Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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

We kicked off our look at the Washington Capitals all-time franchise teams through the alphabet with Team A. Now it’s time to look at the next team in line…Team B

Left Wing: Craig Berube

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 419 games, 26-38-64, minus-32
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 38 games, 1-0-1, minus-5

This was the toughest position to fill on Team B. There was quite a mix from which to pick – scorers (Andrew Brunette, Randy Burridge), grinders (James Black), guys who toiled hard and well for bad teams (Garnet “Ace” Bailey), bruisers (Donald Brashear). In the end we took the player who logged the most games as a Cap at the position.

That’s right, Craig Berube logged more games at left wing than any other player eligible for Team B. In fact, Berube dressed for almost twice as many games with the Caps (419 regular season games) as the next two players ranked in games played with the club (Bailey and Brashear, 427 combined games). Although he is most often associated with the Philadelphia Flyers (the team he now serves as head coach), Berube played in more games with the Caps than he did with any other NHL club (323 games with Philadelphia).

Not an especially gifted offensive player, Berube certainly made his presence felt in other ways. After being obtained from the Calgary Flames in 1992 in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick, Berube would go on to lead the club six times in his seven seasons with the club in penalty minutes, and he ranks third all-time with the club in career penalty minutes with 1,220; trailing only Dale Hunter (2,003) and Scott Stevens (1,630). His 305 penalty minutes in 1993-1994 ranks second in penalty minutes in a season in team history (Alan May: 339 PIMs in 1989-1990).

Berube recorded only one goal in the post-season with the Caps, but it was one of the more important goals scored in team playoff history. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Buffalo Sabres in 1998. The Caps and Sabres fought to a scoreless draw through two periods in Buffalo, the Caps exhausting themselves by having to kill off seven Sabre power plays in the process. Just 2:34 into the final period, Berube broke the tie, firing a slap shot past goalie Dominik Hasek off a face-off to give the Caps the lead. It was his first career playoff goal. Joe Juneau scored later in the period for insurance, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead in games in a series they would go on to win in six games to reach their only Stanley Cup final in team history.

The following season, the 1998-1999 campaign being one that was disastrous for the club overall, Berube was traded for cash to Philadelphia in March. It was not his last appearance with the Caps, though. Berube was signed as a free agent by the Capitals in July 2000. He played in only 22 games of the 2000-2001 season (0-1-1, minus-3) before being traded to the New York Islanders in January 2001 for a ninth-round draft pick with which the Capitals selected a goaltender, the late Robert Müller.

Center: Nicklas Backstrom

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 495 games, 127-367-494, plus-74
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 57 games, 15-28-43, plus-13

As difficult as it was to select a left winger for Team B, picking the center was a no-brainer. Leaving behind the fact that Niclas Backstrom has played in almost as many games with the Caps (495 regular season games) as the rest of the Team B eligible centers combined (511), Backstrom is already all over the Capitals record book:

  • Games Played (career): 495 (24th)
  • Seasons with 82-games played: 4th (T-1st)
  • Goals (career): 127 (19th)
  • Assists (career): 367 (5th)
  • Assists-per-game (career): 0.74 (2nd/minimum: 100 games)
  • Points (career): 494 (8th)
  • Points-per-game (career): 1.00 (5th/minimum: 100 games)
  • Plus-Minus (season): plus-37 (4th)
  • Plus-Minus (career): plus-74 (T-6th)
  • Multi-point games (career): 134 (3rd)
  • 2-point games (career): 90 (4th)
  • 3-point games (career): 30 (3rd)
  • 4-point games (career): 10 (3rd)
  • 5-point games (career): 4 (T-2nd)
  • 3-assist game (career)s: 17 (1st)
  • 4-assist games (career): 9 (1st)

Since Backstrom came into the league in 2007-2008, only a dozen players have averaged more points per game.  Only four players active in all seven of those seasons averaged more assists per game: Sidney Crosby, Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton, and Evgeni Malkin.

One could make a case that Backstrom is already the best pure center drafted by the Caps in franchise history (Michal Pivonka and Bengt Gustafsson each played wing intermittently in their respective careers).  If there is a smudge on his sparkling record to date with the club it is his recent post-season performance.  In his first three post-season appearances Backstrom was 12-18-30, plus-13 in 28 games.  However, in his three most recent appearances in the playoffs he is 3-10-13, even, in 29 games.

