In his last shift of the first period Volpatti dropped the gloves against Anthony Peluso, three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier.  Not for lack of effort, but Volpatti probably lost the fight on points.  That would be his only fight in 17 games, but he recorded only one point in those 17 games, too.

In 2013-2014 Volpatti read once more from the same script – limited playing time (41 games), frequent fisticuffs (five fights, second on the team), and almost no offense (two goals).  He appeared in only two of the Caps’ last 31 games.

Aaron Volpatti might not be the most skilled of players ever to have worn the Capitals jersey, but he does what he can with what he has.  It makes him the best left wing in the history of the franchise whose name starts with “V” (ok, there have been two).  And that gets him a spot on Team V.

Center: Chris Valentine

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 105 games, 43-52-95, minus-25
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 2 games, 0-0-0, even

Try this on.  You’re drafted in the tenth round of the 1981 entry draft (194th overall).  Your neighborhood in that draft include Mario Proulx, Rejean Vignola, and Vladimir Kadlec.  Never heard of them?  Don’t worry, they never appeared in an NHL game.  You would think that being drafted in that neighborhood would mean years of development before you got to the NHL at all.

Then there was Chris Valentine.  Taken with that tenth round pick in 1981, instead of embarking on a long apprenticeship in the minors he lasted 19 games with the Hershey Bears, scoring 12 goals.  He did not miss a beat when he was called up to Washington.  Valentine recorded 30 goals in 60 games in his rookie season with the Caps, 18 of them coming on the power play.  The 18 power play goals made Valentine just the third player in the history of the NHL at the time to score that many goals on the man advantage in his rookie season.  The others, Rick Martin and Mike Bossy, would go on to score 955 goals between them in their respective NHL careers.

Alas, Valentine would not come close to scoring nearly as many as either Bossy or Martin.  He would not, in fact, reach the 50-goal mark for his career.  In his sophomore season he managed only seven goals in 23 games, spending the rest of his 1982-1983 season with the Bears, where he had 31 goals in 51 games.  The following season, the lightning in his stick had left him – six goals in 22 games with the Caps, 15 in 47 contests with Hershey.  At the age of 22, his NHL career had come and gone.

Valentine played another 12 years in Europe with Dusseldorfer EG in Germany.  He compiled an impressive European resume, scoring 356 goals in 550 regular season and playoff games.  In 1996, in his last season with Dusseldorf, he won a German league championship, the last that Dusseldorf has won.

With the Caps, there was that bright flash of offensive production from Chris Valentine that went out almost as quickly.  Nevertheless, it is enough to get him a spot in the middle on Team V.

Right Wing: Dennis Ververgaert

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 season, 79 games, 14-27-41, minus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Over the 1973-1974 through 1977-1978 seasons, no player scored more goals than Dennis Ververgaert…

…for the Vancouver Canucks.

It was hardly unexpected, what with Ververgaert being a third overall draft pick of the Canucks in the 1973 amateur draft and finishing fourth in Calder Trophy voting for top rookie after a 26-goal rookie season.  While those first five seasons with Vancouver were productive, there would not be a sixth full season.  Ververgaert was traded to Philadelphia where he spent the rest of the 1978-1979 season and the next season. 

His offensive production having dropped with the Flyers, they did not resign him after the 1979-1980 season ended.  He signed with Washington just before the start of the 1980-1981 season.  He played in 79 games for the Caps, finishing seventh on the team in goals (14) and points (41).  It was not enough to earn him a spot on the 1982-1983 roster, though.  He was assigned to the minors, but he declined, opting to retire instead at the age of 31.

It was a short stay for Dennis Ververgaert in Washington, something he holds in common with others on Team V.  But only one right wing in Capitals history has a last name that starts with the letter “V,” and Ververgaert is it.  He has a place on Team V.

