Thursday, August 25, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Kip Miller


Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd President of the United States.  Holding office between the non-consecutive terms served by Grover Cleveland, Harrison’s rise to the top political office in the United States should not be surprising, given his family history.  His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, served briefly as the ninth President of the United States.  His father, John Scott Harrison, was a congressman from Ohio (and the only man to be the son of and a father to an American President).  Benjamin Harrison III was Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  Benjamin Harrison IV was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  Benjamin Harrison V was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a Governor of Virginia.  Benjamin Harrison (actually the eighth Harrison to take that given name) is a member of a family that has a long and storied history in Virginia and the United States.  What he does not have is an especially high ranking among American Presidents, generally in the lower third of those serving in office. 

If there is a Capital who might be recalled with a history similar to that of Benjamin Harrison, it might be a player who comes from a family of hockey tradition, who had a relative (or two) who preceded him as a member of the Capitals, but who might not have had the most illustrious of careers in Washington.  That Capital might be Kip Miller.

Benjamin Harrison was born, raised, and schooled in Ohio.  After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, he moved to Cincinnati to study law.  He returned to Oxford before completing his law studies and began his legal career there, joining the Republican Party shortly thereafter.  When the Civil War broke out, Harrison volunteered to assist in recruiting then took command of a company in 1862.  Promoted to colonel, he took command of the 70th Indiana Regiment.  By the end of the war he had been promoted to brigadier general.

After the war, Harrison involved himself more deeply in Indiana politics.  He served as reporter of the Supreme Court of Indiana and campaigned for the Republican nomination for Governor of the state.  He lost that run, but four years later accepted the party’s nomination when the original nominee left the race.  He lost the statewide race, but it positioned him to make a run for the United States Senate in an election to replace the deceased Senator Oliver Morton.  Since senators were, at the time, selected by state legislatures, and the Indiana legislature had a Democratic majority, Harrison lost in this campaign as well.  He finally won office when in 1880 a Republican majority in the state legislature picked him to serve as Senator.  After serving one term, he lost his bid for re-election as the state legislature once more changed majorities.

This was all prelude to the election of 1888.  The Republican Party convention was crowded with candidates.  Thirteen individuals won votes on the first ballot, Harrison coming in fifth.  Through six ballots, however, his vote totals rose steadily until he won the most votes on the seventh ballot but not enough to win nomination.  On the eighth ballot he finally won enough votes to defeat the five remaining challengers.

Harrison won the general election in the constitutional oddity of having lost the popular vote to Democrat Grover Cleveland by about 90,000 votes of more than 11 million cast, but winning in the Electoral College by a 233-168 margin when Cleveland’s home state Electoral College delegation of New York cast their 36 votes for Harrison.

Harrison’s presidency was largely consumed by issues that dominated the administrations of his immediate predecessors – tariffs and trade, civil service reform, currency, and expanding the Navy.  But his was a presidency of “firsts,” too.  He was the first president to have his voice preserved, originally done so on a wax cylinder.  He had electricity installed in the White House.  He was the first (and, to date, only) president from Indiana.  He signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the first such Federal act of its kind signed into law.  His administration also saw an expansion of the nation, itself.  North and South Dakota were admitted to the Union under Harrison (although as the story goes, due to a rivalry between the two new states, Harrison had the proclamation documents shuffled before he signed them so it would not be known which of the two states would be admitted first). 

He also had a “first” he was not counting on.  In 1892 he became the first president to lose office to a former President when he lost a rematch with Grover Cleveland.  He returned home to Indianapolis, serving on the Board of Trustees of Purdue University and practicing law until his death in 1901.

Kip Miller was the sixth of ten members of the Miller family to play hockey as a collegian at Michigan State University and the third of that family to play for the Capitals.  He was preceded in Washington by brothers Kelly, who played 13 seasons for the Caps, and appeared in 940 regular season and 116 postseason games with the club; and Kevin, who appeared in ten games of the 1992-1993 season with the Caps as part of a 13-year NHL career.

In his freshman year at Michigan State, Miller scored 22 goals and recorded 42 points in 45 games, good enough to get the attention of the Quebec Nordiques, who took him in the fourth round (72nd overall, right after, it turned out, another former Capital, Joe Sacco) of the 1987 Entry Draft.  Miller went on to play four years at MSU, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player in 1990, beating out former NHL defenseman Rob Blake and former Capital Joe Juneau, among others. 

Miller split time in the 1990-1991 season between the Nordiques and the Halifax Citadels in the AHL and did the same to start the 1991-1992 season.  However, in March 1992 he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Steve Maltais.  And so began quite a journey for Miller around the NHL, as well as the AHL.  Beginning with his trade to the North Stars in March 1992 and ending with the 1997-1998 season, Miller played for the North Stars, San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders (twice), and Chicago Blackhawks organizations.  He only appeared in 41 NHL games, though.  The rest of his time was spent in the IHL, playing for the Kalamazoo Wings, Kansas City Blades, Denver Grizzlies, Indianapolis Ice, Chicago Wolves, and Utah Grizzlies.  He was one of those “tweeners” who could put up big minor league numbers (200-344-544 in 434 games with those teams over the period), but could not perform well enough at the NHL level to secure a permanent spot on an NHL roster (5-12-17 in 41 games over the same period).

After that 1997-1998 season, Miller was left exposed by the New York Islanders to the waiver draft, and in early October he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins.  At the age of 29, Miller finally had a regular spot in an NHL lineup.  He played 77 games for the Penguins in that 1998-1999 season, finishing sixth on the club in both goals (19) and points (42).  His travels were not over yet, though.  The following season he was traded at mid-season to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for a ninth-round draft pick in the 2000 Entry Draft.  But then it was back to Pittsburgh as a free agent for the next season, and with it a return to intermittent play.  He played just 33 games with the Penguins in 2000-2001 before joining the New York Islanders (for the third time, it is worth noting, the only player in that team’s history to pull off that trifecta) as a free agent in 2001-2002.  There he played in just 37 games, and at age 32 it looked as if his days as a fixture in an NHL lineup might be approaching an end.

There was a team that thought it could use a player with Miller’s experience, though.  Not so much for the 400-plus games of regular season experience Miller had, but for with whom he played some of those games.  Having acquired Jaromir Jagr the previous season, the Caps signed Miller – a former teammate of Jagr’s in Pittsburgh (as was Robert Lang, also signed as a free agent by the Caps) – with the hope of juicing Jagr’s game and finding some of the scoring touch he displayed with the Penguins.  Miller did his part.  In 2002-2003 he appeared in 72 games and went 12-38-50, setting a career high in total points, while the 12 goals was topped only by the 19 he had with the Penguins in 1998-1999.

The 2003-2004 season saw the Capitals in full sell-off mode in advance of their rebuild, and although Miller was not part of that sell-off, his numbers did dip.  He finished 9-22-31, minus-10, in 66 games.  It was his last season with the Caps, and he was not able to hook up with any team until the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL signed him in December 2004.  Miller played three seasons in the AHL before ending his career after the 2006-2007 season.

