Friday, July 25, 2014

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

Two letters down and… well, a lot to go. So, let’s get on with “Team C” in the teams by the alphabet in Washington Capitals franchise history.

Left Wing: Geoff Courtnall

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 159 games, 77-77-154, plus-38
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 21 games, 6-14-20, minus-1

We might have gone with tenure here and taken Jason Chimera (331 games with the Caps), but Geoff Courtnall was not only the best offensive talent at left wing in club history, he was one of the top offensive players in Caps history. Only six players with more than 100 games played for the franchise averaged more points per game than the 0.97 points per game posted by Courtnall in his two seasons with the club.

Courtnall was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Boston Bruins in July 1983 after a three-year junior career with the Victoria Cougars. After four years in the Bruins’ system he was traded in his fifth season to the Edmonton Oilers as an extra in what was a goaltender swap, Bill Ranford to Edmonton and Andy Moog to Boston in March 1988. After spending the rest of the 1987-1988 season in Edmonton, and winning a Stanley Cup in the process, he was traded to the Caps for Greg Adams in July 1988.

The 1988-1989 season with the Caps was a breakout year for Courtnall. He showed improvement over his first four full seasons in the league, progressing from 12 goals in his rookie season to 36 goals split between Boston and Edmonton in 1987-1988, but in his first season with the Caps Courtnall recorded his first (and only) 40-goal season, a 42-goal effort in 79 games. He led that edition of the Caps in goals, power play goals (16, tied with Mike Ridley and Dave Christian), was second in game-winning goals (6, tied with Bengt Gustafsson), and was second in power play assists (19, tied with Gustafsson).

The following season Courtnall recorded 35 goals and 74 points for a team that went to the Wales Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. He followed that up with four goals and 13 points in 15 post season games, second on the club in scoring to John Druce in his magical 14-goal, 17-point post-season.

That might have been where the story of Courtnall and the 1989-1990 season ended, the second year of what might have been a long career with the Caps. It didn’t end there, though.  Had Courtnall and three other players made better decisions on a May evening in 1990, the history of the player and the club might have taken an entirely different direction. However, that second season was the last one for Courtnall in Washington. In July 1990 he was traded to St. Louis for Mike Lalor and the late Peter Zezel. Courtnall went on to play ten more seasons with St. Louis and Vancouver after leaving Washington.

It is those on-ice accomplishments in two brief seasons that land Geoff Courtnall on the Team C roster.

Center: Bobby Carpenter

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 490 games, 188-207-395, minus-38
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 26 games, 9-9-18, plus-2

This is a two-fer. First, there is Bobby Carpenter, the “Can’t Miss Kid” taken third overall in the 1981 entry draft, the highest-drafted American hockey player at the time. He stepped onto the ice the following October, played in all 80 games for the Caps, and scored 32 goals. He was one of two teenagers (Dale Hawerchuk being the other) to record 30 or more goals in the 1981-1982 season. Carpenter followed up that rookie season with 32 goals in 1982-2913, 28 in 1983-1984, and a career-high 53 goals in 1984-1985. His 145 goals over his first four seasons was the second most of his 1981-1982 rookie class (Hawerchuk: 175).

Then, it fell apart. Carpenter’s goal total was sliced almost in half the following season, to 27 goals. He started squabbling with head coach Bryan Murray over how he was being used (he was moved to left wing). The Carpenter-Murray feud degenerated into such a mess that general manager David Poile tried to intervene, and those efforts went nowhere. Finally, in November 1986, Poile and the player met, and Carpenter agreed to a trade. Poile later told Carpenter not to report to practice, that his services were no longer required.  On New Year’s Day 1987 Carpenter was trade to the New York Rangers with a 1989 second round draft pick for Mike Ridley, Kelly Miller, and Bob Crawford.

Five years, three teams, and 335 regular season games later, “Bob Carpenter” returned to the Caps. By this time, the 1992-1993 season, Carpenter had ceased to be a goal-scorer and evolved into more of a checking forward role. He was tied for 12th on the team in goals with Todd Krygier (11) and was 12th on the club in points (28). The checking part did not turn out so well; he was a team-worst minus-16 for the season.

This spot ended up being closer than we thought it might. Guy Charron (118-156-274 in 320 games with the Caps) and Glen Currie (38-77-115 in 307 games) might have had a case to make. But in the end, it was Carpenter’s early career performance that earned him a spot on Team C.

Right Wing: Dave Christian

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 504 games, 193-224-417, plus-20
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 49 games, 17-19-36, plus-7

This was a hard one. It finally boiled down to a choice between high-powered skill and steady production. Between Dino Ciccarelli and Dave Christian. In the end, the tie breaker was the factor we did not employ in picking the left wing, for which there was no clearly equivalent alternative to Geoff Courtnall.  We went with the steady player.

Dave Christian was a 2nd round/40th overall draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1979 after completing two seasons with the University of North Dakota. After he was drafted he left UND, but not to join either the Jets or a minor league affiliate. Christian was a member of the U.S. Olympic Team that played in 66 games in international competition, including seven at the Winter Games in Lake Placid in 1980 where Team USA won a gold medal.

