We are closing in on the half-way point in the look back at the All-Alphabet Franchise Team for the Washington Capitals. There have been scoring teams, gritty teams, old school teams, and newer versions. So let’s see what’s in store this time… K?
Regular Season (with Capitals): 13 seasons, 693 games, 146-196-342, plus-62
Playoffs (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 39 games, 5-12-17, minus-1
Some players might be called the classic power forward, or the classic playmaking center, or the classic sniper. Steve Konowalchuk was a classic all his own, like a classic 1947 Chevy pickup truck. Strong, hard-working, reliable, rugged, and (in the eyes of some) with its own sense of style.
Konowalchuk came to the Caps out of Salt Lake City, Utah, by way of the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, drafted in the third round (58th overall) in the 1991 entry draft. After spending another year in Portland (also having played one game with the Caps), he got an introduction to NHL hockey in 1992-1993, playing 36 games with the Caps (the remainder with the Baltimore Skipjacks of the AHL).
In 1993-1994 Konowalchuk’s progress to the NHL was complete. He appeared in 62 games, going 12-14-26, plus-9 in his first full season. It was the first of ten full seasons in Washington in which he established himself as one in a line of fine checking forwards that have been a staple of Capitals hockey over its history.
Playing the style of hockey he did took a toll on Konowalchuk. From 1994-1995 through 1997-1998 he missed a total of 18 games, a respectable record of durability for a forward who employed an energetic physical style. However, late in that 1997-1998 season he sustained a wrist injury – a detached ligament – that would prevent him from appearing in any games of the Caps’ run to the Stanley Cup final.
Although he was only 25 years old when the wrist injury hit, it started a phase of his career when missing large blocks of time to injury seeped into his game. In 1998-1999 he was one of the many Capitals losing large chunks of games to injury, playing in only 45 games that season. After two seasons in which he appeared in all 82 games, he was limited to 28 games in the 2001-2002 season, sitting out 54 games to a shoulder injury.
He came back to play in 77 games in 2002-2003, but time was starting to run out on the Caps as a competitive team. In 2003-2004 the Caps started unwinding themselves from veteran of the 1990’s. Konowalchuk was the first to go, traded with a third round pick in the 2004 entry draft to Colorado for Bates Battaglia and prospect Jonas Johansson.
The move did nothing to prevent his body from betraying him, though. After playing 76 games with the Avalanche after the trade in October 2003, he missed most of the 2005-2006 season to another wrist injury. Then, after working to get ready for the 2006-2007 season, he was found to have Long QT syndrome, a condition that can lead to irregular heart rhythms. In September 2006, Konowalchuk announced his retirement.
In a sense, Steve Konowalchuk left it all on the ice. On a night-in, night-out basis it would be hard to think of a Capital who gave more effort at both ends of the ice, in any situation. He, along with linemates Jeff Halpern and Ulf Dahlen, comprised one of the most fearsome checking lines in team history, capable of playing keep-away with the puck for entire shifts at a time. He was one in a line of Capitals forwards who defined a style by his hard work. He clearly deserves a spot on Team K.
Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 132 games, 3-10-13, minus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 8 games, 0-0-0, minus-1
How does a somewhat undersized (5’10”, 190) center who played in only 132 games over four seasons for the Caps earn the lasting nickname of “Killer?” Alliteration aside, he does it by racking up 483 penalty minutes, including 33 fights in those 132 games for the Caps.
Kaminski was drafted in the third round (48th overall) by the Minnesota North Stars out of the Saskatoon Blades in the 1987 entry draft. After spending another two years in Saskatoon (and getting one game with the North Stars to start his NHL career), he was traded to the Quebec Nordiques in June 1989 former Capital forward Gaetan Duchesne. He spent four seasons in the Nordiques system, playing just six games with the parent club, before he was traded to Washington in June 1993 for prospect defenseman Mark Matier.
Kaminski was not much of a scorer, what with only three games in his Capitals career. And he generally did not pick on elite goalies when he did score, one of them coming against the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Jean-Claude Bergeron in a 3-1 Caps win in March 1995, and another against against Eric Fichaud in a 6-2 win over the New York Islanders in his penultimate game as a Capital in April 1997.