Benjamin Harrison and Kip Miller come from famous families in their respective vocations.  Neither could depend on that lineage to guarantee them noteworthy careers in Washington.  That is what makes them partners in this series of presidents and Capitals.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Bobby Carpenter


Before he became the 22nd…and 24th President of the United States, Grover Cleveland was Mayor of Buffalo.  Those two facts about Cleveland, by themselves, bring to mind a hockey player who was a “carpenter” who served two separate tours as a member of the Washington Capitals: Bobby Carpenter.

Steven Grover Cleveland was born in New Jersey, the fifth of nine children, but his family moved to upstate New York in his early teens.  After leaving school to work after his father passed away, he moved to Buffalo.  There he obtained a clerkship at a local law firm, was subsequently admitted to the bar, and began a career as a lawyer, eventually starting his own practice.

It was during this period that he became involved in Democratic Party politics, and after losing an election for district attorney, won election as county sheriff.  He served only two years in that position before returning to private practice, but in 1882 he decided to run as a reform candidate for Mayor of Buffalo and won.  He served only ten months, spending most of it fighting with local political machines, moving on to a run for Governor.  He won the party nomination and won the subsequent general election.  His two year term was characterized by a fiscal conservatism and a willingness to root out corruption.

Those battles in the governor’s office were not the worst way to prepare for a national campaign, as it turned out, as the Democratic nominating convention was split after Samuel Tilden declined nomination, citing poor health.  Cleveland emerged as a favorite and won the nomination on the second ballot after a first ballot with ten candidates receiving votes did not yield a winner.

Although the general election was setting up as a close one, Cleveland did have an ace up his sleeve than made him a “can’t miss” prospect: New York’s 36 electoral votes.  The election fractured along regional lines, Cleveland taking the South and Republican James G. Blaine winning most of the North.  The split left Cleveland with 183 electoral votes and Blaine with 182.  But Cleveland won the New York prize, the 36 electoral votes, and the Presidency despite winning the popular vote by fewer than 60,000 of more than ten million votes cast.

Cleveland took office intent on pushing civil service reform, using a merit-based method for appointments.  His reform attitude extended to contracts for naval construction, interstate commerce (the Interstate Commerce Commission was established under his administration), and land interests.  He took on Congress on spending across a range of areas, promoted reductions in tariffs, and argued for adherence to a gold standard.

His re-election effort in 1888 was hampered as much by the management of his campaign (poor) as it was a product of policy differences with Republicans.  Because of political divisions in New York, the state that gave him the 1884 election flipped in 1888, and despite winning the popular vote by more than 90,000 of more than 11 million votes cast, Cleveland was defeated soundly by Benjamin Harrison in the Electoral College, 233-168.  Had he won New York’s 36 electoral votes, denying them to Harrison, Cleveland would have won.

Cleveland did not retire to private life permanently.  Finding himself at odds with Harrison on the matter of reform, he ran for the Democratic Party nomination in 1892 and won on the first ballot, albeit narrowly over challenger David Hill, a Tammany Hall backed candidate.  In a rerun of the election of 1888, Cleveland and Harrison faced off, this time with Cleveland winning by more than 350,000 votes in the popular vote and by a 277-145 margin in the Electoral College.

Cleveland’s second term proved to be more difficult than his first, starting with having to confront the Panic of 1893 shortly after he took office.  When the panic became an economic depression, Cleveland and Congress could not agree on a remedy, a problem exacerbated by a gold shortage.  Cleveland was successful in reversing Harrison’s policy on silver as a basis for currency, but he shortly found himself at odds with Congress on tariff policy.  The problems snowballed, as labor took issue with Cleveland’s views on silver, the resulting weakening of currency affecting availability of funds for public works projects and to assist farmers in retiring their debts.  Business failures, a depressed farm economy, unemployment resisted solutions and affected Cleveland’s popularity.  It made for a difficult situation as Cleveland prepared for the election of 1896, one that his enemies in the party were able to exploit, denying him the nomination and choosing William Jennings Bryan in his stead.  After returning to private life, there were murmurs of a run for the United States Senate, but he did not run for office again.  He died in June 1908 in Princeton, New Jersey.

Bobby Carpenter was a “can’t miss” prospect of his own, dubbed as such in February 1981 by Sports Illustrated magazine, the first American-born hockey player to land on the Sports Illustrated cover.  


When the Capitals took the Massachusetts native with the third overall pick in the 1981 Entry Draft, it was the highest an American had ever been drafted in the NHL, and when he won a roster spot for the 1981-1982 season, he became the first player to make the jump from high school directly to the NHL.

Carpenter did not disappoint in his rookie season with the Caps, finishing with 32 goals in the 1981-1982 season (fifth among first year players) and 67 points.  He followed that up with 32 goals the following year and 28 more in 1983-1984.  To that point in NHL history, he was one of three players 20 years old or younger who posted a career total of 90 or more goals.  In addition to Carpenter’s 92 goals, the others were Dale Hawerchuk (122) and Wayne Gretzky (106).  When Carpenter scored 53 goals in 1984-1985, the first American-born player to hit the 50-goal mark, he was on a career path that seemed unlimited.

As good as things appeared for Carpenter, though, there were problems.  Head coach Bryan Murray thought Carpenter, drafted as a center, was better suited to playing left wing.  Carpenter chafed at the way he was being used, and his relationship with the head coach soured.  After seeing his goal total drop to 27 in the 1985-1986 season, he and the club got off to a poor start in the 1986-1987 season.  When the Caps lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-4, on November 22nd, it extended a winless streak to seven games and left the Caps with a 7-11-4 record and fifth place in a six-team Patrick Division.  Carpenter played in all 22 games to that point, going a disappointing 5-7-12, minus-7.  Worse, his situation with Murray had become toxic.  Two days later, General Manager David Poile suggested that the Caps and Carpenter go their separate ways.  Carpenter, whose consecutive games-played streak reached 422 (then a team record, since broken by Karl Alzner) since he played his first game with the Caps, was now sitting at home, waiting on a trade.

That trade came on New Year’s Day 1987, Carpenter and a second round draft pick sent to the New York Rangers for Bob Crawford, Kelly Miller, and Mike Ridley in one of the more consequential trades in team history.  For his part, Carpenter did not mince words on his way out the door about his relationship with Murray. 

Carpenter lasted just 28 games with the Rangers before he was on the move again, traded to the Los Angeles Kings in March with Tom Laidlaw for Jeff Crossman, Marcel Dionne and a third round pick in the 1989 Entry Draft.  He spent parts of three seasons in California before he was traded once more, this time to the Boston Bruins for Steve Kasper and Jay Miller.  Once the “Can’t Miss Kid” of Peabody, Carpenter returned to the Boston area late in the 1988-1989 season not having reached the 20-goal mark in a season since leaving the Caps, scoring just 34 goals in 148 games.  “Can’t miss” was not a term one would use to describe Carpenter, even if he was still just 25 years old.  He rebounded to score 25 goals in 80 games for Boston in 1989-1990, but he played in just 29 games the following season due to his shattering his kneecap.  Carpenter returned to play in 60 games in 1991-1992 and scored 25 goals for the Bruins, but it would be his last season in Boston.

