Sunday, July 15, 2018

So, What Happened on This Date?... July 16

So… what did happen on July 16th in Washington Capitals history?  It was a famous day, as it turns out. 

1990 – “Scott Stevens career with the Washington Capitals is over.”

That was the headline in a Washington Post story on July 13, 1990 announcing that the Washington Capitals would not match a four-year/$5.1 million offer sheet tendered to the restricted free agent defenseman.  By today’s standards, even with inflation (the total deal was for $9.86 million in 2018 dollars, an “AAV” of $2.465 million per year).  But in 1990, it was a big deal.  Consider that Wayne Gretzky, still perhaps the best player of the era, had just completed a season in which he earned $1,720,000 (source: capfriendly.com).

The Caps gave up an all-star caliber blueliner – he was on the first-team All-Rookie team in 1982-1983, appeared in two All-Star Games with the Caps, and was named to the All Star first team once (1987-1988) – for five first round picks.  The Caps later that same day made a trade of some note.  The club, with Stevens about to depart, obtained defenseman Mike Lalor and forward Peter Zezel from St. Louis for Geoff Courtnall.  Lalor played in 132 regular season and 10 postseason games for the Caps before being traded to the Winnipeg Jets for Paul McDiarmid in March 1992.  Zezel played 20 games for Washington before he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs with defenseman Bob Rouse for defenseman Al Iafrate in January 1991.

Stevens went on to complete a Hall of Fame career, spending one season with the Blues and then, in another uncommon personnel move, was transferred to the New Jersey Devils as compensation for the Blues signing forward Brendan Shanahan.  Stevens spent 13 seasons with the Devils, with whom he played in ten All-Star games, was named a first-team all-star once, won three Stanley Cups, was awarded a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, but never won a Norris Trophy as outstanding defenseman.

Stevens had another legacy with the Caps.  The five first round picks the Caps were awarded in compensation were the first fruit of a productive tree, making Stevens, who was the fifth overall pick of the 1982 entry draft, the most productive draft pick in Capitals history.  Stevens was signed by the Blues on this date in 1990 to complete the deal and officially end Stevens' career in Washington.

1999 – The Caps Get a Backup Goalie

The 1998-1999 season was one in which injuries figured importantly.  No skater appeared in all 82 games (Ken Klee dressed for 78 games), only ten skaters dressed for more than 60 games, and the Caps employed 37 skaters in all.  Four goalies dressed for the Caps that season, and once the team had to give top netminder Olaf Kolzig a break, things went south.  The other three goalies – Rick Tabaracci, Mike Rosati, and Martin Brochu – combined for 26 appearances, going 5-14-3, 2.55, .906, with two shutouts (both by Tabaracci).  No goalie other than Kolzig won a game after March 20th that season, but the Caps won only two of their last 13 games.

Tabaracci was a free agent after that season (he would be signed by the Atlanta Thrashers the following November), and neither Brochu nor Rosati appeared to be in the Caps’ plans as a backup for Kolzig (as it turned out, Rosati appeared in one game for the Caps, his only career NHL game, and Brochu only played in seven more NHL games with Vancouver and Pittsburgh over the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons; he never won an NHL game in nine appearances).   

What the Caps needed was a proven, reliable backup, a professional who understood his role and could fill it consistently.  On this date in 1999 they settled on a 32-year old veteran of 11 seasons with four teams.  Craig Billington was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for future considerations on this date in 1999.  He played four seasons with the Caps, appearing in 47 games, going 11-19-7, 2.95, .894, with two shutouts.  But he might be best known for a moment when he wasn’t in the game, when in a contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins, things got tense, and Billington made his contribution by mocking Penguin goalie Johan “Moose” Hedberg… 



2015 – The Caps Sign a Pair

July 2015 was a busy month for the Caps.  A very busy month.  There were seven transactions on July 1st, a day topped  by the signing of free agent Justin Williams, but including signings of Taylor Chorney, Stan Galiev, and Aaron Ness, among others.  The following day, the Caps traded Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley, and a draft pick to the St. Louis Blues for T.J. Oshie, and they signed Chris Bourque.  A few days later, they signed Evgeny Kuznetsov to a new contract.

