Tuesday, July 15, 2014

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

We are now officially in hockey’s off-season, that time between the first week of the unrestricted free agent period, when the best offerings on the buffet are picked over, and the first week of training camp, generally devoted to rookie development. 

In other words, we are going to be stuck for subject matter for the next couple of months.  You might recall that we tortured your senses last summer with a look at which Capitals fit in what spaces in the periodic table of the elements.  In this summer's slow spot in the calendar we are going to look at something a bit more hockey-related, the best of the Capitals through the alphabet.  First up, Team “A”…

Left Wing: Greg Adams

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 331 games, 55-98-153, plus-39
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 36 games, 2-11-13, minus-1

The National Hockey League has had two players named “Greg Adams” dress for games, both of whom were left wingers.  One played in 17 seasons covering more than 1,000 regular season games with five teams, plus another 81 playoff games over ten post-seasons, including a Stanley Cup final run.  The other one played for the Capitals. 

Not that the Greg Adams who played for the Caps had a bad run.  An undrafted player out of Canadian juniors (Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League), Adams was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1979.  After being traded to the Hartford Whalers in 1982, he came to the Caps in October 1983 in a trade for Torrie Robertson.  

In his first two seasons in Washington he played intermittently, dressing for 108 of 160 games, posting eight goals and 26 points.  In 1985-1986, though, Adams was matched with Alan Haworth and Craig Laughlin in what would become perhaps the most famous line in Capitals history, ‘The Plumbers Line,” a name given to them for their hard working, grinding style of play and also as a play on the term “plumbers,” which had relevance to Washington, a reference to the “plumbers” of the Nixon administration of the early 1970’s.  Adams played in 78 games that season, recording a scoring line of 18-38-56, plus-24, all career highs.

Adams followed that 1985-1986 career year with a solid 14-goal, 44-point season over 67 games in 1986-1987, but slipped to just 27 points in 1987-1988.  He was traded after that season to Edmonton for the rights to left winger Geoff Courtnall.  Adams played only 49 games in Edmonton before being traded to Vancouver late in the 1988-1989 season.  He was waived by the Canucks after that season and was picked up by the Quebec Nordiques to start the 1989-1990 season.  Playing just seven games with the Nordiques, Adams was traded in December to the Detroit Red Wings, with whom he finished the season in what would be the last of his career.

Center: Jason Arnott

Regular Season: 1 season, 11 games, 4-3-7, plus-3
Playoffs: 1 season, 9 games, 1-5-6, plus-4

This came down to a battle of the Jason’s – Allison and Arnott.  We took Arnott on the basis of his late-season contributions in the 2010-2011 season after being acquired by the Caps at the trading deadline from the New Jersey Devils.

Arnott’s arrival in Washington had been widely rumored in the run-up to the 2011 trading deadline.  The Devils were falling out of playoff contention, and the Caps had the perennial problem of filling a second line center role.  When the Devils agreed to a deal that included center David Steckel and a second round 2012 draft pick, the Caps had their man.

Having the reputation as a leader and as a big-game performer, Arnott displayed both early with the Caps.  In his first game with Washington, it was his feed from the corner to Brooks Laich to the top of the crease that led to a game-tying goal against the New York Islanders in the final minute.  The Caps won, 2-1, in the overtime session.  Two nights later, in his second game, it was Arnott’s goal with less than five minutes remaining in regulation that broke a 2-2 tie against the St. Louis Blues in a 3-2 Caps win.

As to his leadership abilities, he was given the nickname the “Semin Whisperer” for his perceived ability to bring out the more skilled, less “enigmatic” attributes of then Capitals winger Alexander Semin.  While this might have been more perception than reality, perception has its place from time to time. 

In nine playoff games with the Caps in 2010-2011 Arnott recorded points in five contests and was "even" or better in all nine games. It helped the Caps dismiss the New York Rangers in five games in the opening round (Arnott was 1-2-3, plus-2), but it could not keep the Caps from being swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning (0-3-3, plus-2 in four games).  Following the 2010-2011 season Arnott signed as an unrestricted free agent with the St. Louis Blues.

Right Wing: Steve Atkinson

Regular Season: 1 season, 46 games, 11-4-15, minus-26
Playoffs: none

As you can tell, the letter “A” is not especially kind in the historical record of right wingers in the Capitals organization.  Only three such players skated on the right side in franchise history, all of them in those difficult early seasons in the 1970’s.

Atkinson had the best numbers of any of the three right wingers eligible for our “Team ‘A’” squad, 11th among forwards in scoring and tied for fifth in goals in his lone season with the Caps during the inaugural 1974-1975 campaign despite playing in only 46 games.  Getting to Washington was a long and winding road for Atkinson.  He was drafted sixth overall by Detroit in the 1966 amateur draft, but was shortly thereafter traded to Boston.  Boston sold his rights to Hershey in 1970 but was then claimed by St. Louis immediately thereafter in the intra-league draft.  That December he was waived by St. Louis and claimed by Buffalo.  Failing to cement a place there, he was taken by Dayton-Houston in the general player draft of the World Hockey Association in February 1972.  He remained with the Sabres, though, but he was left exposed in the 1974 expansion draft and was claimed by the Capitals.