But that goal in the middle. March 3, 1996, at home against the Philadelphia Flyers. Four minutes into the second period and the Caps holding a 2-0 lead, the Flyers went for a line change. It went poorly as the puck was grabbed by the Caps at center ice. It ended up on Kaminski’s stick on a breakaway. Defenseman Karl Dykhuis tried to race back into the play but managed only to trip Kaminski down to the ice. Nevertheless, from the seat of his pants Kaminski got off a shot that snuck through the pads of goalie Ron Hextall, the last goal in a 3-0 Caps win.
Kaminski played in four seasons for the Caps, his last stop in the NHL, only once playing more than 40 games in a season (54 games in 1995-1996). But he left his mark, quite literally, on the hockey landscape. His 483 penalty minutes in 132 games (3.66 per game) ranked 12th overall during that four-year period among players with at least 475 total minutes accumulated. His rambunctious style of play made him something of a fan favorite. He will certainly keep things honest with a spot on Team K.
Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 220 games, 59-52-111, plus-18
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 24 games, 6-5-11, plus-7
Mike Knuble was something of a late bloomer. He was taken by the Detroit Red Wings with a fourth round pick (76th overall) in the 1991 entry draft after an 18-goal, 42 point season in 36 games for the Kalamazoo Junior K-Wings. Rather than go the junior/minor pro route, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he played four years for the Wolverines.
After spending a year and most of another one with the Adirondack Red Wings, Knuble finally debuted in the NHL, suiting up for a game against the Colorado Avalanche in late March 1997. He was three months shy of his 25th birthday when he made his debut.
It would take a little while longer for Knuble to settle down as a regular with one team. He appeared in 53 games with the Red Wings in 1997-1998 and another three in the post-season (none of them in the Stanley Cup final against the Caps). He appeared in 82 games the following season, but as a New York Ranger after being traded by Detroit for a second round draft pick in the 2000 entry draft. He had a decent season with the Rangers (15-20-35) and recorded a dozen goals for the Blueshirts in 59 games of the 1999-2000 season. However, he was traded from the Rangers to the Boston Bruins in March 2000 for Rob DiMaio.
It was in Boston that he found his game. Even that took a little time, though. After two unremarkable years with the Bruins, the second of which was limited to 54 games due to back injuries, he hit his stride in the 2002-2003 season. Finally, at the age of 30, Knuble had his first 20-plus goal season. Thirty, in fact. It would be the first of eight consecutive seasons in which he would record more than 20 goals.
Not that there weren’t moves in the meantime. After five seasons in Boston, Knuble was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Flyers in July 2004. He spent four years in Philadelphia, one of which (2005-2006) ended in a career-high 34 goals and 65 points.
After the 2008-2009 season, it was time to move on again, this time signing as a free agent with Washington. He immediately became a fixture on the right wing of the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Despite being the “old man” on the squad (at 37 he was the oldest player on the roster), he finished the 2009-2010 season with 29 goals in 69 games, his highest goals-per-game of his career.
The following season his production tailed off some, but he still finished with his eighth straight season with more than 20 goals (24 in 79 games). What that season might be best remember for was not necessarily a goal, or anything that happened on ice, but a locker room speech captured by HBO in its 24/7 series chronicling the run-up to the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. With the Capitals mired in a seven-game losing streak and down 3-0 to Boston after one period in a mid-December contest, Knuble went off in the locker room between the first and second periods:
"Today, it's 3-0 and it will not f***ing be one of these laughers again. It will not f***ing turn into a 5-0, 7-0 f***ing laugher. Where they're f***ing giggling getting out of their f***ing* mess here. We are f***ing down 3-0 and we are going to come back and we're gonna f***ing win this thing. We're not f***ing going in the tank. That is enough right there. That's f***ing more than a year's worth. It's not going to happen again."