Defense: Darren Veitch

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 319 games, 25-118-143, plus-22
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 10 games, 0-2-2, plus-5

Defenseman was the position of choice at the top of the 1980 NHL entry draft.  Six of the first eight players selected were blueliners.  Larry Murphy, who later would play six seasons with the Capitals, might have arrived in Washington a lot earlier, but he was taken fourth overall by the Los Angeles Kings.  The Caps might have taken Paul Coffey, who was still available, with the next pick.  They passed on Coffey, though, and took Darren Veitch of the Regina Pats of the WHL.  Veitch had just come off an amazing season in juniors.  In 71 games with the Pats he was 29-93-122.

Veitch dressed for 59 games for the Caps the following season, putting up decent, if unspectacular numbers (4-21-25).  When his production jumped in his sophomore season (9-44-53 in 67 games), it looked as if his career was going to take off. 

The only thing he took off was time.  He suffered a fractured collarbone in his third game of the 1982-1983 season, then refractured it three days after returning from the original injury.  He played just ten games that season with no goals and eight points.  The collarbone injury delayed his start in the 1983-1984 season, limiting him to 46 games.  The injuries seemed to take a bite out of Veitch’s game, though.  In 1984-1985 he played in 75 games but managed just three goals and 21 points.

By the time the Caps were gearing up for a playoff run in 1985-1986, Veitch became expendable.  In March 1986 he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for John Barrett and Greg Smith.  After two full seasons with the Red Wings he was traded to Toronto, where he spent three seasons struggling to crack the Maple Leaf lineup.  Late in the 1990-1991 season he was traded to St. Louis, but he never dressed for the Blues.  His NHL career ended with that 1990-1991 season.

There are Capitals fans these days who remember that the club passed on Ryan Getzlaf in the 2003 entry draft.  There is, with the passing on Paul Coffey to take Darren Veitch, a history of that (not that it doesn’t happen to other teams).  Still, Veitch might have been a productive player until injuries took their toll.  He gets a spot on defense for Team V.

Defense: Dmitri Mironov

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 155 games, 8-38-46, minus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 seasons, 4 games, 0-0-0, plus-2

We have another of those situations in which there are too few candidates for a position whose last name starts with the team letter.  With Team V there is only one defenseman in team history whose last name starts with the letter.  So, we go to those whose last names end in the letter, and we find Dmitri Mironov. 

By the time Mironov came to the Capitals in 1998 he was a seven-year veteran with 401 regular season games of experience in his resume.  A 1991 draftee of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he spent four seasons with the Leafs, a little more than a season in Pittsburgh with the Penguins, followed up with tours with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Detroit Red Wings, with which he won a Stanley Cup in 1998 (he did not play in the finals against the Caps).

In July 1998 Mironov signed as a free agent with the Washington.  In his first season with the club, in 1998-1999, he had respectable numbers (2-14-16, fourth on the team in scoring), despite playing in only 46 games, losing the rest of the season to a back injury that required surgery.  In 1999-2000 he came back to play in 73 games, logging more than 20 minutes a night.  His offensive numbers, those which made him appealing to the Caps in free agency, did not impress.  His three goals and 22 points was the fewest of each he had in any of the six seasons of his career in which he played more than 50 games.

Mironov played in one more season with Washington.  In 2000-2001 he appeared in just 36 games, recording three goals and eight points.  In a sense, his three years in Washington were something of a disappointment, due in some part to injuries.  Still, he brought wealth of experience, particularly playoff experience (71 games) to the Caps that he earned over seven seasons.  Neither he nor the Caps were able to take advantage of that experience to make deep playoff runs in his three seasons with the club.  It is enough to get him a berth on Team V, though.

Goalie: Semyon Varlamov

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 151 games, 78-59-12, 2.61, .917, 9 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 19 games, 10-9, 2.49, .915, 2 shutouts

Since 1989, when Olaf Kolzig was taken with the 19th overall pick of the draft, the Washington Capitals had not drafted as high.  They came close in 2006.   After taking center Nicklas Backstrom with the fourth overall pick, the Caps used their second pick in the first round (23rd overall) on a goaltender from Samara, Russia, by way of the junior club of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Russian Superleague.

