Monday, August 04, 2014

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

We are up to Team G in the look at the all-time Washington Capitals All Alphabet Team.  If offense is your thing, this is a team to watch.

Left Wing: Stan Gilbertson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 56 games, 24-21-45, minus-62
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

When you have 24 goals and 45 points in 56 games and still average worse than a minus-1 per game (minus-1.11, in fact), you know you play on a pretty bad team.  That was what Stan Gilbertson fell into when he was traded with Garnet Bailey from the St. Louis Blues to the Capitals for Denis Dupere in February 1975.  He already had quite a journey through the hockey landscape before arriving in Washington.  He was an undrafted free agent who bounced around from Boston to Vancouver in the WHL, back to Boston, loaned to Hershey, claimed by the California Golden Seals in the intra-league draft of 1971 before he finally appeared in an NHL game with the Golden Seals in 1971. 

Gilbertson spent three years and change with California, then was traded to St. Louis in November 1974.  The following February, he was in Washington, his third club of the 1974-1975 season.  On the last leg of that season – 25 games with the Caps – he managed 11 goals in 25 games, tied for fifth on the club.  He was also a minus-37 for the least successful team in league history (8-67-5).  He did end the season with an exclamation point, scoring four goals in an 8-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the season finale, becoming the first player in franchise history to score four goals in a game.

The following season was very similar overall.  Gilbertson was 13-14-27 in 31 games, those 13 goals once more being tied for fifth on the club.  His five power play goals tied for second with the Caps.  However, he was also a minus-25, too, although that was not close to being worst on the team (he was 17th worst on a team that did not have a player finish as much as even for the season).

Those 31 games in the 1975-1976 season would be all for Gilbertson with the Caps.  He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Harvey Bennett in December.  He would play for the Penguins for two seasons, but his career ended too soon, at the age of 32 when he lost part of his leg in an automobile accident just before the start of the 1977-1978 season. 

Stan Gilbertson might have played for some dismal teams, but he is 11th all-time in goals per game for the Caps (0.43 per game), ahead of Alexander Semin and Bobby Carpenter, among others.  Caps fans might not have many memories of him, but he deserves a spot on Team G.

Center: Bengt Gustafsson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 9 seasons, 629 games, 196-359-555, plus-49
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 32 games, 9-19-28, minus-7

Bengt Gustafsson was one of the early players in the tussle between the NHL and the rival World Hockey Association in the late 1970s.  Drafted by the Capitals in the fourth round of the 1978 NHL amateur draft out of Farjestads BK Karlstad in Sweden. he played another season Farjestads before signing as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA in March 1979.

Gustafsson did not play for the Oilers in the regular season but did dress for two playoff games in 1979.  That would be all for his career in Edmonton, though.  The WHA and NHL had agreed in March to merge the following season, and one of the terms of that deal was that WHA teams folded into the NHL would lose players to NHL teams that drafted them without compensation.  Gustafsson, a Capitals draft choice, was headed to Washington.

Gustafsson was an instant contributor for the Caps.  In his rookie season he was 22-38-60 in 80 games.  It started a string of five seasons in which he recorded no fewer than 21 goals and no fewer than 55 points.  In the last of those seasons he also received votes for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward.  His big moment, though, might have been in January 1984 in Philadelphia.  After Dave Poulin scored to put the Flyers ahead five minutes into the contest, Gustafsson scored what would be his 18th goal of the season just 59 seconds later.  Five minutes later, he scored again.  After the Caps took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission on a goal by Dave Christian, Gustafsson got the hat trick mid-way through the second period.  In the third period Doug Jarvis made it 5-1, then Gustafsson got his fourth and fifth goals of the game (on his fourth and fifth shots) to close out the scoring in a 7-1 Caps win.  It was at the time a team record for goals in a game (since tied).

In 1985-1986 Gustafsson was on his way to setting career best marks in goals, assists, and points, when the Caps faced the New York Islanders on March 28th in the teams’ last meeting of the regular season at Capital Centre.  In that game, Gustafsson suffered a broken right leg when he was tripped by Islander defenseman Denis Potvin.  His season ended that night (with a career-best 52 assists and tying his career high of 75 points).  He would miss the entire 1986-1987 season as well, skating for Bofors IK in Sweden.

