Sunday, August 10, 2014

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

We have to make a bit of a jump in our look at the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Franchise Team. We would normally follow the letter “H” with the letter “I,” but there being only two players in Capitals history whose last name begins with the letter “I,” we will jump to the letter “J.”*

Left Wing: Marcus Johansson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 263 games, 41-98-139, minus-21
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 30 games, 4-7-11, minus-11

When the Washington Capitals selected Marcus Johansson with the 24th overall pick in the first round of the 2009 entry draft, it was probably with the idea that the Landskrona, Sweden native eventually would slide in behind fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom as the second line center for the Caps.

Things did not quite work out that way. Johansson (who some fans might forget had little developmental time after being drafted – one season with Farjestads BK Karlstad in Sweden) started as a center, but eventually was caught up in the whirlpool that has consumed candidates for that position over the last decade. But it would take a little while for him to spin down that whirlpool.

Things looked promising in his 2010-2011 rookie season. He finished tied for 11th in scoring (27 points) among rookie forwards, more than Tyler Seguin (22 points); and he was one of only 23 rookie forwards (of 142 overall) to appear in at least 60 games (69). His points-per-game (0.39) ranked 12th among all rookie forwards playing in at least half of their team’s games.

Johansson followed up a fine rookie season with an even better sophomore season. His 14 goals was ninth among second-year players, his 32 assists was seventh among that group of players, and his 46 points was sixth. Those 46 points also tied for third on the Caps, behind only Alex Ovechkin (65) and Alexander Semin (54). Johansson managed to spread the points out, four games being the longest he went without recording one.

That sophomore year saw a transition for Johansson, too. He spent more 5-on-5 time with Alex Ovechkin as a line mate (432 minutes) than he did with any other Capital forward. The transition would eventually move him to the left side of the top line in season three, where he skated most at 5-on-5 with Ovechkin (327 minutes) and Nicklas Backstrom (324 minutes). His performance numbers reflected the change. His assists per game (0.47) and points per game (0.65) were his best to date.

Johansson’s 2013-2014 season represented something of a step backwards. After posting an aggregate shooting percentage of 13.2 percent at 5-on-5 over his first three seasons,  He managed only two goals on 72 shots (2.8 percent) at 5-on-5 in 2013-2014. He did finish with 36 assists, a career high, but he also finished a minus-21, a career worst to date (the entire first line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Johansson finished minus-20 or worse).

While Johansson has displayed the potential to be a productive offensive player, his output in the post-season has yet to reflect that potential. In three post-seasons he has 11 points in 30 playoff games, and more than half that output (six points) came in the first eight playoff games of his career.

On the other hand, consider that Johansson is 23 years old and has had to assume the duties of a new position, different than that he was drafted to fill. While it might be easier to make the transition from center to wing, that is not to say it is “easy” (try taking on a new job at age 23 in which you are expected to perform at a full performance level from Day 1, and do it in front of 18,000 people a day with folks writing about it and scrutinizing every detail of it every day).

Marcus Johansson is a work in progress, but his resume to date gets him a spot on the left side of Team J.

Center: Joe Juneau

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 312 games, 62-172-234, minus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 44 games, 13-28-41, minus-2

Joe Juneau came into the NHL in a roundabout way. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fourth round of the 1988 entry draft, but rather than go the juniors/minor pro league route, he headed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI happens to be the oldest technical research university in the United States, but it also has a long history of hockey dating back to 1949. Juneau’s contribution over his four years at RPI was 124 games and a scoring line of 69-144-213.

It wasn’t until he graduated from RPI that Juneau joined the Bruins, in the 1991-1992 season, and only for 14 games after he spent 68 games skating with the Canadian National Team, including an appearance in the 1992 Winter Olympic Games. His 14-game introduction was prelude to a big rookie season. In 1992-1993 Juneau went 32-70-102, second to Teemu Selanne in rookie scoring, to whom he also finished second in the Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year.

The big rookie year did not keep him from being traded, though. In March 1994, in the midst of a season comparable to his rookie year (he was on a 96-point pace through 63 games with Boston), he was traded to the Capitals for all-star defenseman Al Iafrate.

Juneau kept up his scoring pace over the remainder of the season (5-8-13 in 11 games) and had a respectable post season (4-5-9 in 11 games), suggesting that he could replicate his early season success in Boston with the Caps. Early on, he did. Juneau averaged almost a point a game in the abbreviated 1994-1995 season (5-38-43 in 44 games).