That season with the Capitals was noteworthy for two things for Atkinson.  First, he was called a “snail” by general manager Milt Schmidt after one game, upon which he was demoted to the Richmond Robins.  By the time he was recalled, Schmidt was gone (replaced by Max McNab), but the Caps were still struggling.  Atkinson finished the season with the club, but in the other noteworthy thing with respect to that season, it was Atkinson’s last in the NHL.  He played one more season of professional hockey, that with the Toronto Toros of the WHA.

Defense: Peter Andersson

Regular Season: 3 seasons, 160 games, 9-33-42, plus-9
Playoffs: 2 seasons, 5 games, 0-1-1, minus-2

There were four defensemen eligible to be named to “Team A,” and three of them were named “Andersson” (or a variation thereof).  Peter Andersson was the most accomplished of the three.  Andersson’s story is one of overachievement in a way.  He was drafted in the ninth round out of Sweden – 173rd overall in the 1980 NHL draft – although his draft class was quite deep (Andy Brickley, drafted dead last and 210th overall, played in 385 NHL games).

Andersson made the jump from Sweden to the Caps in 1983.  He skated in 42 games in his rookie season and finished seventh in points among Caps defensemen (10).  He followed that up with another ten-point season in 1984-1985 in 57 games on a squad that finished with its second consecutive 100-point season.  His third season was perhaps his best with the Caps, 6-16-22 in 61 games in 1985-1986.  However, on a team that would finish with its best franchise record to date (50-23-7), he was second worst in plus-minus, suggesting he was something of a defensive liability (this was long before Corsi or Fenwick measures).  He was traded late in that season to Quebec for the Nordiques’ third round draft pick in the 1986 draft, used to select goalie Shawn Simpson. 

Andersson finished up that 1985-1986 season with the Nordiques, but it would be his last in the NHL.  He returned to Sweden after that season and continued to play in European leagues and represent Sweden in international competition (including the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics) through the 1994-1995 season.

Defense: Karl Alzner

Regular Season: 6 seasons, 345 games, 7-55-62, plus-10
Playoffs: 4 seasons, 31 games, 1-4-5, minus-2

Karl Alzner is the only current Capital to make “Team A.”  He happens to be the only player eligible for Team A who is still playing in the NHL (Keith Aucoin remains an unrestricted free agent).  Alzner has more games logged as a Capital than any other member of Team A, despite being only 25 years old.  Part of what is viewed as Washington’s top defensive pair, the “defensive” defenseman to partner John Carlson’s more two-way game, Alzner is third among current Capitals defenseman in total games played with the franchise (behind Mike Green and John Erskine).

Alzner is one of only nine players (four defensemen) to have played in all 294 games of the past four seasons.  He has done so averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time a night over each of those four seasons.  Given the nature of his game as a “defensive” defenseman, his offensive numbers might not shine, but he did finish third in assists among defensemen in three of those four seasons, suggesting that he does get involved in the offensive end of the ice from time to time.

With Alzner being a player of recent vintage, he has a history in the emerging “fancystat” era.  As such, his recent 5-on-5 possession metrics are not especially impressive (below 50 percent Corsi-for in his last three seasons), and in terms of performance he has regressed.  In the latter respect his goals-for percentage at 5-on-5 is well below 50 percent in his last two seasons, and his goals for percentage relative to the team’s percentage when he is not on ice is in negative territory.   

By objective measure, he has slipped in the last couple of seasons.  In a way, his progress has mirrored that of the Caps, a team that has teetered on the edge of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.  However, he was a top-five draft pick, has played in almost 400 regular season and playoff games, much of it on the top pair of a playoff-worthy team.  He is worthy of a spot on our hypothetical “Team A” in Capitals team history.

Goalie: John Adams

Regular Season: 1 season, 8 games, 0-7-0, 6.90 GAA
Playoffs: none

Team A had better score goals, because its goalie is both inexperienced and had his struggles with the Caps.  Okay, so John Adams is the only goalie in Caps history who would qualify for “Team A.”  Adams was an undrafted goaltender who played with the Port Arthur North Stars of the Thunder Bay Junior A Hockey League, the Dayton Gems of the International Hockey League, and the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League before seeing NHL action.  There was an odd detour along the way, though.  In 1970, while with the Dayton Gems, he was recalled to the Boston Bruins, who held his rights.  He did not play a game during his recall, but the Bruins happened to win the Stanley Cup that season.  The Bruins chose to have Adams’ name engraved on the Cup despite his having yet to appear in an NHL game.

That first NHL appearance would not come until the 1972-1973 season when Adams made 14 appearances for the Bruins, going 9-3-1 with a 3.00 goals against average.  That would do it for Adams’ career with in Boston; he was traded to the San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League the following summer.  After spending a year in California, Adams was purchased by the Caps in July 1974, just in time for the Caps’ inaugural season.  He ended up with two more sweater numbers worn (30 and 32) than wins (zero) with Washington.  Not that this was especially unusual for that season.  The Caps suited up three goalies in 1974-1975, two of them (Michel Belhumeur being the other) failed to get a win.  For Adams it was his one and only season with the Caps, and it was his last year in the NHL. 

Adams did have that one season with the Caps, though, which is good enough for him to get the call for “Team A” in Caps franchise history.

And there you have it… “Team A” in our first look at all-franchise teams by the alphabet for the Washington Capitals.