After his international experience in 1979-1980 Christian joined the Jets for the remainder of the 1979-1980 NHL season and three to follow. After the 1982-1983 season he was traded to Washington for the Caps’ first round pick in the 1983 draft. In six-plus seasons with the Caps, Christian was a steady, reliable scorer who recorded 20 or more goals in each of his six full seasons with the club. That included a career-high 41 goals in the 1985-1986 season.

Although Christian was more of the steady goal scorer, he holds the team record for consecutive games with at least one assist (9, tied with Bengt Gustafsson), set in the 1986-1987 season. He also played against type as far as the 1980’s player is concerned. In more than 500 regular season games with the Caps, Christian had but a single fight. March 15, 1986, against St. Louis’ Mark Hunter, for the record.

It is perhaps a mark of Christian’s steadiness as a player that despite scoring 193 goals over 504 games with the Caps he had only two hat tricks. But he was a player who averaged 31 goals per 80 games (the season standard at the time) over his Caps’ career. That gets Dave Christian a spot on the right side of Team C.

Defense: Sylvain Cote

Regular Season (with Capitals): 10 seasons, 622 games, 75-195-270, plus-60
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 40 games, 6-14-20, minus-9

Sylvain Cote is perhaps one of the most underrated, underappreciated players in Caps history. A first round (11th overall) draft pick of the Hartford Whaiers in 1984, Cote came to Washington by way of trade in 1991, exchanged for the Caps’ second round pick in the 1991 entry draft (who happened to be Andrei Nikolishin, who Hartford would trade later to Washington and who played 407 games with the Caps himself).

Cote immediately posted in 1991-1992 what would then be a career year – 11 goals, 29 assists, and 40 points. He did even better the following season: 21-29-50. He then set what would be his career high in points (51) in his third season with the Capitals. That 21-goal season in 1992-1993 made him one of three defensemen on that squad to record 20 of more goals (Kevin Hatcher: 34; Al Iafrate: 25), and Cote is one of eight defensemen in franchise history to record 20 or more goals in a season. Cote also recorded at least one goal in each of the five post-seasons in which he participated with the Caps (6-14-20 in 35 games).

In his first five seasons with Washington, Cote missed only 11 games. However, in October of the 1996-1997 season, Cote injured a ligament in his right knee, an injury that would help limit him to 57 games. The following season Cote struggled with one goal and 16 points in 59 games, and in March he was traded to Toronto for defenseman Jeff Brown.

Cote spent the rest of the 1997-1998 season and the next two seasons wandering the NHL landscape with Toronto, Chicago, and Dallas. In July 2000, though, Cote returned to Washington as a free agent. He spent his last three NHL seasons with the Caps. In that third and last season, Cote suited up for one game before being released after reassignment to Portland in the AHL.

Cote retired with some high rankings among defensemen in his career with the Caps:

  • Games played: 622 (6th)
  • Goals: 75 (7th)
  • Assists: 195 (7th)
  • Points: 270 (7th)
  • Plus/Minus: plus-60 (5th)
  • Power play goals: 25 (7th)
  • Shorthanded goals: 5 (T-1st, with Kevin Hatcher)

It is a resume that qualifies Sylvain Cote as a defenseman on Team C

Defense: John Carlson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 316 games, 33-101-134, plus-25
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 37 games, 5-8-13, minus-1

When the Washington Capitals traded Steve Eminger and the 84th overall pick in the 2008 draft to the Philadelphia Flyers for the 27th overall pick in the 2008 draft it was quiet acknowledgment that Eminger, the former 12th overall pick of the Caps in 2002, was not going to be what they hoped for when he was drafted out of Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League.

The Caps addressed their problem of the underachieving defenseman with their selection at 27th overall – John Carlson out of the Indiana Ice of the USHL.  Carlson’s progress up the Caps developmental ladder was steady and methodical.  A year in Canadian juniors with the London Knights in 2008-2009, followed by a 13-game stint with the Hershey Bears in the first of two consecutive post-seasons ending in a Calder Cup.  Then, 48 games with the Hershey Bears in 2009-1010, with an interlude as a member of Team USA in the World Junior Hockey Championships in which he scored the goal medal goal in overtime against Team Canada.  Carlson would be called up to the Caps late in the 2009-2010 season, getting 22 games worth of work, followed by appearances in all seven games of the Caps’ seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs.  Carlson returned to Hershey for their second run at a Calder Cup, playing in 13 games and helping hoist the trophy a second time.

In 2010-2011 Carlson stuck for good with the big club, and he has not been out of the lineup since.  He has played in all 294 games over the past four seasons.  In the first of those seasons he finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting for NHL rookie of the year, earning more votes than any other rookie defenseman, including Montreal’s P.K. Subban.