The following season Juneau had a still very good 14-50-64 scoring line in 80 games, but it would be in the post-season that he was remembered. Specifically, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That game might qualify as the most bizarre in the history of the franchise. Caps fans will remember the heartbreaking way in which it ended, on a fourth-overtime power play goal by the Penguins’ Petr Nedved. Less well-remembered is Mario Lemieux being ejected late in the second period for instigating a fight with Todd Krygier. And as for Juneau, his part in this play came in the second overtime when the Penguins’ Chris Tamer lifted the net off its moorings. That called for a penalty shot, and Juneau was selected to take it for the Caps. On deteriorating ice, the puck would not lay flat for Juneau, and as he advanced on goalie Ken Wregget the puck starting bouncing and skipping. Juneau could manage only a weak attempt on Wregget that the goalie smothered, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Then injuries started taking bites out of Juneau’s game. Over the next two seasons he appeared in only 114 of 164 games, and his production reflected the time missed – just 73 points in those 114 games. However, it would be in the post-season once more in which Juneau was called upon to play a key role. Things turned out better this time around. It was Juneau’s goal just as a power play expired early in the second period in Game 5 of the 1998 Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Ottawa Senators that proved to be the game-winning, series-clinching goal in what would be a 3-0 Caps win.

That game-winner against Ottawa was just the appetizer, though. Through five games of the Eastern Conference final against the Buffalo Sabres, Juneau scored goals in the even-numbered games, two and four. With the Caps holding a 3-2 lead in games in Game 6, the game went to overtime, and Juneau had yet to make good on his even-numbered games success. With six minutes gone in the first overtime, Juneau collected a loose puck just outside the Buffalo blue line and fed Brian Bellows heading into the offensive zone. Bellows circled around a Buffalo defender and tried to jam the puck past goalie Dominik Hasek. Bellows could not get a good whack at the puck, but neither could Hasek control it. Juneau, who headed to the net after feeding Bellows, crept in from the weak side, and when the puck bounced out to Hasek’s left, Juneau was there to slide it under the goalie to send the Caps to their first (and, to date, only) Stanley Cup final.

That would be the pinnacle of Juneau’s career with the Caps (and for the franchise, for that matter). The Caps were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the finals, despite Juneau recording a goal and three assists in the four games.  The following season the Caps were decimated by injuries and slipped out of playoff contention by the time the trading deadline came.  Juneau, who was not among the wounded, was an attractive trade target with 14 goals an 41 points in 63 games.  He was traded to Buffalo on March 22nd with a third round pick in the 1999 entry draft for defenseman Alexei Tezikov and a compensatory draft pick.

That trade started a late career journey for Juneau.  After finishing the 1998-1999 in Buffalo he was signed as a free agent by the Ottawa Senators in October 1999.  After a season in Ottawa he was claimed by the expansion Minnesota Wild in June 2000.  He never played a game for the Wild.  He never lasted the day, in fact.  The same day he was claimed, Juneau was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for the rights to Rickard Wallin, a 1998 draft pick of the Coyotes.  A year in Phoenix, then Juneau was off again, traded to the Montreal Canadiens in June 2001.  Juneau played three seasons in Montreal before retiring in 2004.

Joe Juneau scored what is the most important goal in franchise history, that which sent the Capitals to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998.  However, in parts of six seasons with the Caps he recorded 234 points, despite enduring a number of injuries that bit into his playing time.  That point total puts him in the top 30 in franchise history.  It is more than enough to give him a spot on Team J.

Right Wing: Keith Jones

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 258 games, 62-65-127, plus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 26 games, 4-5-9, minus-4

Brantford, Ontario has made many contributions to the National Hockey League.  Thirty-one players from Brantford, from Jack Marks (appearing in his first game in 1918) to Adam Henrique (currently of the New Jersey Devils) and including Wayne Gretzky, have appeared in NHL games. Keith Jones is part of that heritage.  His contribution started when he was drafted in the seventh round (141st overall) by the Caps in the 1988 entry draft.  After a four-year career with Western Michigan University of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and spending that fourth year with the Baltimore Skipjacks after his WMU season ended, he joined the Capitals for the 1992-1993 season.

Jones left an impression in that rookie season.  Not so much as a scorer, he had 12 goals and 26 points, but he finished with 124 penalty minutes (including seven fights), fourth among all rookies that season.  But let’s not leave his scoring underrated.  Jones was one of only two rookies that season to record at least ten goals and at least 120 penalty minutes.  The other was Eric Lindros.

It was the first of what would be four solid seasons with Washington. Over those four years Jones averaged 20-21-41 per 82 games.  However, there seemed to be a sense that Jones was capable of more, of being a scoring power forward rather than a grinder who could contribute the occasional goal.  There was also the fact that in four playoff appearances Jones managed only four goals in 26 games, all of them coming in the seven-game 1995 Eastern Conference quarterfinal against Pittsburgh.

