Bondra has his place in the pantheon of revered Caps – Yvon Labre, Rod Langway, Dale Hunter, Olaf Kolzig. But his is a somewhat odd career, too. Having been here in the stands watching Bondra’s entire career in Washington and looking back over it, it has the feel of watching Sir Laurence Olivier in “The Last Days of Pompeii”…a sublime talent in a pretty mediocre production.
Bondra retires as the all time Caps leader in goals with 472, a record he is likely to hold for a comparatively short time (at his current pace, Alex Ovechkin will catch Bondra on or about Thanksgiving 2015). But in his 1,034 games as a Cap (regular season and playoffs), he generated quite a number thrills…
-- 34 goals in 47 games in the abbreviated 1995 season…a pace for 59.
There are many who wanted to see Bondra skate one last time in Washington, perhaps manning a power play with the Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin. But that was entirely a gaze through a nostalgic lens. His production had been in decline since the 1997-1998 year, when he scored 52 goals, although he did post 45 in 2000-2001 (including all those power play goals).
As much as Bondra’s goal-scoring talent should be remembered by Caps fans, it should not be forgotten just how difficult it was for a player such as Bondra in the early 1990’s, when he broke into the league. He was an 8th round draft pick in 1990 who had never seen an NHL game until the day he stepped onto the ice to play in one. Language, culture, and the antipathy toward European players at the time made breaking into the league a difficult proposition for players such as Bondra. That he would grow and flourish in the NHL is a tribute to him as a person as much as to his skill.
There is a certain disappointment in looking at his career that he played on squads that might be characterized as “underachieving.” That, and the fact that he played in a market that did little to promote him, probably will keep him out of the Hall of Fame. But nothing should ever take away from the vision Caps fans will have of Bondra’s low-slung skating style speeding down the ice, his blink-of-an-eye slap shot, or the sheer joy he felt and freely expressed in each and every goal, from his first to his 472nd.
Every Caps fan would wish him well in his new endeavor as the general manager for the Slovakian national hockey team. They have genuine article as someone to respect and to emulate.