A free agent for the first time in his career, Carpenter signed with the team with which he started, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Capitals on June 30, 1992.  It was an older and perhaps more thoughtful Carpenter, who at the time of the deal said of his previous experience in Washington:
"A lot changes in six years.  It was just a mistake, what happened. . . . It's a lot different when you play six years -- it's six more years in different places -- you realize different things. It was just a misunderstanding that got blown way out of proportion. I don't think it was as serious as everyone made it out to be.  I had some talks with Bryan [Murray], and we patched things up pretty good. We don't have any problems at all anymore.  I hope they can get over it; I sure have.  It was a bad situation, a misunderstanding, and it's over with."
Carpenter was just short of his 29th birthday. 

In what should have been the prime of his career, Carpenter was a shell of the player who once scored 50 goals for the Caps.  He started the season without a goal in his first 15 games, and in 68 games played for the season he went 11-17-28, his minus-16 being worst on the club.

The Caps did not re-sign Carpenter, and he ended up getting a try-out deal without compensation with the New Jersey Devils in September 1993.  He won a roster spot with the Devils and played in 353 regular season and 60 postseason games with the club over six seasons, winning a Stanley Cup with them in 1995.  After the 1998-1999 season, having played in 1,178 regular season games (490 with the Caps) and 140 postseason games (26 with Washington), Carpenter’s NHL career came to an end at the age of 35.

Grover Cleveland and Bobby Carpenter both came to their roles in Washington with clear ideas of what they wanted to do and how they should fulfill those roles.  Cleveland ended up fighting with a resistant Congress, Carpenter ended up resentful of his head coach.  They left under difficult circumstances, but they would later return for a second tour in Washington, somewhat humbled but neither quite up to the task of what their positions demanded.  As much as any President and Capital, Cleveland and Carpenter experienced similar paths in their two tours in the Nation’s Capital.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Bill Clement


Imagine a President of the United States who came to office upon the death of his predecessor.  It was a struggle for him, reluctant as he was to exercise the powers of the office as his predecessor was struggling to recover from an assassination attempt.  Add to this his being attached to machine politics in New York before becoming President, and he came to office under difficult circumstances.  Things did not improve much upon his assuming office, contending with warring factions in his own party, an unfinished agenda of his predecessor, and his own health problems.  He served only the remainder of his predecessor’s term.  He might be more famous for his “role” in a movie than he is for having been President.  He is Chester A. Arthur, 21st President of the United States. 

If there is a parallel in the history of the Washington Capitals, it might be a player who, from a Caps fans’ perspective, might remembered for having played for perhaps the team’s most bitter rival at the time, who came to the Capitals in as part of a trade that sent the first overall pick in the draft to that rival, who captained the team but who lasted barely a half season before moving on.  And, he might be better known for his “role” in the hockey media than for anything he did with the Caps, or as a player for that matter.  He is Bill Clement.

Born in Vermont and raised in New York, Chester A. Arthur took a road that would be recognizable to those who look at the history of American presidents.  A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Union College, he went into teaching and eventually found himself studying law before moving to New York City.  It was not long thereafter than he began his involvement in Republican Party politics. 

After serving in the Civil War and holding a number of administrative positions during the conflict, Arthur straddled the divide between the parties, supporting ex-Governor Edwin Morgan’s run for the United States Senate, support that led him to be hired by a Republican operative (Thomas Murphy) who provided services to the Union Army during the Civil War, but who also maintained a relationship with William Tweed of the New York Tammany Hall organization of the Democratic Party.

His efforts on behalf of the political machine brought him to the attention of Roscoe Conkling, a congressman who was elected to the Senate in 1867.  Arthur became attached to Conkling’s rising star, and he became chairman of the New York Republican executive committee.  The Conkling “machine” was one of growing influence and supported Ulysses S. Grant in the election of 1868.  As this was going on, Arthur was becoming more involved in the back office tasks of politics, helping the machine run smoothly and serving as an appointed official with machine help.  Finally, Arthur, who had operated largely anonymously in Republican politics, was appointed Collector of the Port of New York by Grant in 1871. 

Arthur held the office for two four-year terms, the second the product of wheeling and dealing between Conklin and Grant.  That job came into the crosshairs of the Rutherford B. Hayes administration, which promoted civil service reform and took aim at the Conkling machine.  Arthur survived the effort until Congress was in recess in 1878, and Hayes replaced him with a recess appointment.  Arthur returned to working for Republican causes and the Conkling faction that became known as “Stalwarts.” 

That led to the 1880 Republican nominating convention in which the “Stalwarts” supported Grant in his effort to win a third term in office against a group supporting James Blaine, known as “Half-Breeds.”  The sides were in stalemate through almost three dozen ballots until the convention looked to a dark horse compromise candidate – James A. Garfield – who was a member of neither faction.  Winning the support of Stalwarts with placing Arthur on the ticket, Garfield won the nomination on the 36th ballot.

Garfield won the general election, but he was felled by an assassin’s bullet just 120 days into his term.  While two months went by with Garfield trying to recover from his wounds, Arthur was caught in a constitutional trap, since there was no provision for how the duties of the office would be fulfilled if the President was incapacitated.  He was reluctant to fill the vacuum, and the executive branch of government was more or less on hold until Garfield passed away in September 1881.

Arthur, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a very uneven experience as chief executive.  He struggled with his cabinet, one that was appointed by Garfield, but despite being very much a child of and proponent of the spoils system, signed the Civil Service Reform Act (perhaps in response to a scandal in the Post Office).  On the other hand, Arthur could never get a handle on fiscal policy, unable to manage the surplus built after the Civil War and how to balance the Federal budget.  He was unable to navigate effectively the differences between those who advocated a cut in tariffs to reduce the deficit and those advocating for more spending on public improvements.  His administration won successful enactment of a comprehensive immigration law, but not without considerable difficulty.  Arthur did win some victories in expanding the Navy and in Civil Rights that helped balance the ledger of success in his administration.

Arthur prepared to run for re-election in 1884, but he found that the factions that existed before his taking office were still battling.  Without a base of solid support in either faction and confronting his own health issues, he ran a lackluster effort as James Blaine won the Republican nomination.  Less than two years later, his health issues caused him to fall ill, and following a cerebral hemorrhage, he passed away on November 18, 1886.

Bill Clement was a second round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1970.  After a year with the Quebec Aces in the AHL, he split time in the 1971-1972 season between the Richmond Robins of the AHL and the Flyers.  A year later he was a full-time Flyer, and a year after that he was a member of a Stanley Cup champion.  He and the Flyers won another Cup the next season, but shortly after the celebration died down, he was traded to the Caps on June 4, 1975 with Don McLean and the Flyers’ first round pick in the 1975 Amateur Draft for Washington's first round choice in the 1975 Amateur Draft.

Clement came to a club that had just completed its inaugural season, having posted the worst – still the worst – record in NHL history, 8-67-5.  He came to a team that was missing 19 players who dressed in that inaugural season and that would dress 17 players, including Clement, who did not play for the Caps the previous season.  To that add the fact that Clement was installed as captain and that he was coming from a Stanley Cup champion to a team one year removed from an ugly year, and it was a difficult situation.