Nevertheless, Jones did provide a rare combination of production and grit.  He was the only Capital over the 1992-1993 through 1995-1996 seasons to record both 60 goals and at least 400 penalty minutes.  That 1995-1996 season would be his last full season with the Caps, though.  After appearing in 11 games for Washington in 1996-1997 he was traded to Colorado with the Capitals first round and fourth round picks in the 1998 draft for Curtis Leschyshyn and Chris Simon.

Late in that 1997-1998 season with the Avalanche, Jones suffered a serious knee injury, one from which he would never completely recover.  He missed most of the 1997-1998 season to that injury, appearing in only 23 games for Colorado.  The following November he was traded to Philadelphia for Shjon Podein.  The lingering knee problems limited Jones to just 57 games in the 1999-2000 season, and in November 2000, after appearing in just eight games of the 2000-2001 season, he announced his retirement.

Keith Jones did not have a long tenure with the Caps, but in his four-plus seasons he managed to contribute in a variety of ways and did so in a manner consistent with the Capitals’ history as a hard-working, relentless sort of team.  He is certainly deserving of the right wing spot on Team J.

Defense:  Calle Johansson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 15 seasons, 983 games, 113-361-474, plus-47
Playoffs (with Capitals): 11 seasons, 95 games, 12-42-54, plus-4

Only one defenseman in Washington Capitals history has…
  • Played in more than 11 seasons with the club
  • Played in more than 750 games
  • Scored more than 450 points

That would be Calle Johansson, who ranks highly among defensemen in team history in:
  • Seasons: 1st (15, 14 of them full seasons)
  • Games: 1st (983)
  • Goals: 3rd (110)
  • Assists: 1st (363)
  • Points: 1st (474)
  • Power play goals: 2nd (51)
  • Shorthanded goals: 3rd (4)
  • Game-winning goals: 4th (16)
  • Games played, playoffs: 1st (95)
  • Goals, playoffs: 3rd (12)
  • Power play goals, playoffs: T-4th (4)
  • Assists, playoffs: 2nd (42)
  • Points, playoffs: 1st (54)

Yet, he neither started nor finished his career with Washington.  After an eight-goal, 21 point season (in 30 games) for Vastra Frolunda HC Goteborg in Sweden, plus a four-goal performance (in five games) in the European junior championship, Johansson was selected 14th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1985 entry draft.

After two more years in Sweden, Johansson made the jump to the Sabres for the 1987-1988 season.  It was a good enough year for Johansson (4-38-42 in 71 games, his points leading all rookie defensemen) to be named to the league’s all-rookie team and receive consideration for the Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year.  It was also his last full season in Buffalo. 

In March 1989, after going 3-18-21 in 59 games with the Sabres, he was packaged with Buffalo’s second round draft pick in the 1989 entry draft and sent to Washington for goalie Clint Malarchuk, Grant Ledyard, and the Caps’ sixth round choice in the 1991 entry draft.

Johansson caught on right away.  After going without a point in his first game with the Caps, he ran off a five-game points streak and had points in six of seven games.  His 1-7-8 scoring line in 12 games to finish the 1988-1989 season was the start of a long, productive career with the Caps.  In 14 full seasons with the Capitals, from 1989-1990 through 2002-2003, Johansson ranked, among NHL defensemen:
  • 11th in games played (971)
  • 20th in goals (112)
  • 19th in assists (352)
  • 20th in points (466)

He was one of only nine defensemen over that period with at least 50 power play, four shorthanded goals, and at least a plus-45.

Johansson was one of only four Capitals to have played on both teams in franchise history that advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs, in 1990 and 1998 (Dale Hunter, Kelly Miller, and Michal Pivonka being the others).  He continued to be a productive player after that 1998 playoff team as he headed into his 30’s.  However, early in the 2001-2002 season, Johansson suffered a severe rotator cuff injury to his shoulder and missed the last 66 games of the season.

He returned for the 2002-2003 season and played in all 82 games, but things frayed in the post-season.  After averaging more than 20 minutes a game through the first five games of the Caps’ opening round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, head coach Bruce Cassidy held Johansson to 13 minutes in a triple-overtime loss to the Lightning that clinched the series for Tampa Bay.  No other Capitals defenseman played fewer than 29 minutes in that game.  It was his last game for Washington.  The Caps and Johansson parted ways, Johansson deciding to retire.  He was coaxed out of retirement late in the 2003-2004 season by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were anxious to bolster their blue line for a playoff run.  Johansson played in eight regular season games (0-6-6, plus-5) and four playoff games (0-0-0, minus-1) for the Leafs before hanging up his skates for good.