Varlamov played two more years in Russia with the Superleague club, leading his team to the league finals in his final year.  In 2008-2009 he joined the Hershey Bears in the AHL and won 19 of 27 decisions.  He also got his first taste of the NHL, appearing in six games for the Caps without sustaining a loss (4-0-1, 2.37, .918).

He got a much bigger taste of the NHL in the post-season.  With backup goalie Brent Johnson sidelined by a hip injury that required surgery, Varlamov was thrust into the role of backup goalie behind Jose Theodore.  When Theodore came up short in Game 1 of the opening round series against the New York Rangers, a 4-3 loss, Varlamov got the call in Game 2.  He was brilliant in a 1-0 loss to the Rangers, earning him the starts for the remainder of the series.  He was even better as the Caps overcame a 3-1 deficit in games to beat the Rangers in seven.  Varlamov was 4-2, 1.17, .952, with two shutouts in the opening round.

Facing a relentless barrage from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round (almost 38 shots per game in the first six games), Varlamov finally cracked in Game 7, allowing four goals on 18 shots in 22 minutes as the Caps were eliminated by the Pens on their way to a Stanley Cup.

When Varlamov returned for the 2009-2010 season, the idea might have been that he would be the backup to Theodore as the final step in his apprenticeship before taking over when Theodore’s contract expired with the club.  Although he appeared in 26 games and posted a fine 15-4-6 record, three things were cause for concern.  First, his underlying numbers (.909 save percentage, 2.55 goals against average), were not impressive.  Second, Michal Neuvirth, another goalie taken by the Caps in the 2006 draft, was making noise in Hershey that he would compete for that number one spot down the road.  Last, there was the hint of injuries.  Varlamov, being an extremely athletic, explosive goalie, paid for that with a wonky groin that cost him nine games.

The 2010 post season looked a lot like the 2009 post season.  Jose Theodore had an iffy effort in Game 1, Varlamov got the call in Game 2, and the Caps had to dig themselves out of a hole.  They did so quickly, turning that Game 1 loss into a 3-1 edge in games over the Montreal Canadiens.  Varlamov allowed only seven goals over those three wins (.920 save percentage).  He was equally effective in Games 4-7, allowing only seven goals.  However, he was less efficient in doing so (.892 save percentage), and the Caps’ offense dried up.  Washington and Varlamov lost those last three games and the series.

In 2010-2011 Varlamov might have been the Caps’ best goaltender.  His numbers suggested it (2.23 goals against average and .924 save percentage in 27 appearances).  However, injuries cut into his time.  He missed 13 games to a groin injury in late October and early November.  Another game in January to the same injury, then 11 games in March to a knee injury.  With Neuvirth having taken the bulk of the regular season work he was given the number one goalie responsibilities for the post-season.  Neuvirth played well in an opening round five-game win over the Rangers, but he was not as sharp in a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.  Varlamov never got off the bench.

After the 2010-2011 season Varlamov was a free agent, the only one of the Caps’ three young goalie prospects (Braden Holtby being the third) not under contract for the 2011-2012 season.  It was a complicated situation.  Varlamov wanted assurances from the club with respect to his role, assurances the club was not inclined to give.  With a return to the KHL a possibility, leaving the Caps with the potential for no return on a departing (and unhappy) asset, they traded him to the Colorado Avalanche for the Avs’ first round pick in the 2012 entry draft and a second round pick in that draft.  The rest is well-known history among Caps fans.  Varlamov went on to be a star (second in Vezina Trophy voting, fourth in Hart Trophy voting, and a second team all-star in 2014), while the Caps selected Filip Forsberg with the first round pick from Colorado, traded him to Nashville for Martin Erat and Michael Latta, then traded Erat to the Phoenix Coyotes as part of a deal that netted Chris Brown, a fourth round draft pick, and defenseman Rostislav Klesla (who was immediately traded to Buffalo with Neuvirth for goalie Jaroslav Halak and a draft pick.  Halak left for the New York Islanders in free agency after the 2013-2014 season.