It did not get better as the second-year Caps started the season.  They lost their first five games and were winless in their first nine contests.  It did not get much better.  When the Caps lost to the New York Islanders, 5-2, on January 21, 1976, the Caps were 3-39-5 and on a pace to finish with fewer wins than they had in their inaugural season.  The following day, Clement was traded to the Atlanta Flames for Gerry Meehan, Jean Lemieux and a first round pick in the 1976 Amateur Draft, his record complete with the Caps showing 46 games played and a scoring line of 10-17-27, minus-30.  Even having appeared in just 46 games, Clement finished tied for ninth on the club in goals and tied for eighth in points.  On the other hand, the Caps did improve after his departure (these things being relative) with a record of 8-20-5 to finish 11-59-10 for the season.

Clement went on to finish the season with the Flames and played another six seasons with the organization, including their first two years in Calgary when the franchise moved from Atlanta.  It would be his post-NHL career for which he is best remembered, though.  He became a fixture as a television analyst for hockey and participated in broadcasts of at least one Stanley Cup finals game for 19 consecutive years, from 1986 through 2004.  Only the league lockout interrupted the streak, resuming for three more years after the lockout was settled.

Chester A. Arthur was a President of mixed accomplishments, serving only the uncompleted term of his predecessor, was in many respects the product of machine politics, and who might be remembered more for having a fictitious school named after him in the movie, “Die Hard with a Vengeance (the school is actually the Alexander Humboldt School/PS115 in Washington Heights, New York).”  Bill Clement was a Capital who wore the uniform and served as captain for barely half a season, who was the product of the system of a bitter rival, who had decent personal numbers for a struggling team, and who might be remembered more for having a long career as a television analyst after his playing days were over.  You could say that Chester A. Arthur and Bill Clement had similar histories in their comings and goings to and from Washington.  But Arthur had the better playoff beard.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Pat Peake


If one were to ask you, “who was James A. Garfield?,” you might stumble while looking for an answer before you remembered that he was a President of the United States.  His administration lasted just 199 days, the second-shortest presidency in American history.  It was cut short when he was shot by an assassin in July 1881 and succumbed to his wounds two months later.  Given the nature and volume of his accomplishments in the few months he was active as President, there is a lingering “what if” attached to his presidency.  What more might he have been able to accomplish in a full term?  In that respect, his presidency resembles that of a player who could be the franchise’s poster child for the question, “what if?”  Pat Peake.

James A. Garfield was born in Ohio in 1831.  He was the last of the seven “log cabin” presidents (the others being Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant).  His youth was a difficult one, losing his father at the age of two and growing up in poverty.  It was not until he reached his later teen years that he found a particular interest in public speaking.  It led him to begin a career in teaching, but after a short time he came to the belief that a career in education would not serve his development.  He decided to pursue a legal career.

Becoming a lawyer opened other avenues for Garfield, leading him to accept an offer from local officials to run for a state senate seat, winning election as a Republican.  When the Civil War broke out, Garfield’s inclination was to join the Union Army, but he was prevailed upon by the Governor of Ohio to keep his seat in the legislature.  That lasted only a short while, though.  In the summer of 1861 he accepted a commission and was eventually promoted to brigadier general.  Despite the increase in rank, he was concerned over the future of his military career and let his name be placed in nomination to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He won election and would serve as a member of the Ohio delegation for more than 17 years.

By 1880, Garfield had become the leading Republican in the House.  From that position, he could be expected to exert considerable influence on the 1880 nominating convention for the Republicans, and he was a supporter of the Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman (brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman).  Complicating the matter was that President Ulysses S. Grant was running for an unprecedented third term in office.  Those were just two candidates in what was a crowded field to open the balloting for the nomination.  Six candidates received votes on the first ballot, and while Grant captured the most, he failed to get a majority (Garfield received no votes on the first ballot).  Things did not change much on the second ballot, or the third.  In fact, nothing changed much over 35 ballots, Grant stuck between 304 and 313 votes, and James G. Blaine stuck between 257 and 284 votes, with other candidates, including Garfield, splitting the rest.  Blaine finally saw the writing on the wall after the 35th ballowt and cast his support to Garfield.  On the 36th ballot, Garfield won 399 votes and the nomination.

The general election was one of those odd instances in presidential politics in which the popular vote was extremely close (Garfield won by fewer than 2,000 votes of more than nine million cast), while the electoral vote margin was comfortable (Garfield: 214 – Hancock: 155).

Having won election, Garfield had to contend with warring factions in his own party, a leftover of the convention the previous summer, but it did not keep him from undertaking an ambitious agenda.  He was a strong advocate of promoting civil rights among African Americans, pursued civil service reform, encouraged expanded trade (particularly with Latin America), began efforts to expand American influence in Panama (with an eye toward building a canal there) and in Hawaii, and began efforts to expand the Navy.

Garfield’s role in those efforts came crashing to a halt on July 2, 1881, when he was shot twice by Charles Guiteau, a rebuffed office seeker, at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington (near what is now the site of the National Gallery of Art West Building).

Garfield's condition improved somewhat over the next several weeks and was even able to hold a meeting with his cabinet from his sick bed.  But, his condition soon worsened, and by the end of August had lost a considerable amount of weight (likely a product of lingering infection brought on by his physicians searching for the bullet that pierced his abdomen with unsterile hands and fingers).  He was moved to Elberon, New Jersey, in early September, but two weeks later, on September 18th, Garfield passed away two months short of his 50th birthday.

Capitals fans of a certain age remember Pat Peake as a player with immense promise unfulfilled, a victim of a moment’s misfortune.  For those fans of more recent vintage who might vaguely recognize the name, it would be hard to overstate the idea that Peake did nave such promise.  First, consider his draft position.  The Capitals took Peake with the 14th overall pick of the 1991 draft.  That might not sound especially impressive until you realize who was taken with the next two picks.  The New York Rangers selected Alexei Kovalev with the 15th pick, and the Pittsburgh Penguins then took Markus Naslund.  Kovalev and Naslund went on to play a combined 2,433 regular season and 175 postseason games in the NHL, and they would combine to score 825 regular season and 59 playoff goals over their respective careers.

Peake certainly brought the goods from amateur hockey.  In 162 games over three seasons in the OHL, he scored 138 goals and recorded 319 points.  He made the jump to the Caps in the 1993-1994 season, and when he finished in the top-15 among rookies in goals (11) and points (29) despite appearing in only 49 games.  Among rookies appearing in at least 40 games, he was seventh in goals-per-game and points-per-game.  The sky looked to be the limit for Peake.

Things started to unravel for Peake the following season.  Mononucleosis limited him to just 18 games, failing to score so much as a single goal that season.  He rebounded in 1995-1996, going 17-19-36 in 62 games, but then he suffered the injury that would define his career as a Capital.  As the 1996 playoffs got underway, Peake was nursing a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for two weeks, but he returned to play in Game 1 of the opening round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he scored a pair of power play goals in Game 2 as the Caps took a 2-0 lead in games.  The Caps lost Games 3 and 4 at home, Peake recording only an assist in the two games.  That sent the series back to Pittsburgh for Game 5, the teams tied at two games apiece.  In the second period of the contest, Peake found himself in a footrace with Penguin defenseman J.J. Daigneault trying to prevent an icing call.  Peake tried to hook Daigneault to get position on him, but he lost his footing and crashed into the end boards feet-first.  The impact fractured Peake’s right heel in 14 places.