However, even with that blemish, Backstrom compares favorably overall against forwards in the post-expansion era.  His points per game over his first seven years (1.00) is right in the neighborhood of such as Mark Messier (1.07), Mats Sundin (1.05), Mike Modano (1.02), Doug Gilmour (0.99), Pavel Datsyuk (0.99), Bill Barber (0.98), and Lanny MacDonald (0.96) in each of those players first seven seasons in the NHL.  Backstrom is the clear choice as center on the Capitals’ “Team B,” and is on an arc to become one of the best players of his era in the NHL.

Right Wing: Peter Bondra

Regular Season (with Capitals): 14 seasons, 961 games, 472-353-825, plus-74
Playoffs (with Capitals): 10 seasons, 73 games, 30-26-56, plus-9

This was an easy pick, too.  Bondra played more games for the Capitals (961) that the other six eligible right wingers combined (815).  He is among the most accomplished offensive performer in franchise history to date.  He is the franchise leader in goals (472) and points (825).  He is eighth in club history in assists (353), despite the fact that in each of his last 11 seasons with the club he recorded more goals than assists.  He holds a number of other club records:

  • Most All-Star Game selections: 5
  • Fastest three goals in game: 2:06 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Fastest four goals in game: 4:12 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Fastest five goals in game: 24:46 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Most shorthanded goals (career): 32
  • Most game-winning goals (career): 71
  • Most hat tricks: 19
  • Most shorthanded goals (season): 6 (1994-1995), tied with Mike Gartner
  • Most game-winning goals (season): 13 (1997-1998)
  • Most goals (game): 5 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994), tied with Bengt Gustafsson
  • Most goals (period): 4 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Most 20-goal seasons: 13
  • Most consecutive 20-goal seasons: 13
  • Most 30-goals seasons: 9, tied with Mike Gartner and Alex Ovechkin

Much of Bondra’s career was spent in the “dead puck era” between 1994-1995 and 2003-2004, which makes those records even more impressive.  From his rookie season (1990-1991) through 2002-2003 (Bondra’s last full season with the club), only Brett Hull (570), Jaromir Jagr (506), and Brendan Shanahan (474) scored more goals than did Bondra (451).  In his prime years – 1994-1995 through 1997-1998 – no one recorded more goals than the 184 on Bondra’s ledger.

Until this past season, Bondra was the franchise record holder in power play goals (137).  For Caps fans who recognize Mike Green laying out passes for Alex Ovechkin to wire one-timers from the left wing circle into the back of the net, Bondra was the trigger man for similar plays from the right wing circle, one-timing passes from Sergei Gonchar.

What set Bondra apart as a goal scorer in franchise history, though, was his ability to score shorthanded.  He recorded at least one shorthanded goal in nine seasons with the club and twice had five or more.  In both of those seasons he led the NHL in goals scored.  In fact, his six shorthanded goals in the 1994-1995 campaign was a singularly amazing achievement, coming as it did in an abbreviated season of just 48 games.  On an 82-game basis that would be 10 shorthanded goals, and only two players in NHL history recorded more than 10 shorthanded goals in a season (Wayne Gretzky twice, and Mario Lemieux).

Bondra was a victim of the selloff of 2004, when the Capitals jettisoned a number of veterans in favor of prospects and draft picks.  Bondra was to Ottawa for Brooks Laich and a 2005 second round draft pick .  That second round pick was later traded to Colorado along with Washington’s own second round draft pick for the Avalanche’s  first round pick in 2005.  With that pick, the 27th overall in 2005, the Caps selected Joe Finley (parenthetically, the Dallas Stars selected new Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen with the next pick, but we digress).

Peter Bondra is one of the iconic figures in Capitals franchise history.  He and current Capital Alex Ovechkin are the two purest goal scorers in the Caps’ record book, the only two players to have recorded more than 400 goals for the club (you might argue Mike Gartner belongs; he had 397 goals with the Caps).  Bondra is the clear choice to man the right side on Team B.

Defense: Timo Blomqvist

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 223 games, 4-51-55, plus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 13 games, 0-0-0, minus-6

Timo Blomqvist was a fifth-round draft pick by the Caps in 1980, the 89th overall selection.  It was a particularly fruitful round, as fifth rounds go, with six of the 21 players selected recording more than 200 NHL games played.  In his four seasons with the club (1981-1982 through 1984-1985) only Rod Langway (239) and Scott Stevens (235) played in more games than did Blomqvist (223), only five of the 18 defensemen who played for the Caps in those years had more points than the 55 recorded by Blomqvist, and only Stevens (617) and Randy Holt (525) recorded more penalty minutes than Blomqvist (264). 