Gustafsson would return to the Caps for the 1987-1988 season but would last only two more seasons in Washington before returning to Sweden for good after the 1988-1989 season.  In his nine seasons he finished with 629 regular season games played (currently 12th in team history), 196 goals (sixth), 359 assists (seventh), 555 points (sixth), most consecutive games with an assist (nine games, tied with Dave Christian), second in shorthanded goals (17, tied with Mike Ridley), and had four seasons in which he received Selke Trophy votes.  Gustafsson recorded only 196 minutes in penalties for his career.  He might have been the best two-way center in team history and thus deserves to center Team G.

Right Wing: Mike Gartner

Regular Season (with Capitals): 10 seasons, 758 games, 397-392-789, plus-60
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 47 games, 16-27-40, plus-3

In his nine full seasons with the Washington Capitals (1979-1980 through 1987-1988), only five players scored more goals than Mike Gartner.  The list reads like a who’s who of goal scorers in the 1980s”
  • Wayne Gretzky: 583
  • Mike Bossy: 451
  • Michel Goulet: 414
  • Marcel Dionne: 397
  • Jari Kurri: 397
  • Mike Gartner: 371

Gartner was another of those players who lived a split existence between the WHA and NHL.  In May 1978 he was signed as an underage free agent by the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA, but played for the Cincinnati Stingers in 1978-1979, finishing second to Wayne Gretzky for rookie of the year.  The following summer Gartner would be taken fourth overall by the Caps in the 1979 NHL entry draft, taken after Rob Ramage, Perry Turnbull, and Mike Foligno.  He made the jump to Washington the following season, scoring 36 goals as a rookie, tied for sixth among rookies in the 1979-1980 season.

It says something about Gartner’s consistency as a goal scorer that despite being one of the leading goal scorers of the era, he led the Caps in goals only five times in nine full seasons.  But Gartner was not merely a prolific goal scorer.  With five seasons of 40 or more assists, he ranks fourth in team history, and no Capital has more than the nine seasons Gartner has with 30 or more assists.  He is also sixth on the franchise list in shorthanded goals (11) and holds the team record for shorthanded goals in a season (six in 1986-1987, tied with Peter Bondra).  Garner is otherwise prominently featured in the Caps’ record book:
  • Games played: 6th (758)
  • Goals: 3rd (397)
  • Even strength goals: 2nd (288)
  • Power play goals: 3rd (98)
  • Game-winning goals: 3rd (54)
  • Most game winning goals (season): T-2nd (11 in 1984-1985)
  • Points (season): 6th (102 in 1984-1985)
  • Goals (season): 50 (T-9th, 1984-1985)
  • Most consecutive games with a point: 1st (17 in 1984-1985)
  • Most consecutive games with a goal: 1st (9 in 1986-1987)
  • Hat tricks: T-2nd (13)
  • Assists: T-2nd (392)
  • Points: 3rd (789)
  • Plus-Minus: 12th (plus-60)

What Gartner does not hold, however, is much in the way of playoff records for the Caps.  In fact, he holds no post-season record for the Caps for a game or a series.  Part of that is that Washington won just three playoff series in six post-seasons in which Gartner appeared with the Caps.  He did lead the Caps in scoring in four of those post-seasons, but it seemed that much of the playoff failure of the Caps during that period was laid at his feet.

Whether this was fair or not, the Caps and Gartner parted ways in March 1989.  He was traded to the Minnesota North Stars with Larry Murphy for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse.  Gartner went on to play nine more seasons in the NHL for four teams: Minnesota, the New York Rangers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs before ending his NHL career with the Phoenix Coyotes in 1997-1998.  His 708 career goals ranks sixth all time in the NHL and earned him a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  It is more than enough to get the right wing spot on Team G.

Defense: Sergei Gonchar

Regular Season (with Capitals): 10 seasons, 654 games, 144-272-416, plus-51
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 51 games, 13-18-31, plus-8

After almost a decade of futility in the early years of Washington Capitals history, the club eventually forged an identity of being a tight, hard-working, defense-first sort of club.  A lot of that was having tough, sturdy defensemen who were tough in their own end – Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, Kevin Hatcher.  However, they had their share of defensemen who could contribute in the offensive end, too – Stevens and Hatcher, Larry Murphy, Calle Johansson, Sylvain Cote, Al Iafrate.

Except for Johansson, though, all of those defensemen were North Americans.  In 1992, the Caps went off the board, so to speak.  With the 14th overall pick in the 1992 draft Washington selected a defenseman with Traktor Chelyabinsk in what was then the Commonwealth of Independent States (what had largely been the old Soviet Union) – Sergei Gonchar.  He would spend another two seasons in Europe before coming to North America, starting the 1994-1995 season with the Portland Pirates of the AHL and ending it with the Capitals.