Semyon Varlamov gave glimpses of what he would become in Colorado – the brief spurts of excellent play between the injuries, the playoff run in 2009, the Winter Classic game in Pittsburgh, and this…



Like so much in the history of the Washington Capitals, there is a “what might have been” aspect to Semyon Varlamov's career in Washington.  He is the perfect goaltender for Team V.

Team V is a team that lacks a certain level of experience with just 775 games played with the Caps among the six members of the club. Not every team can be highly skilled, well experienced, or even well known.  This is a team that had its moments as individuals.  But "V" might have stood for "very short," as in the time they exhibited those flashes of play.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

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

Team T is next up on the walk through the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Franchise Teams.  This time, we go deep deep deep into the history vault.

Left Wing:  Dave Tippett

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 91 games, 8-19-27, minus-11
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 17 games, 2-4-6, plus-2

Dave Tippett spent two seasons as a Washington Capital.  In a sense, it was the black hole of his career.  The start to his career was a modest one, an undrafted amateur who spent two years with Prince Albert Raiders of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (where he won two league titles) and another two with the University of North Dakota of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (where he won an NCAA championship as captain of the squad in 1981-1982).  After his 1982-1983 season with the Fighting Sioux, Tippett joined the Canadian National Team for which he played in 73 games, including seven games at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, where he was team captain.

It was only after the 1984 Olympics that Tippett signed an NHL deal, a free agent contract with the Hartford Whalers in February 1984.  He played in 17 games for the Whalers to wrap up that season, but it was in his next one that his style emerged.  Playing in all 80 games of the 1984-1985 season he finished 7-12-19 in scoring.  He also finished a minus-24, yet he did get a vote for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward. Why?  Well, Hartford was a pretty bad team back then, and there were six players (including former Olympic gold medalist Mark Johnson and future hall of famer Ron Francis) who were minus-23 or worse.

It was the first of four straight seasons in which Tippett won Selke Trophy votes, finishing as high as ninth in the voting after the 1987-1988 season. The following season he put up his best offensive numbers with Hartford, 17-24-41 in 80 games, the fifth straight season in which he played in every game. 

The consecutive games streak ended at 419 games early in the 1989-1990 season for Tippett when he suffered an injury. He played in 66  games that season, his last in Hartford.  The Whalers traded him to Washington just before the start of the 1990-1991 season for a sixth round draft choice in the 1992 entry draft. 

Tippett spent two seasons in Washington.  In the first of them he finished with just six goals and 15 points in 61 games, his lowest totals for a full season in his career to date.  His production picked up a bit in the postseason (2-3-5, even, in 10 games), but it did not keep the Caps from being eliminated in five games by Pittsburgh in the second round.

In 1991-1992 Tippett split time with the Caps (30 games) and the Canadian silver medalist Men’s Olympic Team, for which he played in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.  Returning to the Capitals for the playoffs, Tippett did not have an especially inspiring performance.  No goals and one assist in a seven-game loss to the Penguins was not the best way to end his career with the Caps.

Ironically, it would be the team that eliminated the Caps and Tippett the previous two seasons that would sign Tippett as a free agent for the next season.  His personal performance rebounded; in 74 games in the 1993-1994 season he was 6-19-25, plus-8, for the team with the best record in the NHL and adding a goal and four assists in 12 post-season games.  After that season he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, playing in 73 games in what would be his last season in the NHL.

Tippett’s earnest, hard-working style was reflected after his playing days when he took up coaching, putting together a 464-282-28-94 record over a 12-year (and counting) career.  The kind of dedication he displays as a coach was reflected in his play with the Caps and earns him a spot on Team T.

Center: Jeff Toms

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 74 games, 5-11-16, plus-12
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 seasons, 1 games, 0-0-0, minus-1

Jeff Toms might have played in less than a full season's worth of games for the Washington Capitals, but he will forever hold one franchise record to himself.  On December 5, 1997 he scored the first game-winning goal in the first game played at MCI (now Verizon) Center, an overtime goal in a 5-4 win over the Florida Panthers.