The injury ended Peake’s season, and he returned to play in only four games the following season.  In 1997-1998 he missed the first 16 games of the season before returning to the ice against the Edmonton Oilers on November 8th.  In that game he injured his ankle in what would be his last NHL game, his career over at the age of 24 (he officially retired the following September).  

No one can say with any certainty that Pat Peake would have been the sort of player to get his number retired and his banner raised to the rafters of Verizon Center, but there is this.  If you look at his first two full seasons – his only two full seasons with the Caps (discounting the year he lost to mononucleosis), his 38 goals in 111 games (0.34 per game) at age 22 looks a lot like another player who had 40 goals in 125 games (0.32 per game) over his first two seasons at age 23: Peter Bondra.


It is the not knowing, the never realizing part that is so haunting about Pat Peake’s short career with the Caps.  It is not unlike the not knowing just what sort of President that James A. Garfield might have been had he not been assassinated six months into his first term. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Joe Juneau


Before there was an Al Gore, there was a Samuel Tilden.  And before there was a George W. Bush, there was a Rutherford B. Hayes.  If you thought the presidential election of 2000 was the most closely contested election in American history, you would be right, given the ultimate margin of victory in the state that decided the election (537 votes in Florida).  But as for the closest election in the Electoral College?  That would go to the election of 1876.  Rutherford B. Hayes won the “election” (we’ll get to why we put that word in quotes in a bit), winning the nation’s highest office by a single electoral vote, 185-184, in a battle that was not settled until two days before Hayes would be inaugurated.

If you are looking for a parallel in the history of the Washington Capitals, perhaps it might be found in the circumstances that led to the Capitals reaching the pinnacle of the sport – the Stanley Cup finals -- by the slimmest of margins.  And if there is a player from that moment who is a parallel to Hayes, it would be Joe Juneau.

Born in Ohio, Hayes grew up and was educated in the state before heading off to Harvard to pursue his law degree.  Upon earning his degree he returned to Ohio to practice law in Cincinnati.  He became someone sought after by local Republican Party officials to accept nomination for a judgeship, but declined twice before accepting an appointment to serve the remaining term of a vacancy as city solicitor, an office he won in the following election.

His political career was interrupted by volunteering to serve in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War after some early misgivings about whether a civil war to keep the Union whole was a good idea.  Hayes was wounded four times in the conflict but survived to resume his career in politics after the war.  And that he did, winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1864 and re-election in 1866.  He resigned his seat the following year to run for Governor of Ohio.  He would win election for that office twice over the next nine years.

It set the stage for the election of 1876.  Borrowing a page from the Democratic Party handbook, the Republicans could not settle on a nominee on the first ballot.  It took seven ballots before Hayes won the nomination narrowly over James G. Blaine, by a margin of just 33 delegates among 756 delegates voting.  On the other side, Samuel Tilden won the Democratic nomination on the convention’s second ballot.

The general election was hard fought and bitter.  When the votes were counted, Tilden won, or so one might have thought.  He won more popular votes than Hayes and gained 184 electoral votes to 165 for Hayes.  However, there were 20 electoral votes unresolved in four states: Oregon, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida.  You could say the election went into "overtime."  The situation in Oregon involved the legality of one elector who held office (prohibited under the Constitution) and whether his replacement’s vote was to be for Hayes or Tilden (it was awarded to Hayes).

The situation in the other three states was worse.  There were claims of fraud and intimidation of Republican voters, and in all three states each party claimed victory for their candidate.  All three states had election commissions with Republican majorities, and all three nullified Democratic ballots in question in sufficient numbers to give Hayes the win in all three, giving him 185 electoral votes to 184 for Tilden.

That did not end the dispute.  Democrats were incensed, threats of violence were reported.  Then it became a Constitutional debate over whether the President of the Senate, whose responsibility it is to open and count all of the electoral certificates, could do so without the participation and witness by the members of both Houses of Congress.  Depending on how the constitution was interpreted, the President of the Senate (a Republican) could count the votes on his own and declare Hayes the winner, or the votes would be subject to concurrence of both Houses, and since the House had a Democratic majority, nullifying the votes of one state would give Tilden the win.

The conflict was unprecedented and led Congress to passing legislation to establish a commission comprised of five members of each House of Congress and five members of the Supreme Court.  Think of it as "double overtime.  Because of the split majorities between House and Senate, the commission had five Democrats, five Republicans, and the five members of the Court, two of whom were Democrats, two Republican, and the fifth to be chosen from among the four Court members appointed.

As it turned out, that fifth Court member (a Republican who was selected in an odd story of its own) would prove to be the deciding vote in each decision, all of them ending 8-7 in favor of Hayes.  And it was in this way that the 19th President of the United States came to office.

As for the Capitals and Joe Juneau, the team did not look like much of a contender mid-way through the 1997-1998 season.  On New Year’s Day 1998, they sat third in the Atlantic Division, with a 17-15-8 record, 11 points behind the division and Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers.  Juneau, who was in his fourth full season with the Caps after being dealt to Washington by the Boston Bruins late in the 1993-1994 season for defenseman Al Iafrate, was not even in the lineup, out with a knee injury that was just the latest in a series of injuries dating back to the previous season that cut into his playing time.

Even after a hot start to the new year, 9-2-2 in their first 13 games of January, the Caps could not find consistency, going winless in eight games (0-7-1) following their hot start to the month.  It continued that way over the rest of the regular season, alternating short winning streaks and similarly short winless streaks.  They finished the regular season with a 40-30-12 mark, good for third in the Atlantic Division and a fourth-seed in the Eastern Conference postseason.  And that is when the Caps and Juneau entered the world of the bizarre…the opening round of the playoffs.

It started with the Caps facing the Boston Bruins in the opening round.  Washington went 1-2-1 against the Bruins in the regular season and were shutout in both losses, but when the Caps won the first playoff game by a 3-1 margin, things looked good.  Then they didn’t…then they did.  Then they did again…then they didn’t again.  The teams exchanged wins in double overtime games, then exchanged shutout wins before the Caps finally put the Bruins away in the third overtime contest of the six games played.  Juneau had points in three of the four Capitals wins.

And the bizarre part was just starting.  While the fourth-seeded Caps were vanquishing the fifth-seeded Bruins, the sixth-seeded Buffalo Sabres were beating the third-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in five games, the seventh-seeded Montreal Canadiens were defeating the second-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, and the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators were ousting the top-seeded New Jersey Devils in six games in the East.  Fortune was smiling on the Caps, who had a regular season record of 2-2-1 against the Devils, 2-2-1 against the Flyers, and 1-1-2 against the Penguins.  They found themselves as the highest-seeded team left heading into the second round.