Calle Johansson spent his 14-plus seasons in Washington overshadowed at times by the likes of Scott Stevens and Sergei Gonchar, but no defenseman in Capitals history sustained a level of performance such as his in the history of the franchise.  He is an obvious choice for a defense slot on Team J.

Defense: Greg Joly

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 98 games, 9-24-33, minus-114
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Greg Joly was a monster in Canadian juniors with the Regina Pats.  In three seasons with the Pats, Joly recorded successively more productive seasons, 6-38-44 in 1971-1972, 14-54-68 in 1972-1973, and 21-71-92 in 1973-1974, playing in 67 games each season, the last of them ending in a Memorial Cup.  That progress set him up to become the first draft pick in Washington Capitals history, taken first overall in the 1974 NHL amateur draft.

Joly was thrust into the expansion Capitals’ lineup immediately in their inaugural 1974-1975 season.  He, like the team, struggled.  He recorded only one goal and eight points in 44 games, his season plagued by a hamstring injury that slowed his start, then interrupted at mid-season by a knee injury.  Unfortunately, 44 games was enough to record a team second-worst minus-68.

Joly started the following season with the Richmond Robins of the AHL, but that stint lasted only a week before he was recalled to Washington.  He led all Capitals’ defensemen in scoring in 1975-1976 (25 points) despite appearing in only 54 games. 

That would be the end of his tenure with the Caps, though.  Early in the following season the 22-year old Joly was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for 34-year old defenseman Bryan Watson.  Joly would spend seven seasons in Detroit but would struggle to sustain any success in the Wings’ lineup.  In his last three years in the Wings’ organization he would spend most of his time with the AHL affiliate in Adirondack.  After the 1982-1983 season, one in which he appeared in only two games for Detroit, he retired.

Greg Joly is one of those unfortunate examples of unrealized promise.  His was a tough row to hoe, being the first ever draft pick of an expansion team that lacked talent generally, then having to overcome injuries in his rookie season.  He never seemed to get out from behind that eight ball, whether in Washington or Detroit.  He was, however, arguably the best defenseman on those first two clubs.  Perhaps with more talent around him, his career would have taken a different path.  Still, it is enough to earn him a spot on Team J.

Goalie: Al Jensen

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 173 games, 94-48-18, 3.26, .884, 8 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 12 games, 5-5, 3.21, .893

Al Jensen was the first goalie selected in the 1978 amateur draft, taken in the second round (31st overall) by the Detroit Red Wings.  After three years in the Red Wings’ minor league system (and one appearance with the parent club), Jensen was traded to the Capitals for forward Mark Lofthouse in July 1981.  It would be one of the better trades in Capitals history.

In 1981-1982 Jensen backed up Dave Parro and had a team best 3.81 goals against average.  The following season he and the Caps finally broke through.  Jensen and Pat Riggin formed an effective tandem, Jensen appearing in 40 games, posting a 22-12-6 record (3.44 goals against average) for the 94-point Capitals that reached the playoffs for the first time in team history.

In 1983-1984 the Caps improved to 101 points, establishing another club record.  Jensen appeared in 43 games, going 25-13-3, 2.91, .882, with four shutouts.  He and Riggin combined to win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.  Jensen also finished third in Vezina Trophy voting for the league’s top goalie (as it turned out, tied with Riggin).

After an injury plagued 1984-1985 season that limited him to 14 appearances, he ended up getting caught in a goalie merry-go-round in 1985-1986.  In November, his partner Pat Riggin was traded to Boston in what might have been a signal that Jensen was getting the number one goaltender spot all to himself.  However, the return in that trade was goalie Pete Peeters.  Despite Jensen getting the most appearances during the regular season and posting a career high 28 wins, it would be Peeters getting the call in the playoffs. 

In 1986-1987, Jensen gave way to youth.  The Caps could no longer hold prospect Bob Mason back, and the young goalie stepped up for what would be a 45-game season.  His emergence and Peeters’ presence left Jensen the odd man out.  After making just six appearances and struggling to a 1-3-1 record, Jensen was traded in February to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Garry Galley. Jensen appeared in five games with the Kings, those being his last in the NHL.  After one more season, that with the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL, Jensen retired, not yet having reached his 30th birthday.

Al Jensen was an important cog in the Capitals’ transition from also-ran to playoff competitor in the early and mid-1980s.  Whether it was his skill or a stout defense in front of him, his production was an important part of that transition.  For that he gets the nod in goal for Team J.

Team J has its share of Johansson’s (we could not see our way to including a third – Jonas Johansson), but it has more than that.  What Team J lacks in star power it makes up for with a certain balance.  And, it does have a flair for the dramatic.  It could be one of the more difficult teams to play against among the All-Alphabet Franchise Teams.

* We'll get to the "I" players at a later time.