The Capitals mounted a furious comeback, assaulting the Bruins net with 26 shots on goal in the third period, but their comeback came up one goal short in a 3-2 loss that extended their losing streak to eight games. It would be the last one in the streak, though. The Caps went on a 4-0-1 run after that, including a Winter Classic win in which Knuble scored the first Caps goal in typical Knuble fashion, parking himself at the top of the crease and jamming at a loose puck until it squirted through the goalie’s pads.
Knuble’s streak of consecutive seasons with more than 20 goals would end in that 2010-2011 season. In 2011-2012 his production dropped to six goals and 18 points in 72 games, enduring a streak of 34 games without a goal, while his playing time dropped from almost 18 minutes a game in 2010-2011 to 14 minutes a game. He did, however, play an important role that season in one of the most important goals scored in Capitals playoff history.
After being a healthy scratch in the first three games of the Caps’ opening round series against the Boston Bruins, Knuble returned to the lineup for Games 4-6, scoring one goal in the process. In Game 7 he got a sweater, and in overtime it paid off. Early in overtime, Benoit Pouliot tried to send the puck deep into the Caps’ zone from just outside the Washington blue line. His attempt was blocked at the blue line, and Knuble collected the loose puck. He skate in with Joel Ward on a 2-on-1 and managed a backhand attempt that goalie Tim Thomas blocked but could not control. Angling behind Knuble, Ward was there for the rebound and shot the puck through Thomas’ pads for the game-winning, series-clinching goal.
It would be Knuble’s last big moment with the Caps, who were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the second round of the 2012 playoffs. The Caps informed Knuble that he would not be brought back for the 2012-2013 season. He would go on to sign a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, for whom he played in 28 games in what would be his last season in the NHL.
Mike Knuble came to the Caps in what might have been regarded as the twilight of his career. Having been something of a late bloomer, though, it might have been more accurately characterized as his later prime years. The combination of his production and leadership were valuable contributions to the Caps in some of their most successful seasons. The right side of Team K is reserved for Mike Knuble.
Regular Season (with Capitals): 9 seasons, 570 games, 43-68-111, plus-13
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 34 games, 1-2-3, plus-1
When going back through the history of the Washington Capitals and considering the games played by defensemen for the club, fans would recognize most of the leaders – Calle Johansson (983 games played), Rod Langway (726), Kevin Hatcher (685). There they would also find Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Sylvain Cote, and Scott Stevens. They might not realize that Ken Klee is eighth on that list with 570 games played for the franchise, although that comes with a catch, as we will see in a moment.
Klee had that effect, an unspectacular but dependable defenseman who gave the Caps 20 minutes of effort on a night-in, night-out basis. To get to that level of play was quite a climb for the Indianapolis native. It started when he was taken by the Caps in the ninth round (177th overall) in the 1990 entry draft after his freshman year at Bowling Green University. Klee played two more seasons at Bowling Green, then made the jump to the Baltimore Skipjacks in the AHL. A year there, then a year in Portland with the Pirates when the Capitals’ changed AHL affiliations, and it was up to the parent club. In 1994-1995 he split time between Washington (23 games) and the Skipjacks (49 games).
In 1995-1996 he stuck with the parent club for good, playing in 66 games and recording eight goals, two of them game-winners. On a team that had Sergei Gonchar, Calle Johansson, Brendan Witt, Mark Tinordi, Jim Johnson, and Joe Reekie, it was tough to get playing time on the blue line. That meant that Klee had to fill in from time to time at right wing, something he did over his first three full seasons. In fact, Klee would often be deployed as a“rover” in a 2-1-2 formation used by Ron Wilson when he was head coach for the Caps.
In 1999-2000 Klee assumed defensive responsibilities full time, one of four Caps defensemen that season to reach the 20-point mark. After playing in 80 games in that 1999-2000 season, Klee appeared in only 54 games the following season, his year littered with a variety of injuries (wrist, leg, back, concussion, knee). The same would be the case in the following year when he appeared in 68 games, missing 14 to rib, groin, and foot injuries. He did managed to rebound from a two-goal, six-point season in 2000-2001 to a 16-point season in 2001-2002.