That finish to the 1994-1995 season included playing in all seven games of the post-season.  In his first playoff game for the Caps – Game 1 of that opening round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins – Gonchar scored two goals (including what would be the game-winner) and added an assist in a 5-4 win over the Penguins.  The following season, his first full season, Gonchar finished tied with the New York Rangers’ Brian Leetch for eighth in goal-scoring among defensemen (15), and only Florida’s Robert Svehla had more points (57) among defensemen playing in their first full season in the NHL than Ganchar (41).

The year after that Gonchar missed 25 games, but he still had 13 goals in 57 games and received a vote for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.  After a curious drop off in offensive production in 1997-1998 (5-16-21 in 72 games), Gonchar peeled off five consecutive seasons in which he recorded no fewer than 18 goals and four time recorded more than 50 points.  No defenseman over those five seasons (1998-1999 through 2002-3003) had more goals (102), and only Nicklas Lidstrom (322) and Al MacInnis (269) had more points than Gonchar (268).  He had established himself as one of the premier offensive defensemen in the league.

As a playoff performer, Gonchar had two distinct stages of his career with the Caps.  In the first, covering the 1995, 1996, and 1998 playoffs, he was 11-10-21 in 34 games, including a 7-4-11 scoring line in 21 games of the 1998 playoffs.  In his last three playoff appearances (2000, 2001, 2003) Gonchar managed only two goals (ten points) in 17 games.

The 2002-2003 season would be Gonchar’s last full season with the Caps.  When the Caps sank through the standings in the 2003-2004 season, and the club began selling off high-priced veterans, Gonchar was traded to Boston for defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, and a first and second round pick in the 2004 entry draft.  That first round pick became defenseman Jeff Schultz, the trade having the overall effect of replacing the offensive defenseman with a pair of stay at home types.  The second round pick, center Mikhail Yunkov, never played for Washington.

After leaving Washington, Gonchar moved around, finishing that 2003-2004 season in Boston, then moving on to Pittsburgh for five seasons, the Ottawa Senators for another three seasons, and then to the Dallas Stars where he played last season and with whom he is under contract for the upcoming season.

No Russian defenseman has played in more career regular season games than Sergei Gonchar (1,253 and counting).  The first half of that career – ten seasons and 654 games – was played in Washington where Gonchar established himself as one of the best offensive defensemen of his time.  For that, he mans the blue line on Team G.

Defense: Mike Green

Regular Season (with Capitals): 9 seasons, 503 games, 103-212-315, plus-43
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons,, 57 games, 9-24-33, minus-1

When the Capitals were selling off their assets in 2003-2004, they sent Robert Lang, the leading scorer in the league at the time, to the Detroit Red Wings for futures – a prospect (Tomas Fleischmann) and two draft picks.  With one of the picks the Capitals selected a defenseman with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, a team that had a record of 7-52-11-2 in his draft season.  That defenseman led the team’s blue liners and was second overall in goal and points (14-25-39 in 59 games).  He was Mike Green, taken 29th overall by the Caps in the 2004 entry draft.

While the NHL was busy not playing hockey during the lockout of 2004-2005, Green wrapped up his career in Saskatoon with the Blades.  The following season Green moved up to the Hershey Bears of the AHL where he was 9-34-43 in 56 games.  He also got his first taste of action in the NHL, getting 22 games with the Caps (1-2-3, minus-8).

After establishing himself in the Caps’ lineup in 2006-2007 (70 games; 2-10-12, minus-10), he found his game in a big way.  In 2007-2008 Green went 18-38-56, finishing first among all NHL defensemen in goals scored and seventh in total points.  It earned him a seventh-place finish in the Norris Trophy voting.  The following season Green finished 31-42-73 in just 68 games, putting him at the top of the defenseman rankings in goals and points, his 31 goals including a streak of eight consecutive games with at least one goal, an NHL record that still stands.  For that Green finished second in the Norris Trophy voting, 52 votes behind Boston’s Zdeno Chara.  In 2009-2010 Green completed an amazing three year run, going 19-57-76 in 75 games and finishing second in the Norris Trophy voting once more, this time losing to Chicago’s Duncan Keith. 

That three season stretch was among the most dominating for a defenseman in recent history.  Green’s 68 goals were 23 more than second-place Shea Weber’s 45 over the same period.  His 205 points was 27 more than second-place Nicklas Lidstrom’s 178 points.  His 36 power play goals was ten more than Mark Streit in second place.  And, among defensemen playing in at least 200 games over the period, none had a better shooting percentage (10.0 percent).