In his four full seasons in the NHL Carlson has shown himself to be a consistent offensive producer.  His goals, assists, and points per game are as follows:

His first four seasons do not reflect especially impressive possession numbers (three years of Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of less than 50 percent), his performance numbers look better – two seasons with goals-for at 5-on-5 of better than 55 percent and goals-for percent relative to the Caps’ percentage when he was not on ice in positive territory. 

Carlson has had his bouts with inconsistency on a game-to-game basis, as might be the case with any young defenseman, but he has been getting more responsibility, too.  His total ice time has increased over the last three years from 21:52 per game to 24:31 per game last season, putting him in the top-20 among league defensemen.  Most notably, his power play ice time has increased from 1:25 in 2011-2012 to 2:13 in 2012-2013 to 3:08 this past season.

John Carlson is on a path that could place him among the best defensemen in Capitals history, which is no mean feat, given the defensemen who have worn the Caps' sweater.  But even with just four full seasons under his belt he is a clear choice for a spot on Team C.

Goalie: Jim Carey

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 139 games, 70-48-15, 2.37 GAA, .904 SV, 14 SO
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 10 games, 2-5, 4.62 GAA, .816 SV, 0 SO

Jim Carey was a second round (32nd overall) pick for the Washington Capitals in the 1992 entry draft.  By the time he completed his first year at the University of Wisconsin in 1993 he was on the radar as a potential number one goaltender down the line.  After another year with the Badgers, he graduated to the Portland Pirates in 1994-1995, where he posted a record of 30-14-11, 2.76, .909, with six shutouts.  That was just a taste.

Carey was called up to the Caps late in that 1994-1995 season and did not miss a beat.  He was unbeaten in his first seven appearances (6-0-1) with a goals against average of 1.41 and a save percentage of .939.  Through 17 appearances he was 13-2-2, 1.87, .922, with three shutouts. 

What followed were some ominous portents.  Carey was 5-4-1 in his last 11 regular season appearances.  Then, in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carey allowed three goals on 11 shots in 21:38 of work.  Olaf Kolzig relieved Carey with the Caps down, 3-1, but the Caps rallied to win Game 1, 5-4.  Carey ended up having a miserable series, going 2-4, 4.19, .834, and getting pulled twice before losing Game 7, allowing two goals on 17 shots in a 3-0 loss.

It might have been treated as a speed bump on his rush to stardom when Carey was named rookie of the year in 1994-1995, then went 35-24-9 (2.26, .919, nine shutouts to lead the league) on his way to a Vezina Trophy the following regular season.  But in the playoffs, the Penguins stood in the middle of the road once more.  And, it was uglier than the previous year.  In Game 1, Carey was chased after giving up four goals on 16 shots.  But, just as in the previous year, the Caps rallied to win that Game 1, this time by a 6-4 score.  Carey sat in Game 2, a 5-3 Caps win, but he got the start in Game 3. 

It was a disaster, for the goalie and the team.  Carey allowed four goals on 19 shots in 60 minutes of work in a 4-1 loss.  It stopped the series momentum for the Caps.  That momentum would tilt in the other direction when the Penguins won in four overtimes in Game 4 in Landover with Olaf Kolzig in goal.  When the Caps lost Game 5 in front of Kolzig, Head Coach Jim Schoenfeld played a hunch and started Carey in Game 6.  It didn’t work.  Carey allowed two power play goals on four shots in six minutes of work.  Pittsburgh scored another first period goal, then held on for a 3-2 win to close out the Caps and Jim Carey’s playoff career.

Whether the experience against the Penguins shattered his confidence or teams figured him out, Carey struggled the following season.  He went 17-18-3, 2.75, .893 with one shutout before he was traded to Boston with Anson Carter, Jason Allison, and a draft pick for goalie Bill Ranford, Adam Oates, and Rick Tocchet.  Carey did not find his game in Boston and was demoted to Providence before being released by the Bruins in 1999.  Carey caught on as a free agent with St. Louis but played in only four games before deciding he had enough.

Carey’s is one of the most mysterious, confounding stories in hockey memory.  That he could fall so far so fast, from a Vezina Trophy winner to being out of hockey entirely just three years later is an amazing tale.  However, Carey’s achievements remain sprinkled through the Caps’ record book:
  • First Vezina Trophy winner in team history
  • Second in shutouts (14)
  • Lowest career goals against average (2.37)
  • Third most games played in a season (71 in 1995-1996)
  • Third most minutes in a season (4,069 in 1995-1996)
  • Third most wins in a season (35 in 1995-1996)
  • Third highest winning percentage in a season (.722 in 1994-1995)
  • Most shutouts in a season (9 in 1995-1996)
  • Lowest goals against average for a season (2.13 in 1994-1995)
  • Second longest shutout streak (200:04 in 1995-1996); third longest shutout streak (184:04 in 1994-1995)

This, not the playoff struggles, is what we remember that merit a spot on Team C for Jim Carey.

There is is, Team C.  It is one of the more interesting teams one might have put together for the Caps, a team of talent, but not without its demons, too.