He would almost duplicate that production in 2002-2003 (17 points in 70 games), but that would be his last as a Capital. Klee signed as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs in September 2003. He had his best season, points-wise, in that first year with the Leafs (4-25-29), but saw his production drop off in the season coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout. After 56 games in which he was 3-12-15, Klee was traded to the New Jersey Devils, which began a meandering journey in the later stages of his career. From New Jersey, Klee moved on to Colorado, Atlanta, Anaheim, and finally Phoenix before his NHL career ended after the 2008-2009 season.
Ken Klee was a dependable, workmanlike defenseman that did not really have a comparable in Caps history. He was not the offensive producer that marked the game of a Larry Murphy or a Sergei Gonchar, and he was not the banger with more limited offensive production that one might associate with a Mark Tinordi or a Brendan Witt. He was the guy who got 20 minutes an night, and you might not have realized it. That is often a good thing for a defenseman, and it is a quality that argues for Ken Klee getting the other defensive slot on Team K.
Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 114 games, 6-9-15, minus-27
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 6 games, 0-0-0, plus-1
Sometimes, the guy with the bad numbers is not so much bad as a good soldier, making the best of a brutal situation. That might be said of defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski, who manned the blue line in one of the saddest seasons in franchise history. No, not those godforsaken abominations of the mid-1970s. Those teams were just bad.
No, we are talking about the 2003-2004 season, one in which the Caps started poorly with an aging team, held a clearance sale, and limped to the finish with a collection of guys who might be bagging groceries right after the season ended.
And Joel Kwiatkowski.
Let’s back up a bit. Kwiatkowski’s arrival in the NHL was not heralded by a brass choir playing a fanfare. He was an eighth round pick of the Dallas Stars in the 1996 entry draft in what would be a surprisingly fertile part of that draft, given the position. Fernando Pisani was taken with the pick after Kwiatkowski and played 462 games in the NHL; Willie Mitchell was taken four picks after that and is still playing with 795 games in the NHL to date. Tomas Kaberle was taken five picks after Mitchell and played 984 games in the NHL.
But back to Kwiatkowski. After two more season in juniors, followed by two with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL, he finally got his NHL break. Well, crack. In 2000-2001 he appeared in four games with the Ottawa Senators in the midst of a season played chiefly with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL. The following year it was 11 games with the Senators while spending 65 in Grand Rapids. By the time 2002-2003 rolled around, folks came to the realization that this was not going to work. After 20 games with Ottawa, Kwiatkowski was traded to the Caps for a ninth round pick in the 2003 entry draft (a pick that found its way back to Washington; Ottawa must have really wanted to part ways).
Kwiatkowski played 34 games with the Caps to wrap up the 2003-2003 season, then appeared in all six games of the post season, a first round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. You could say he had an upgrade in surroundings and playing time.
That was not the case the following year. By the time the Caps completed the 2003 portion of their season they had a record of 11-23-3-1, had already traded away long time Capitals Steve Konowalchuk, and were about to embark on a wholesale roster cleaning. Through it all, Kwiatkowski soldiered on. He would go on to lead the club in games played that season (80), although his minus-28 (worst on the club) was a barometer of just how bad things got by year end, a season in which the Caps would dress 51 skaters and five goaltenders.
He escaped from that purgatory to sign as a free agent with the Florida Panthers in July 2004, beginning his own quest for frequent flyer miles. The following March he was loaned by the Panthers to St. Johns’ in the AHL. He then played parts of two seasons in Florida before being traded to Pittsburgh in February 2007. The following August he left the Penguins to sign as a free agent with the Atlanta Thrashers, for whom he played 18 games in 2007-2008 in his last NHL season. He would wrap up his hockey career with stops with Severstal and SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, then three seasons in the Swiss leagues before ending his pro career at the end of the 2012-2013 season.
For the Caps, Joel Kwiatkowski was an emblem of a gruesome time in franchise history, but he laced up the skates every night and made the best of a bad situation. It is hard to do that when there really is no end in sight (remember, this was the season before Alex Ovechkin was drafted). That is what a pro does, and Kwiatkowski should be respected for displaying that kind of character. That’s why he gets a jersey for Team K.