In that second round, the Caps made quick work of the Senators, beating them in five games in which all four wins were by multi-goal margins.  And as for Juneau, there he was again with points in three of the four wins.  The only obstacle left between the Caps and the Stanley Cup final was the Buffalo Sabres, a team that lost just one game in the first two rounds of the postseason.

When the Sabres took Game 1, 2-0 in Washington, to make it nine wins in ten postseason games, Caps fans might have thought it would be another “two and through,” a common playoff theme in club history.  Those same fans might have thought, “here we go again," when the Caps, on an own-goal tipped into his own net by Esa Tikkanen, let the Sabres tie Game 2 in the last minute of regulation.  Todd Krygier saved the day early in overtime, though, and the Caps and Juneau (who had the goal to put the Caps in front late in the third period to give them the lead they lost minutes later) went to Buffalo tied in the series at a game apiece.  Juneau did not record a point in Game 3, but the Caps won in overtime again, nevertheless, on a goal by Peter Bondra.  When Washington won Game 4, 2-0, on Craig Berube’s first career playoff goal and Juneau’s shorthanded goal, the Caps had a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.

Nothing comes easy for the Caps, though, and when they lost Game 5 at home, 2-1, Caps fans were feeling that familiar queasiness, especially with having to go back to Buffalo for Game 6.  In that contest, the Sabres took a one-goal lead twice, and the Caps tied the game twice.  For the third time in the series, a game would go to overtime, something the Caps did not fear, having won both of the previous overtime contests in this series and having won four overtime games in a row in the postseason.  The Sabres had their chances early in overtime, including a breakaway chance by Jason Wooley that goalie Olaf Kolzig turned aside.  Through six minutes neither team could end it, but in the seventh minute of overtime…



By the slimmest of margins, a rebound lying in the crease tapped softly under the glove of goaltender Dominik Hasek, Joe Juneau and the Caps reached the place players dream of as kids, the Stanley Cup final.  It is not altogether unlike, by the slimmest of margins – a single electoral vote after a hotly disputed election – Rutherford B. Hayes become the 19th President of the United States.  Neither would have an especially memorable experience having won the prize.  Juneau did have a goal and three assists in four games, but the Capitals were swept in the finals by the Detroit Red Wings, and Juneau would be traded to the Sabres in the following season.  Hayes’ single term in office (he had pledged not to seek re-election) was incident free for the most part, although he did have a number of odd “firsts,” and his presidency is ranked more or less in the middle of the pack by historians.  It would be hard to dispute how it is these two could be related...unless you want a commission to settle the matter.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Chris Clark


By the time Ulysses S. Grant became the 18th President of the United States, he was no stranger to difficult situations, be they of the military sort or of the political variety.  He was something of a reluctant military man as a youth but eventually climbed to the pinnacle of his profession – command of all Union armies in the American Civil War, answering only to the President – after earning a reputation as a skilled commander in battles in western states during the early phases of the War.  Later, as a civilian, he had conflicts of conscience with President Andrew Johnson over his position as an interim appointee in the Johnson administration.  He would emerge from that as a favorite to win the Presidency and did just that in 1868.  In Grant’s simplicity of style, reputation for honesty, and his role in being a leader in difficult situations, there is a comparable Washington Capital, one who would enjoy success “out west” before coming to Washington and assuming the role of team captain through a difficult period in franchise history: Chris Clark.

Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, the Ohio native became “Ulysses S. Grant” as the result of a paperwork snafu.  It was the name used to place him in nomination to the United States Military Academy by his congressman.  The name stuck, but the idea of military service did not.  It was not a life he intended to pursue after his post-graduation commitment was fulfilled.  Nevertheless, whether as product of his success in his assignments during the Mexican-American War or becoming comfortable with the life, he chose to remain in the military.

After an interlude as a civilian, brought on by his own behavior (he was given a choice of resignation or court martial when his commander received reports of his intoxication when he was stationed in California), he returned to military service to help lead recruitment of soldiers in response to the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861.  He did not carry a military rank during this effort, though, his episode in California hindering his efforts to obtain a field command.  He eventually was commissioned as a colonel and was given a command in Illinois.  After being promoted to Brigadier General he added to his resume with a series of increasingly important engagements.  Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and then Shiloh, although in the latter Grant was once more accused of intoxication and was removed from command.  Despite the image of Grant circulating at the time, though, President Abraham Lincoln could not be convinced to believe Grant’s critics.  He is said to have stated at the time that "I can't spare this man; he fights."

Grant continued to fight and continued to earn victories, and he was eventually promoted to lieutenant general and given command of all armies of the Union.  With his new command Grant established headquarters in Virginia, which led to a long series of battles with General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  From the Overland Campaign to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, Grant fought a long battle of attrition against Lee, eventually forcing the latter’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.  It was the first of several surrenders over the next seven weeks that brought the Civil War’s active phase to an end. 

Grant remained a commander at the end of the war, and his views on reconstruction aligned (to a point) with those of President Andrew Johnson, who assumed office upon the assassination of President Lincoln in April 1865.  While Johnson and Grant were in agreement on much of the reconstruction question, though, Johnson appreciated Grant’s appeal as a potential presidential candidate and political rival.  With the idea of keeping enemies close, he moved to replace Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Lincoln appointee aligned with the “Radical Republicans” that took a less charitable view toward reconstruction, with Grant.  Under terms of the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson would be able to remove Stanton from his position with the approval of the Senate.  However, the Senate was out of session, and Grant (against his own views) accepted an interim appointment.  The Senate reinstated Stanton when it reconvened, but Johnson ordered Grant not to vacate the office.  Grant could only reply that the Tenure of Office Act required him to do so, and he did, earning the wrath of Johnson.

This was all part of the run-up to the election of 1868 in which the incumbent – Johnson – was a damaged commodity.  Impeached (but acquitted by the Senate), his relationship with Congress in tatters, he could not win the nomination of his own party.  Meanwhile, Grant, a war hero and favored by “Radical Republicans” from his break with Johnson, won his party’s nomination and went on to win a convincing victory over Democrat Horatio Seymour in the general election. 

His presidency did not resemble his military career.  The qualities that made for steady, earnest progress made on the battlefield that led to victory fell victim to inconsistent, and some might argue corrupt practices in his administration that had some successes and significant failures.  The 15th Amendment to the Constitution was passed during Grant’s first term in office.  The Department of Justice was established under his administration.  He signed the Amnesty Act of 1872 to grant amnesty to former Confederates, thus permitting them to hold public office.  But there were also setbacks that, among others, included scandals that plagued his cabinet, the Panic of 1873 to which the Grant administration responded slowly and ineffectually, and his signing legislation that would have doubled his own salary (a provision tucked away in a standing appropriations bill).  His was a presidency that ranks as mediocre or poor in many quarters, but given the historical context in which Grant had to operate, perhaps a “great” presidency was a goal too high to reach.