Blomqvist was a transitional player for the Caps, having been part of those early years when the team struggled (for example, 26-41-13 in his rookie year) and then being a part of what would be the Caps’ first playoff club (1982-1983).  It might be a moment from his last year with the Caps (1983-1984), though, that is most memorable…

After that 1983-1984 season Blomqvist played a year with the Binghamton Whalers of the AHL, then signed with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent where he played the 1986-1987 season, his last in the NHL.  He returned to Europe after that, catching on with MoDo HK Ornskoldsvik.  He continued playing in Europe until 1998.  While he might be remembered only in the dim recesses of old Caps fans’ memories, he merits a spot on Team B.

Defense: Pierre Bouchard

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 106 games, 8-16-24, minus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

So there you are, an eight-year veteran with the most storied franchise in NHL history.  Almost 500 regular season games played, and you played for five Stanley Cup winners.  Then, at the start of your ninth season in the league, you are exposed in the waiver draft.  You are claimed by a team that has yet to post a winning percentage as high as .400 in any of its first four seasons, a team that has as many franchise wins (60) as your club had in the 1976-1977 season alone.

That was the lot of defenseman Pierre Bouchard, who went from the penthouse, through the outhouse, and right to what is under the outhouse, in a manner of speaking.  It was a case of being too clever by half on the part of the Montreal Canadiens.  The Canadiens tried to game the process and enter into an arrangement with the Caps to reclaim Bouchard after the waiver draft, but league president John Ziegler intervened, nixing the transaction and leaving Bouchard wearing the American shades of red, white, and blue.

Bouchard was not happy with the turn of events and sat out almost the entire 1978-1979 season.  He did return to play for Washington in 1979-1980, in which he played 54 games and recorded 14 points.  After appearing in 50 games in the 1980-1981 season, he appeared in only one game in 1981-1982, spending 62 games in Hershey with the AHL Bears.  He retired after the 1981-1982 season.

In his two full seasons with the Caps, Bouchard was third among defensemen in total games played (remember, these were the lean years; 19 different defensemen played for the Caps in those two seasons).  His best years might have been behind him, but he provided a bit of stability to an unsettled defense (ok, a bad one), and it is enough to get him a spot on Team B.  Think of it as a consolation prize for the unhappy waiver ending.

Goaltender: Don Beaupre

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 269 games, 128-96-27, 3.05 GAA, .887 SV, 12 SO
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 36 games, 18-15, 2.98 GAA, .896 SV, 2 SO

Don Beaupre was a second round draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1980.  After playing one game in his ninth season with the North Stars, Beaupre was traded to the Caps in November 1988 for the rights to Claudio Scremin, a tenth-round draft pick of the Caps in 1988.  Beaupre made his first appearance for the Caps on November 12, 1988, serving mop-up duty in relief of Clint Malarchuk in the third period of a 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  He would spend the next several months toiling for the Baltimore Skipjacks in the AHL, not getting another shot with the big club until February 20, 1989, another stint in relief of Malarchuk, this time getting the third period of a 6-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.  It was a significant game in one respect.  It would be Malarchuk’s last appearance with the Caps; two weeks later he would be traded to the Buffalo Sabres as part of a deal that brought defenseman Calle Johansson to the Caps.

Meanwhile, Beaupre was getting more regular action.  And, he was taking advantage of it.  Beginning with a 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on February 22nd, Beaupre went on a 5-2-0 run in which he had a GAA of 2.15 and a save percentage of .919.  The late season run gave enough of an impression for the Caps to allow Pete Peeters, the other goaltender on the parent club blocking Beaupre’s way, to depart as a free agent to Philadelphia the following June.

Over the next five seasons Beaupre got most of the work and posted a regular season record of 128-96-27, 3.05, .887, very respectable numbers for the period.  His post-season numbers were not much different: 36 games played with an 18-15 record, a 2.98 GAA, and a .896 save percentage.  But those post-season numbers had an odd aspect to them.  Take the 1990 run in which the Caps advanced to the Wales Conference final for the first time in team history.  Beaupre, who appeared in 48 games in the regular season, appeared in only eight games in the post-season (4-3 record), splitting time with Mike Liut (nine appearances, 4-4 record).

In a way, Beaupre was representative of a problem the Caps had in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  They were a hard working team that got respectable goaltending on their way to regular season success.  But they – and most notably their goaltending – just never could seem to rise that last extra measure to propel the Caps deep into the playoffs, save for that 1990 run.

Nevertheless, Don Beaupre is the second ranked goaltender in team history in games played (269) and wins (128).  Until Jim Carey joined the club in 1994, only Pat Riggin had a career goals against average lower than Beaupre’s in team history.  He merits a place on the Capitals’ “Team B” as its goaltender.

Team B… it will score a lot of goals, and it will allow a lot.  Make sure the lights on the scoreboard work.