Regular Season (with Capitals): 16 seasons, 711 games, 301-293-86, 2.70, .906, 35 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 45 games, 20-24, 2.14, .927, 6 shutouts
Olaf Kolzig holds almost every meaningful goaltending record in Washington Capitals franchise history. His name is all over the team’s record book:
- Seasons played: 1st (16, also first among all players)
- Games: 1st (711)
- Minutes: 1st (41,259)
- Wins: 1st (301)
- Losses: 1st (293)
- Ties: 1st (63)
- Shutouts: 1st (35)
- Shots faced: 1st (19,873)
- Saves: 1st (18,013)
- Assists: 1st (17)
- Penalty minutes: 2nd (107)
- Games played, season: 1st (73 in 1999-2000), 2nd (72 in 2000-2001)
- Minutes, season: 1st (4,371 in 1999-2000), 2nd (4,278 in 2000-2001)
- Wins, season: 1st (41 in 1999-2000), 2nd (37 in 2000-2001)
- Losses, season: 2nd (35 in 2003-2004), T-3rd (31 in 1998-1999)
- Ties, season: 1st (11 in 1999-2000), T-2nd (10 in 1997-1998)
- Most shutouts, season: T-2nd (5, accomplished three times)
- Lowest goals-against average, season: 2nd (2.20 in 1997-1998)
- Highest save percentage: T-2nd (.920 in 1997-1998)
- Most shots faced season: 1st (1,997 in 2001-2002), 2nd (1,987 in 1999-2000), 3rd (1,957 in 2005-2006)
- Most saves, season: 1st (1,805 in 2001-2002), 2nd (1,794 in 1999-2000), 3rd (1,781 in 2005-2006)
- Most saves, game: T-1st (52; March 3, 2000, a 2-2- tie vs. Detroit)
- Games played, post-season: 1st (45)
- Minutes played, post-season: 1st (2,799)
- Wins, post-season: 1st (20)
- Shutouts, post-season: 1st (6)
- Goals against average, post-season: 2nd (2.14, minimum five games)
- Save percentage, post-season: 2nd (.927, minimum five games)
It did not come easy, at least at first. Kolzig was taken in the first round (19th overall) by the Caps in the 1989 entry draft, the first goaltender taken.* Kolzig was thrown right into the fire, appearing in Game 3 of the Caps 1989-1990 season. It was not an auspicious start. He allowed four goals on 23 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Hartford Whalers. Ten days later head coach Bryan Murray gave Kolzig another chance. Kolzig was twice as…something. He allowed eight goals on 40 shots in an 8-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in what would be his last appearance for the Caps that season.
He would not get another chance with the big club until the 1992-1993 season, spending most of his time shuttling ampong the Tri-City Americans (the junior team to which he was returned after his two-game stint to start his Caps career), the Baltimore Skipjacks in the AHL, and the Hampton Roads Admirals in the ECHL. He even spent a season with the Rochester Americans of the AHL, that coming in 1992-1993.
Oh, that chance in the 1992-1993 season? One game (20 minutes, two goals on seven shots, no decision against Philadelphia). That was followed up with a seven-game season in 1993-1994, 14 games in 1994-1995, and 18 games in 1995-1996. Here he was, seven seasons removed from his draft year, and he had only 40 appearances with the Caps, with a record of 6-21-4, 3.32, .879. He did not look like a first round draft pick.
Then came the 1996 playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is said that when a door closes, a window opens. The door slammed shut on the playoff fortunes of number one goaltender Jim Carey, who was in the throes of what would be his second straight ghastly playoff season. After Carey started poorly in Game 1, he was pulled in favor of Kolzig, who stopped all 12 shots he faced in a 6-4 Capitals win. Then he won Game 2 with a 33-save effort in a 5-3 win. In one what might be one of the most regrettable decisions in Capitals post-season history, head coach Jim Schoenfeld gave Carey the start in Game 3. He allowed four goals on just 19 shots in a 4-1 Caps loss.