One wondered if the Caps had any more activity left after that first week in July 2015.  They did, although the next round of it was of a comparatively minor variety.  Zach Sill had stops in Pittsburgh and Toronto before joining the Caps organization.  That leg of the journey, from the Penguins to the Maple Leafs in February 2015, was part of a trade that would also involve future Capital Daniel Winnik.  But when the season was over, Sill was a free agent.  He signed a one-year/two-way deal with the Caps for $575,000 ($287,500 in AHL salary) on this date in 2015.  He played ten games for the Caps in the 2015-2016 season (1-0-1, plus-2) and then signed a two-year/$1,225,000 contract with the Caps in June 2016.  He did not see action with the Caps in either the 2016-2017 or 2017-2018 seasons.  He is currently an unrestricted free agent.

The Caps also had the matter of Chris Brown on their to-do list.  Brown was a minor player in the Martin Erat saga, coming to the Caps with Rostislav Klesla and a draft pick for Erat and John Mitchell in March 2014. Over the remainder of the 2013-2014 season and the 2014-2015 season, Brown dressed for 11 games with the Caps, posting one goal and a plus-1.  It was enough for the Caps to agree to a two-year/$1,150,000 contract with Brown on this date in 2015.  He appeared in one game in the 2015-2016 season before he was traded to the New York Rangers for Ryan Bourque.  He did not play for the Rangers, and when he became a free agent, he signed with the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers N├╝rnberg of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.

In other July 16th news, it was on this date… in 1790 that the District of Columbia was established as the capital of the United States under the Residence Act of 1790… in 1862 that David Farragut was promoted to the rank of rear admiral, the first officer in the United States Navy to hold admiral rank… in 1935 that the first parking meter was installed (in Oklahoma City, OK)… in 1941 that Joe DiMaggio his safely in his 56th consecutive game, the last game of his record streak… in 1945 that a plutonium-based weapon was detonated at Alamogordo, NM, the first successful detonation of a nuclear weapon… in 1969 that Apollo 11 launched from the Kennedy Space Center, beginning what would be the first successful moon landing mission… in 1967 that Will Ferrell was born (cue the cowbell)…



Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Ten for the Tens

"Every character actor, in their own little sphere, is the lead."
-- Dabbs Greer

In the post-championship haze of celebration, it is easy to forget the contributions of players who might have played support roles in the path to victory.   Ten players played in fewer than 25 regular season games this season for the Washington Capitals.  We already covered one in Michal Kempny, owing to his importance down the stretch and in the postseason.  Here are the ten in order of games played:


Even without Kempny’s contributions, the other nine combined for what would be a respectable season’s worth of games (71) and went a combined 3-9-12, plus-8, averaging more than 11 minutes of ice time per game.  As a group those contributions are not inconsequential, and each of the nine deserves some mention.



Taylor Chorney

Taylor Chorney came into his eighth season having played 73 games in two seasons with the Caps, going 2-9-11, plus-16 in the process.  Chorney, who spent much of his career on the fringes of getting playing time, often in the role of a seventh defenseman, appeared in 24 of the first 57 games of the season for the Caps, going 1-3-4, plus-8.  That plus-minus added to a strange, if impressive run for Chorney.  In the last three seasons, his plus-24 in aggregate was 12th-best on the team in that span, despite his playing far fewer games (97, including this season) than any other player on the list (Nate Schmidt was a plus-34 in 132 games).  Chorney was waived on February 21st with the intention of assigning him to the Hershey Bears in the AHL if he cleared, but he was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He appeared in just one game for Columbus and signed with HC Lugano of the National League in Switzerland.



Jakub Jerabek

The Capitals were in the market for defensemen at the trading deadline, and while Michal Kempny’s acquisition at that time was more consequential, the Caps did pick up another defenseman.  Washington traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Jakub Jerabek on February 21st.  Jerebek, who played in 25 games for the Canadiens in what was his rookie season, played in 11 games for the Caps, matching his scoring line with Montreal precisely (1-3-4, minus-1).  All of his scoring with the Caps came in his last seven games he played in.  The Caps were successful with Jerabek on the ice, going 9-2-0 in his 11 games.  He started the first two games of the postseason for the Caps, both overtime losses to Columbus, but he was scratched for the duration, Christian Djoos replacing him in the lineup.  He ended the season an unrestricted free agent.