Green also had a flair for the dramatic in that three-year period.  Twelve of his 68 goals were game-winners, four of those coming in overtime, earning him the nickname, “Game Over Green.”  However, it was during that period that another side of “Game Over Green” began to appear.  It started in November 2008 in Anaheim when Mike Green was checked into the end boards by Chris Pronger early in a 6-4 Caps win over the Ducks.  Green missed 11 games with a shoulder injury on his way to missing 14 games overall in 2008-2009.  After playing in 75 games the following season, the injuries came with alarming frequency.  There was an upper body injury that kept him out for three games early in the 2010-2011 season, then a concussion that put him on the shelf for the last 20 regular season games.  In between he missed ten games for a variety of reasons.  In 2011-2012 he missed six games in the first month to an ankle injury, and then recurring groin problems would rob him of another 42 games.  The groin problems would cost him another 13 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.

Those injuries limited Green to just 116 games over three seasons following his career-best three year run, and his offensive output suffered for it (not to mention the coaching changes that would alter his game and his role).  Over the 2010-2011 through 2012-2013 seasons Green was just 23-34-57, 12 of those goals and 26 of those points coming in just 35 games of the 2012-2013 season.  His game-winning goals dropped in the process (four over that period, three in overtime). 

As a playoff performer Green has been reasonably productive (9-24-33, minus-1 in 57 post season games), but his tendency to recover and carry pucks out of the Caps’ end of the ice has been something opponents have sought to exploit by punishing him physically.  It has made for an inconsistent mix, and the Capitals overall playoff performance has been a reflection of that (not that Green is the only player with such a mix in his play).

After submitting to a surgical procedure to address his groin injury issues, Green rebounded with a 38-point season in 70 games in 2013-2014.  Whether or not he will return to the neighborhood of those career-best years remains to be seen, but Green is clearly worthy of getting a place on Team G.

Goalie: Philipp Grubauer

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 19 games, 6-6-5, 2.48, .924
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

The 112th pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft was well traveled. The pick was the original property of the Phoenix Coyotes.  In March 2010 the Coyotes traded that pick, a seventh round pick in the 2010 draft, and defenseman Matt Jones to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Lee Stempniak.  On the second day of the 2010 draft the Maple Leafs sent the pick to the Capitals for Washington’s fourth round (116th overall) and fifth round (146th overall) draft picks in the 2010 draft. 

With that 112th overall pick the Caps took goaltender Philipp Grubauer of the Windsor Spitfires.  Grubauer, a native of Germany, just completed his first season in Canadian juniors, playing first with the Belleville Bulls, then with the Spitfires for whom he went 13-1-2, 2.37, .906 with two shutouts in 19 regular season games and 16-2, 2.69, .905 in 18 post-season games, including a perfect 4-0 record backstopping the Spitfires to the Memorial Cup.

After another year in Canadian junior (this time with the Kingston Frontenacs), Grubauer made the leap to professional hockey in 2011-2012, posting a 23-13-5 record (2.22, .918, one shutout) with the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL.  In 2012-2013 he shuttled among South Carolina, the Hershey Bears in the AHL, and the Caps, where he appeared in two games to kick off the NHL portion of his career.

Grubauer’s career took a leap forward in 2013-2014.  Although he would spend most of his season with the Bears (28 games, 15-13-2, 2.60, .916, three shutouts), Grubauer appeared in 17 games for the Caps, posting a record of 6-5-5, 2.38, .925.  His hot start (5-1-1, 2.18, .937 in eight appearances to open December) set him up as the number one goaltender while Braden Holtby struggled, and Michal Neuvirth was nursing a leg injury.  However, Grubauer stumbled as time wore on, going 1-3-4, 2.95, .912 over his next eight appearances.    He was pulled in each of his last two appearances in that stretch before being reassigned to Hershey on January 20th. 

Grubauer made one more appearance, getting the decision in relief of Braden Holtby in a 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on March 5th, but his overall performance gave indications that he could challenge for the number one goaltending spot in another year or two.  Those flashes of excellence and his potential get him the call in goal for Team G.

We said at the top that if you liked offense, Team G would be a team to watch.  Think of it – five skaters who in a combined 2,600 games with the Caps posted 864 goals (an average of 27 per 82 games per skater) and 2120 points (an average of 73 points per 82 games per skater).  They would be an exciting group to watch.