Kolzig got the start in Game 4 and would turn in one of the most heroic performances by a Caps goaltender in the post-season in franchise history. He faced 65 shots in 139 minutes and four overtimes against the Penguins, the shot total being at the time the third highest faced by a goalie in an NHL post season game. The Caps lost in that four-overtime marathon, 3-2, but the window opened a crack for Kolzig.
He would not force that window open all the way until the season opener of the 1997-1998 season in Toronto. Bill Ranford, who came to the Caps late in the previous season from Boston (with others) in exchange for Carey (with others) got the start in that game. It would be a short night for Ranford. After taking a shot by Per Gustafsson to the groin in the first period, Ranford was unable to return after the first intermission. Kolzig took over, and it became the Caps’ version of the Wally Pipp-Lou Gehrig saga.
Kolzig grabbed the opportunity by the throat, appearing in 64 games and posting a record of 33-18-10, 2.20, .920, with five shutouts. He would finish tied with Patrick Roy for fifth in the voting for the Vezina Trophy. That would be but a start, though. In the post season Kolzig carried the club on his shoulders through the first three rounds, going 12-5, 1.69, .946, with four shutouts. He had a 5-1 record in overtime games. He and his teammates came up short against a better team in the finals, but the Caps had their number one goaltender for the next decade.
The best of those years might have been the 1999-2000 season. Kolzig appeared in a career high 73 games, went 41-20-11, posted a 2.24 goals against average, and finished with a save percentage of .917 with five shutouts. That record was good enough for him to finish fourth in the Hart Trophy voting for most valuable player and got him named to the first NHL all-star team, with a Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender to top it off.
Statistically, that would be the high-water mark of Kolzig’s career. The Caps were an aging group as the new century started, and the arrival of Jaromir Jagr from the Penguins in 2001 did not have the desired results. Kolzig could not carry the club on his own, and it showed most visibly in the playoffs. In three post season appearances following his amazing run in 2008, Kolzig was 5-12, 2.48, .902, with two shutouts.
The 2003 appearance in the post-season would be Kolzig’s last with the Caps. The club’s decline accelerated from there, precipitating a selloff of veterans in the 2003-2004 season. Kolzig was not among them. Coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout, he was the link to better years for the club and was the team’s leader, perhaps its captain in fact, if not in name. Those post-lockout years were difficult for the club and Kolzig, who went 42-52-17, 3.27, .903, with one shutout over the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons.
In 2008, the arrival of Bruce Boudreau as head coach and the improvement among the young players drafted or brought in after the selloff restored the Caps to competitiveness, although Kolzig’s numbers lagged. The Caps, seeing a chance to climb into the playoff race late in the season, traded for goalie Cristobal Huet in late February. Kolzig played well after the Huet acquisition, going 4-1-0, 1.51, .938 in six appearances. But it was a 5-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, four of the goals scored in the first 18 minutes, that sealed his fate. Huet finished the season, played every minute of the post season, and Kolzig’s career with the Caps was over.
He would sign as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning the following summer, playing eight games for the Bolts in the 2008-2009 season. However, he suffered an arm injury in practice in December that ended what would be his final season in the NHL. He would get one more appearance in Washington, a 4-2 loss to the Caps on November 10th that gave fans a chance to acknowledge his years with the club.
Kolzig would be traded for the first time in his career, that coming in March 2009 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the following September he announced his retirement from the NHL.
Although no other goaltender in Capitals history has a last name starting with the letter “K,” it would hardly matter if there were any others. Olaf Kolzig stands alone as the franchise’s number one goaltender, as much a part of its history, perhaps more in fact, than any other player to wear a Capitals jersey.
* A footnote to that 1989 draft. The Caps would take the first two goalies in that draft, Byron Dafoe being the other in the second round at 35th overall. Kolzig, Dafoe, and Arturs Irbe, who would later become goaltending coach for the Caps, were the only goalies among the 20 taken in that draft to appear in at least 70 NHL games in their respective careers.