Chris Clark had somewhat modest beginnings on his journey to the NHL.  A third-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 1994 (taken between Alexei Krivchenkov and Adam Smith, neither of whom ever played in the NHL), Clark went on to play four years with the Clarkson University Golden Knights in the ECAC, putting up good numbers along the way (142 games, 63-65-128).  He graduated to the Saint John Flames of the AHL.  After spending a full season in the AHL, Clark split time between the AHL and NHL the following two seasons (winning a Calder Cup with Saint John in 2001). 

It was not until the 2001-2002 season that Clark earned a full-time spot, at age 25, with the Calgary Flames.  It was a difficult time for the Flames, who missed the postseason in each of Clark’s first two full seasons with the club.  In his third full season with the team, though, Clark and the Flames made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.  Clark had modest numbers in that postseason (3-3-6, even), but he was one of just 11 members of the team to dress for all 26 postseason games.

After a year of the NHL going dark due to a labor-management dispute, the Flames traded Clark and a seventh-round draft pick to the Capitals for two lower round draft picks in August 2005.  None of the players taken with the draft picks exchanged ever made it to the NHL (for the record: Andrew Glass, Devin Didiomete, and Jens Hellgren), but Clark found a home right away in Washington.  In 2005-2006, his first season with the Capitals, Clark scored 20 goals, matching his output from his previous two seasons in Calgary combined.  On a very young club in the midst of a rebuild he was a scoring forward (tied for third in goals, fifth in points for the Caps) averaging a career best 15:24 of ice time per game. 

The following season Clark was named team captain and became the 31st player in Capitals history to record 30 goals in a season.  He topped 20 assists (24) and 50 points (54) for the first time (and, to date, only time) in his career, and he posted a new career best 18:25 in average ice time.  His nine power play goals equaled his total from his previous four seasons combined. 

But while Clark was posting career highs on a personal level, the team for which he played was mired in the growing pains of rebuilding.  In each of Clark’s first two seasons with Washington, the Caps managed only 70 standings points, missing the playoffs each season.  It was not until Clarks’ third season in Washington that the club returned to competitiveness, using a wild rush to close the 2007-2008 season to snare a playoff spot they had not earned since 2003.

It was bittersweet for Clark.  In his 17th game of the season, in late November against the Florida Panthers, he suffered a groin injury that would keep him out of the lineup for almost two months.  He returned in mid-January, but after skating just nine minutes in a 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, he reinjured his groin.  It ended his season.

Things would not improve much for Clark in 2008-2009.  He suffered a wrist injury in the preseason and tried to play through it.  He managed to dress for 32 games, but he scored just one goal, and in early February underwent surgery to end his season prematurely for the second straight year.

The injuries were too much and sustained too closely together in time to one another for Clark to overcome.  In 2009-2010 he got off to an agonizingly slow start – one goal in his first 23 games.  It was not clear that at age 33 and after the series of injuries he suffered, if he would ever return to form.  With the Caps in the midst of what would become their best regular season in franchise history, Clark was traded on December 28, 2009, along with defenseman Milan Jurcina to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jason Chimera.  Clark finished the 2009-2010 season playing 36 games with the Blue Jackets and dressed for 53 games the following season, but the 2010-2011 season would be his last in the NHL.

Ulysses S. Grant started as an obscure soldier, himself uncertain of his desire to pursue that career when he was young, but he rose through the ranks through hard work, determination, and an adherence to principles.  He rose to the top of his profession as one of the most successful generals in American history.  He seemed to be a natural to lead the country from its top civilian office.  However, circumstance and his own shortcomings contributed to a presidency that might be charitably described as of “mixed” success.  Chris Clark started as a mid-round draft pick who rose through the college route and minor league hockey to carve out a successful role as a checking forward for a Stanley Cup finalist in the NHL.  Upon arriving in Washington he realized considerable personal success, but the team he would eventually lead as captain could find little success of its own.  And, when his club finally did become competitive, his own body betrayed him, leaving him to look on as the Capitals returned to the postseason.  “Mixed” might not be the term to describe Chris Clark’s success in Washington, but his stay here certainly could be described as “two-edged.”  It is not hard to see how it is that these two modest, hard-working individuals might be linked in this look back to the past.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Jaromir Jagr



By April 1865 the Civil War in the United States was approaching the end.  Decimated and exhausted, the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Army of the Potomac under General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9th.  After more than four years of war, it was time for reconstruction.  But not until there was one more thunderclap in the course of the war.  Five days after Lee’s surrender, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington.  The vacancy in the office of the chief executive would be filled by Andrew Johnson, who barely a month earlier was Military Governor of Tennessee and had just taken the oath of office as Vice President.  He now found himself in the position of serving as the Nation’s 17th President.

Johnson was suddenly in a difficult position.  A Southerner (born in North Carolina) and a Democrat (Lincoln was a Republican), he did not seem a natural fit to succeed Lincoln under the unique circumstances confronting him.  He came to Washington as something of an outsider and from the start was treated as such by a hostile Congress.  It made for a difficult presidency that would culminate in Johnson’s impeachment in 1868.  Although he was acquitted by a narrow margin his presidency was effectively over.  Although he ran for renomination as a Democratic candidate for President in 1868, he was roundly defeated, and his last days in office were bitter, his successor Ulysses S. Grant refusing to ride to the Capitol with Johnson for the inauguration ceremony and Johnson refusing to attend at all.

Although he came to Washington under other circumstances, there was a player who came to the Capitals as something of an outsider, if not from the “other side,” whose performance never quite measured up to his promise or the demands of his position, who ultimately inspired scorn and ill feelings in Capitals Nation, and who would be ushered out of town when the relationship between the player and the club, including its fan base deteriorated beyond repair.  If Andrew Johnson has a parallel among players who have worn the Capitals jersey, that player is Jaromir Jagr.

Andrew Johnson was a man of considerable political talent.  He began his political pursuits as a political organizer in Tennessee, eventually winning election as a town alderman in Greenville, Tennessee.  In the midst of debate over a new state constitution, Johnson’s prominent role led to his being elected mayor. From there his rise was steady, moving on to the Tennessee House of Representatives.  Later he parlayed his position as a presidential elector in the election of 1840 into winning a seat in the Tennessee Senate.  From there it was up to the next rung of the political ladder, winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1842.  Johnson served in that position for ten years before being persuaded to run for Governor of Tennessee.  He won office in 1852, but the position holding little power (he could not veto legislation, for example), he ran for U.S. Senate in 1856 and, as a perceived champion of farmers, common workers, and states’ rights – essentially a “Jacksonian Democrat,” a reference to fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson – he won election. 

It was all prelude to the election of 1860, one in which Johnson eyed the ultimate prize, the Presidency, as a candidate who could unite warring factions of the Democratic Party split over the slavery question.  The fissures in the party were too wide for Johnson to bridge.  Much too wide.  At a nominating convention that featured nine candidates winning delegates, the party took 57 ballots to finally settle on Stephen Douglas.  Stalled there, he would be named Military Governor of Tennessee by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and it would be a useful office to put him in position to get Lincoln’s eye as a possible running mate in 1864.  As a southerner “War Democrat,” Johsnon had appeal to Lincoln, and in one of the oddities in American political history, Lincoln and Johnson became running mates in 1864, not as “Republican” and “”Democrat,” but as running mates on the ticket of the “National Union Party,” comprised of factions of the Republican Party.