Travis Boyd

Travis Boyd’s long climb to the NHL bore fruit in 2017-2018.  Drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 entry draft by the Caps, Boyd spent four years with the University of Minnesota and three more with the Hershey Bears in the AHL before this season.  After starting this season with the Bears, Boyd made his NHL debut on December 4th against the San Jose Sharks.  After a second game with the Caps, he would be sent back to Hershey, but he came up for six more games as the season was winding down.  He made his first NHL playoff appearance in the series-clinching Game 6 against Pittsburgh in the second round, playing 12 minutes and change in the contest.  Boyd is in the Caps’ fold for two more seasons before his current contract expires at the end of the 2019-2020 season.



Aaron Ness

It might surprise Caps fans to know that it has been ten years since Aaron Ness was drafted, taken with the 40th overall pick (second round) by the New York Islanders in 2008.  From 2011-2012 through 2013-2014, Ness split time between the Islanders and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, playing in 29 games with the parent club.  He signed with the Caps as a free agent in July 2016 and has played in 18 regular season games with Washington over three seasons, including eight games this season.  Unfortunately, it cannot be said that his presence filled a gap adequately.  The Caps were just 3-4-1 in the eight games in which he appeared.  He did not dress for the Caps after a November 7th game against Buffalo.



Nathan Walker

Some players acquire a following based on their performance, others on their unique circumstances.  For Nathan Walker it might be more a case of the latter, an player born in Wales and raised in Australia in the National Hockey League.  And then there was Walker’s roundabout experience this season.  He started in the Caps organization and even made his NHL debut for the club, playing in seven games early in the season.  He was placed on waivers in late November, from which he was claimed by the Edmonton Oilers.  He did not dress for the Oilers before he was placed on waivers once more and claimed by the Caps.  He did not play for the Caps over the remainder of the regular season, spending it with the Hershey Bears.  However, he did manage to get into one postseason game for the Caps, recording an assist in the Caps’ Game 6, series-clinching win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.  Walker has one more season on his current contract with the Caps.



Tyler Graovac

Tyler Graovac was not the last player taken in the 2011 entry draft, but he could see that spot from where he was picked – 191st among 211 players taken – selected by the Minnesota Wild.  He eventually made it all the way, playing three seasons for the Wild in which he had seven goals and nine points in 57 games.  He was traded to the Capitals by the Wild for a fifth round pick in the 2018 entry draft (Minnesota selected Damien Giroux).  He appeared in just five games with Washington, recording no points and a minus-3, his last game being November 30th.  He spent most of the year in Hershey with the Bears, where he went 12-17-29, minus-5, in 53 games.



Shane Gersich

Shane Gersich might have been only a fifth-round pick of the Caps in the 2014 entry draft, but after scoring 43 goals in 117 games over three seasons with the University of North Dakota in the NCAA, one might have had a greater sense of anticipation when Gersich was signed to a two-year contract last march.  He made his NHL debut on March 28th, against the New York Rangers, and appeared in three games down the stretch of the regular season, recording his first NHL point, an assist in the Caps’ season-ending 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils.  He got into two postseason games, both in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he did not record a point in getting less than six minutes of ice time in each game.



Liam O’Brien

It seems like forever ago that Liam O’Brien was a surprise in the Opening Night lineup against Montreal in October 2014.  He played in 13 games that season before being sent down to Hershey, and he has had a hard time making the return trip to Washington.  This season, he appeared in three games without recording a point, but he did make his presence felt in his last game with the Caps this year.  He dropped the gloves with Pittsburgh’s Ryan Reaves in a 4-1 win over the Penguins on November 10th.  He was assigned to Hershey the following day and played the rest of the season there.



Anthony Peluso

When you played in 140 NHL games, logging less than 850 minutes (5:56 a game), your role is not one of scoring goals.  Anthony Peluso was that player over four seasons for the Winnipeg Jets before he came to Washington as a free agent last July.  He did not add to his career total of four goals with the Caps.  Then again, he appeared in only two games, those on the Caps’ annual tour of western Canada.  He played less than five minutes in both and did not record a point in a win and a loss.  He ended the season as an unrestricted free agent.

In the end…

Some players among the chorus contribute more than others.  Michal Kempny became a lesser hero with the stability he provided on the Caps’ second defensive pair (with John Carlson) and his postseason performance.  At the other end, a player like Anthony Peluso gets two early season games and is not heard from again.  But we are still talking about some of the best practitioners of their craft on the planet.  And in that respect, that quote from the late character actor Dabbs Greer takes meaning.  Even character actors – bit players, if you will – play their role.  Even for a championship team.