And he only just got there.  Toms was in his sixth game with the club.  Less than three weeks before the MCI Center opener, Toms was claimed on waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning.  He was in his third season with the Bolts when he was waived and before that drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the ninth round of the 1992 entry draft. 

The odd thing about Toms and scoring that overtime goal, in addition to the fact that he was not a very prolific goal scorer, was that he also scored a goal in the Caps’ last game at US Airways Arena (originally Capital Centre), a 6-5 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on November 26th.

When Toms scored another goal in his next game after the overtime winner at MCI Center, it might have been the signal that a new day was dawning, a heretofore unrealized offensive gift was expressing itself.

No.  Those three goals in his first seven games with the Caps were the only goals he scored in 33 games with the club in the 1997-1998 season.  He did not get one in the only post-season game he played in that season, either.

Toms played two more seasons in the Caps’ organization, splitting time between the Caps (41 games) and the Portland Pirates in the AHL (52 games).  His production with Washington was typically modest (2-7-9 in those 41 games over two seasons). 

After the 1999-2000 season Toms signed as a free agent with the New York Islanders, the first of what would be four teams with which he played after leaving Washington (the Islanders, the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and interestingly enough, the Florida Panthers) over three seasons. 

Although his NHL career came to an end with the Panthers after the 2002-2003 season, he continued playing in Europe, primarily in Switzerland.  He wrapped up his pro hockey career after the 2010-2011 season with HC Geneve-Servette.

Jeff Toms did not have a long or an illustrious career with the Caps, although he did play as many games as Terry Murray and Brendan Morrison.  But modest though his accomplishments in Washington might be, there is that first game-winning goal on Fun Street, and no one can take that away.  Take a spot on Team T, Jeff.

Right Wing: Jim Thomson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 24 games, 2-0-2, minus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

OK, here’s the thing.  Only two right wings in Capitals’ history have last names starting with the letter “T” – Rick Tocchet and Jim Thomson.  You think we’re going to pick a guy drafted by the Flyers who is today an assistant coach for the Penguins?  Don’t bet on it.

That leaves Thomson, a true blue draft pick of the Washington Capitals, taken in the ninth round (185th overall) of the 1984 entry draft.  There really is not much to say here, though.  After being drafted by the Caps from the Toronto Marlboros of the OHL, he spent another year in juniors, after which he played four season ending games with the Binghamton Whalers of the AHL. 

After a full season in the AHL in 1985-1986, he made the jump to the NHL in 1986-1987…sort of.  He played in ten games for the Caps, the remainder of his time being spent in Binghamton.  Thomson spent the entire 1987-1988 season in Binghamton without the benefit of a call-up to Washington.  He did get that call in 1988-1989, though, but played in only 14 games with the Caps before he was traded to the Hartford Whalers for Scot Kleinendorst in March 1989. 

It would not be his last move.  By the time his NHL career ended after the 1993-1994 season Thomson would play for Hartford, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Kings again, then the Ottawa Senators, back to the Kings, and then to Anaheim to wrap up his career with the Mighty Ducks.

As hockey careers go it was not especially noteworthy, except for the fact that he recorded 416 penalty minutes in 115 career games (88 PIMs in 24 games with Washington).  But he did parlay his experience into a career as a motivational speaker.  He also has a spot on Team T.

Defense: Greg Theberge

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 153 games, 15-63-78, minus-20
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 seasons, 4 games, 0-1-1, even

Greg Theberge has quite a hockey pedigree.  He is the grandson of hall of fame forward and defenseman Dit Clapper (yes, both forward and defense; he was an all-star at both positions).  Theberge’s path to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps started when he was drafted by the Caps in the sixth round (109th overall) in the 1979 entry draft. 