The Lincoln-Johnson ticket won election, and a month after taking office, Johnson found himself elevated by fate to the Presidency.  With the Civil War winding down after the surrender by the Confederacy, Johnson found himself presiding over reconstruction in the absence of Congress, which was not in session.  Governing by “proclamation” proved difficult, especially when Congress returned to session at the end of 1865.  A group of “Radical Republicans” were bent on changing the direction Johnson pursued.  It resulted in efforts to refuse to seat any Senator or Representative from states of the Old Confederacy, a series of bills that Johnson vetoed (subsequently overridden by Congress), passage of a significant civil rights bill, establishing military rule in the South, and passing the Tenure of Office Act, a technical bill that sought to restrict the President’s authority to remove certain executive officers without approval of the Senate.  Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto. 

That bill would serve as the basis for a move against Johnson in 1868.  What brought it on was Johnson suspending Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, one of the “Radical Republicans,” pending the next Senate session.  When the Senate reconvened,  it rejected the suspension, but Johnson moved to appoint a replacement for Stanton nonetheless.  Johnson’s action was intended to serve as a test case to be presented to the Supreme Court, but the House of Representatives moved to impeach Johnson, the first impeachment of a sitting President.  Eleven articles of impeachment were reported, and the Senate acquitted Johnson by a single vote on three of those articles.

The impeachment took its toll, on both Johnson and the Republican Party.  No Republican senator voting against impeachment ever served in elective office again.  The whole episode inspired a movement to abolish the Presidency itself, that Johnson’s impeachment proved that the office had become too powerful.  As for Johnson, his relationship with Congress was beyond repair.  He sent a government reform proposal to Congress to limit presidential terms and provide for direct election of the President and senators, but it was never taken up by Congress.  Congress sent a bill to the President requiring prompt reporting of ratification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution granting citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.  Johnson vetoed the bill.  By the time Johnson left office in 1869, government had become dysfunctional, damaged by conflicts of personality and policy, making for a difficult reconstruction period in the post-Civil War era.

By the time Jaromir Jagr came to the Capitals in July 2001, he was a notorious figure in Capitals history as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It was a reputation largely earned as a Cap killer in the post season.  In his career as a Penguin, no player scored points in more games (33).   In 42 postseason games against the Caps, Jagr was 20-32-52, plus-20.  Four of his 20 goals were game-winners; he had six power play goals and two shorthanded goals.  He might have played in the shadow of teammate Mario Lemieux for much of his career in Pittsburgh, but against the Caps he was the player who as often as not placed the dagger in Caps’ postseason hopes.

Things were not all unicorns and accordions in Pittsburgh, though, at the end of the 2000-2001 season.  The Penguins were in an aging arena, the financial situation was dire, and Jagr was entering the last year of his contract with the promise of a very large payday coming in free agency.  The team was concerned about Jagr for other reasons.  He had already requested a trade twice, he was reported to have odd off-ice habits, and he finished the season with a shoulder injury.  He was described as “sullen,” and the teams clearly seemed to want to grant his request for a trade and turn the page.

The New York Rangers were widely thought of as being the leading, if not the only candidate to serve as a trading partner with Pittsburgh for Jagr’s services.  However, on July 11, 2001, the Penguins pulled the trigger on the trade, but not to the Rangers.  Pittsburgh sent Jagr and defenseman Frantisek Kucera to the Caps for three prospects – forwards Kris Beech and Michal Sivek, and defenseman Ross Lupaschuk – and future considerations (cash).  The Rangers tried to put the best spin on not getting the prize,  but failing to make the deal was a shock.

Jagr arrived in Washington to great hoopla.  When he recorded a goal and an assist in a 6-1 win over the New Jersey Devils in his debut with the Caps on Opening Night 2001, and when the club announced on October 18th that it signed Jagr to a contract extension, it looked as if the club might finally achieve the success that long eluded it. Things started to sour quickly, though.  Jagr missed seven of the Caps’ first 17 games with leg injuries, and despite the fact that he was 5-3-8 in the ten games he did play over the Caps’ 17 games to open the season, the Caps were just 6-9-2 (4-4-2 in games in which Jagr played).

It really never got much better for the Caps or Jagr in the 2001-2002 season.  Jagr was producing at about a point-per-game pace, but it was not what was expected of the five-time Ross Trophy winner (most points).  Meanwhile, the Caps struggled to get to the .500 mark.  On March 16th they were 27-31-10-1 and sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the last playoff spot in the East.  The Caps closed with a rush from that point, going 9-2-1-1, and Jagr went 4-11-15, plus-5, but it was not enough for the Caps to reach the postseason.  They finished two points behind the Canadiens for the last playoff spot in the East.

The failure to reach the postseason cost head coach Ron Wilson his job, and the job of leading the Caps was given to Bruch Cassidy, a first-time NHL head coach.  The change in head coach did not inspire Jagr to improve on his previous year’s numbers.  They were certainly adequate for most NHL players – 36-41-77 in 75 games – but he fell in the scoring rankings from a tie for fifth in the 2001-2002 season to a tie for 19th in 2002-2003.  And, when his scoring dried up after the first two games of the Caps’ opening round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning (games the Caps would win) on their way to a six-game loss to the Bolts, it became evident that Jagr was not the key to unlock the safe where postseason success was kept.

When the Caps started the 2003-2004 season 3-11-1 in their first 15 games, any lingering doubt that the team as constructed would be successful was gone.  Jagr was 4-6-10, minus-3 in those first 15 games, and the problems were rippling through the organization.  Trade rumors about Jagr were in full bloom. 

Things only got worse for the Caps.  Cassidy was relieved as head coach in mid-December with the Caps holding an 8-18-1-1 record.  Things did not get better under new head coach Glen Hanlon.  His club did not win consecutive games until early January, but by that time any realistic hope the Caps would reach the postseason were gone.  On January 23rd, with the Caps carrying a 14-27-5-2 record and sitting 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, the team traded Jagrto the New York Rangers for forward Anson Carter.

Andrew Johnson’s career in politics did not end with his term as President in 1869.  He ran unsuccessfully for both U.S. Senate and for a U.S. House seats, but ran for the Senate once more in 1875.  He served only five months, though, when he suffered a stroke and passed away on July 31, 1875.  Despite what he viewed as vindication his election to the Senate provided, it would do little for his place in history.  He is generally considered among the Nation’s worst presidents

As for Jagr, his career hardly ended with his trade to the Rangers.  Since leaving the Caps he has appeared in 633 regular season NHL games and another 155 games in the KHL.  His 588 points scored since leaving Washington by itself ranks in the top-40 among active scorers in the NHL.  In Washington, though, his stay is largely regarded as equal parts disappointing and atrocious.  His name does not inspire fond memories among Capitals fans.

Of Andrew Johnson it is written that “when…he gained the highest power, he proved incapable of using it in an effective and beneficial manner.”  The same might be said of Jaromir Jagr who, as the highest paid player in the game at the time, could not perform in “an effective and beneficial manner.”  In that respect there is much in common between these two individuals.