Theberge, who had just completed his third season in Canadian juniors with the Peterborough Petes, spent the next season in Hershey playing for the Bears in the AHL.  He also had his first introduction to the NHL, getting 12 games with the big club and going 0-1-1.

He played in only one game with the Caps in 1980-1981, getting his first NHL goal in the process, but made the jump to the big club for more work in 1981-1982.  Theberge played in 57 games and posted a respectable 5-32-37 scoring line.  He display a particular knack on the power play, recording 18 of his 32 assists with the man advantage.

Theberge set career highs in games (70) and goals (8) in 1982-1983 and saw his first playoff action (four games, one assist).  It would be his last playoff action.  In 1983-1984 he played in just 13 games for the Caps, getting most of his ice time with the Hershey Bears (41 games). 

That would be his last season in North American hockey.  In 1985 he headed to Europe where he spent his last two seasons in pro hockey. Almost as quickly as he came onto the scene, Greg Theberge was gone, from the Caps at least.  But not so that we would leave him off Team T.

Defense: Mark Tinordi

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 264 games, 16-40-56, plus-27
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 28 games, 1-2-3, plus-2

In the history of the Washington Capitals franchise, only 11 defensemen have played in at least 200 games, recorded at least 50 points, and accumulated at least 400 penalty minutes.  It is one thing to have reached those marks in 983 games with the club, as Calle Johansson did, but Mark Tinordi did it in just 264 games with the Caps.

Mark Tinordi was among the most fearsome physical defensemen of his era.  The NHL did not begin recording hits as an official statistic until the 2002-2003 season, four years after Tinordi left the NHL.  If the statistic had been recorded in his era, no doubt he would have been among the league leaders on an annual basis.  It was not as if Tinordi was an especially frequent fighter, though he was no shrinking violet.  Only twice in 12 seasons did he record at least 10 bouts, and he had only 19 in five seasons with the Caps.  He was just a big hitter.

Tinordi started his NHL journey as an undrafted free agent, signed by the New York Rangers in January 1987 from the Calgary Wranglers of the WHL.  After a year and a half in the Rangers organization, having played in just one game for the big club, he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars with Paul Jerrard, the rights to Bret Barnett and Mike Sullivan, and a third round pick in the 1989 entry draft for Brian Lawton, Igor Liba, and the rights to Eric Bennett. 

It was with the North Stars that Tinordi developed his physical reputation.  It was a double-edged sword, though.  His punishing style was almost as hard on his body as it was on opponents.  Never in six seasons with the North Stars (and the Dallas Stars, when the club relocated to Texas) did he appear in as many as 70 games.  It did not keep him from making steady improvements in offensive production, from a 2-3-5 scoring line in his first season with the North Stars (in 47 games in 1988-1989) to a carrer high in goals (15), assists (27), and points (42) in 1992-1993.

His 1993-1994 season was limited to 61 games by a broken femur, sustained oddly enough as the result of going in for a touch on an icing call and being tangled up with the Los Angeles Kings’ (and former Capital) John Druce.  Three days before the start of the abbreviated 1994-1995 season, Tinordi was traded to the Capitals with Rich Mrozik for Kevin Hatcher, who had requested a trade.  At the time, Tinordi was not excited. “At this point, I have to say I'm more disappointed than happy.  I've been with [the Stars] when it was building and I've developed from being just a fighter to the team captain. It's really hard to leave." 

It started a five-year stay in Washington that was marked by an impressive physical presence when he was in the lineup and frequent battles with injuries that kept him out of the lineup.  He was effective when he was in the lineup, though.  In 1995-1996 he led all Capitals defensemen in plus-minus (plus-26) and tied for 11th in the league among defensemen.  In 1997-1998 he appeared in only 47 games, but he still recorded eight goals and 17 points, a pace not far off his career best and still good for second in goals and fourth in points among Caps defensemen.  He was a second-best plus-6 among defensemen in the post-season run to the Stanley Cup final.

Mark Tinordi was as tough as they come, even among hockey players. This was a player whose career almost ended in before it got started.  In 1991, starting his fifth year in the league, he was struck by a puck behind his left knee when the Calgary Flames’ Al MacInnis tried to shoot it around the boards.  The shot left Tinordi with nerve damage that robbed him of feeling in his left foot.  He came back to build a 12-year career that was a combination of physicality and a surprising amount of offense from one who might have been characterized as a “physical” defenseman. 

With the Caps, Tinordi had a memorable career, one that brought him a devoted following.  One might wonder how much greater in might have been if not for the injuries.  Finally, after playing just 48 games in the 1998-1999 season and being claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999 expansion draft, he retired at the age of 32.  His kind of toughness and production is welcome on Team T.

Goalie: Jose Theodore

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 104 games, 62-24-12, 2.84, .905, 3 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 4 games, 0-2, 3,71, .849

Jose Theodore’s career with the Washington Capitals was one of the stranger ones in team history.  There was the good (62-24-12 record in 104 games) and the bad (.905 save percentage, second worst among the five teams for which he played; 2.84 goals against average, worst among those five teams). 

By the time Theodore put together those two years, he was far removed from what might have been his best years, those spent with the Montreal Canadiens.  He was a second round pick of the Canadiens in the 1994 entry draft from the St-Jean Lynx of the QMJHL.  He spent two more seasons in Canadian juniors, with one NHL game snuck in during the 1995-1996 season, then started a slow climb to the NHL.  He spent three seasons splitting time between the Canadiens and the Fredericton Canadiens of the AHL, then the 1999-2000 season between Montreal and the Canadian national team in the World Championships.

Finally, in 2000-2001, at the age of 24, he took over the bulk of the work in the Canadiens’ net, appearing in 59 games.  The following season his ascent was complete.  He posted a 30-24-10 record in 67 games with a 2.11 goals against average and a .931 save percentage, the latter being tops in the league.  It was good enough to earn him the Vezina Trophy as outstanding goalie, the Hart Trophy as most valuable player, and a second team all-star berth.

After that, though, the word that might have described Theodore’s game was “inconsistent.” Over the next five seasons, split between Montreal and the Colorado Avalanche (where he was traded in 2006 for goalie David Aebischer), he was 112-113-21, 2.76, .905.

That was the record Theodore brought to Washington when he was signed as a free agent in July 2008.  At the time the Caps had a couple of precocious kids growing into a number one goaltender role – Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.  Neither were ready to assume that role.  Theodore could be that “bridge” between the days of Olaf Kolzig and those of either Varlamov or Neuvirth. 

His first year with the Caps was respectable in wins and losses (32-17-5), but his underlying numbers – a 2.87 goals against average and a .900 save percentage – were as inconsistent as those he brought to Washington.  That problem was laid bare in the playoffs.  In Game 1 of the opening round against the New York Rangers he allowed four goals on 21 shots in a 4-3 loss.  He did not appear again in that series, one that the Caps won in seven games.  He gave way to Semyon Varlamov at that point and did not appear again in the post-season until getting mop up duty in the 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the second round.

In the following season, Theodore was once more impressive in wins and losses (30-7-7).  The goals against average (2.81) and save percentage (.911) were more ordinary. Once more he got the call in Game 1, and once more he came up short, losing in overtime, 3-2.  Varlamov took over for the remainder of the series.

It was not a satisfying end to his brief stay in Washington, but an end it was.  Theodore signed with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent in October 2010 and played there for a season before heading on to Florida for his final two seasons in the NHL. 

Only six goalies in Caps history have more wins than Jose Theodore, but only Olaf Kolzig, who played in 16 seasons for the Caps, has more 30-win seasons (5) than Theodore (2).  It is something of a mirage, though, as Theodore played behind Capitals teams that were loaded on offense.  Still, it is enough for Jose Theodore to get the call in goal for Team T.

Not all teams in the alphabet can be whirling dervishes with the puck.  What Team T lacks in skill, they make up for in grit.  In their own way, they make for an entertaining group.

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?