Sunday, August 17, 2014

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

“M” stands for…well, “M.”  It is that team to which we now turn in the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Franchise Teams.

Left Wing: Kelly Miller

Regular Season (with Capitals): 13 seasons, 940 games, 162-246-408, plus-75
Playoffs (with Capitals): 13 seasons, 119 games, 20-34-54, even

No player drafted lower in the 1982 entry draft played more NHL games than Kelly Miller.  In fact, the seven players taken after Miller in the 1982 draft who appeared in the NHL played in a total of 86 games.  Miller, drafted in the ninth round (183rd overall) by the New York Rangers, played in 1,057 NHL games, 940 of them with the Washington Capitals.

Miller came to the NHL, if not a prolific scorer, then a consistent one in his four seasons at Michigan State University.  Over a 163-game career with the Spartans, Miller was a point per game player (82-82-163).  He was a Hobey Baker finalist in 1985, an honor he shared with Adam Oates and Spartan teammate Craig Simpson, both of whom would go on to have noteworthy NHL careers of their own (former Caps assistant coach Tim Army was also in that Hobey Baker class).

Scoring was not quite the role he adopted once reaching the NHL.  In his first two seasons with the Rangers he was 13-22-35 in 74 games.  The following season (1986-1987) he was on a similar pace mid-way through the season.  Then, on New Year’s Day 1987, he was traded with Mike Ridley and Bob Crawford to the Caps for Bobby Carpenter and a second-round pick in the 1989 entry draft.

In 39 games with the Caps to finish the season Miller was 6-14-20, almost right on his scoring rate in 38 games with the Rangers.  It would kick off a remarkable string of seasons characterized by their consistency.  In the 11 full seasons that followed Miller never played in fewer than 74 games of a full season (he played in all 48 games of the abbreviated 1994-1995 season).  He missed a total of only 23 of 862 regular season games and played in every regular season game five times.

He spent those 11 seasons as a checking line forward, although five times he reached the 40-point mark and twice hit or surpassed 50 points.  He even had a flair for the dramatic.  His five overtime goals is tied for third in franchise history with none other than Peter Bondra.  His 408 points is tied for 11th all time among Capitals forwards.

His forte, though, was preventing scores.  Five times he received votes for the Selke award as the league’s top defensive forward.  Three of those times he finished in the top-10, once finishing as a Selke finalist (1992).

In 1997-1998 Miller appeared in 76 games, the last in his 11-year run of appearing in at least 74 games in a full season.  However, his offensive production dried up.  For the first time in his career he finished a season without hitting double digits in either goals or assists (7-7-14), perhaps vaguely related to a concussion he suffered at the end of the 1996-1997 season.  He did, however, appear in ten post-season games in the Caps’ run to the Stanley Cup finals.

The next season – 1998-1999 – was Miller’s 12th full season in Washington.  It was not a very good one, Miller being limited to 62 games on a team hobbled by injuries and finishing with just two goals and seven points.  It was Miller’s last NHL season.  He spent a year with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the IHL before ending his career for good. 

Kelly Miller is part of a storied family in college hockey, three of whom (brothers Kevin and Kip being the others) having played for the Capitals.  Kelly was the first and had a storied career of his own with the Caps, fitting squarely in line with a family of hard-nosed, checking forwards that defined the Caps in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Kelly Miller gets the assignment on the left side of Team M.

Center: Dennis Maruk

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 343 games, 182-249-431, minus-46
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 4 games, 1-1-2, even

Before there was Alex Ovechkin, before there was Peter Bondra, before there were the Goal Dust Twins – Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter – there was Dennis Maruk.  An undersized center instantly recognizable with his period Fu Manchu moustache, Maruk was the first player in team history to score 50 goals in a season.  He was the first Capitals to score 60 goals in a season (only the sixth player in NHL history to do it when he hit for 60 in 1981-1982).

He did not get his start in D.C.  He got started when he was drafted in the second round (21st overall) by the California Golden Seals in the 1975 amateur draft.  Even by then, he had a reputation as a goal scorer.  In three years with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey Association, he scored 159 goals in 191 games.  He kept it going in his rookie year, finishing with 30 goals in 80 games, good enough for him to finish third in the Calder Trophy voting for top rookie.   Not even the Seals’ relocation to Cleveland slowed him down. In two years with the Barons he scored 64 goals in 156 games.  When the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars for the 1978-1979 season, though, he found his stay in Minnesota short.  Two games into the season he was traded to Washington for a first round pick in the 1979 entry draft. 

Maruk finished the season with 76 games played for the Caps and 31 goals, making it three seasons in his first four scoring at least 30 goals.  His second season was plagued by injury, and he finished with only ten goals in 27 games.  He more than made up for it in the 1980-1981 season.  On April 5th he became the first Capital to score 50 goals in a season when he solved Detroit Red Wings goalie Larry Lozinski in a 7-2 Washington win at Capital Centre. 

Maruk set a higher standard the following year.  On April 3, 1982, he scored his 60th goal of the season, his second of the game, in a 6-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto.  He went on to finish the season with 136 points, a team record that stands today and, that being only the dawn of the Wayne Gretzky era, it made Maruk only the eighth player in NHL history to record that many points in a season.

It was only to be expected that his production would fall off some the following season, but he fell all the way to 31 goals.  Part of it was being moved from the middle to the wing to accommodate second-year center Bobby Carpenter. 

The 1982-1983 season was Maruk’s last in Washington.  In July 1983 he was traded back to Minnesota for a second round pick in the 1984 entry draft.  Maruk remained with the North Stars for the final six seasons of his career, scoring a total of only 80 goals over those seasons and topping 20 goal in a season just once.  In a 3-0 loss to the Capitals in February 1988, Maruk suffered a shattered kneecap trying to block a shot from Grant Ledyard.  The injury would be Maruk’s undoing.  He played in only six games in the 1988-1989 season, his last in the NHL.

Over the 1980-1981 and 1981-1982 seasons only Wayne Gretzky (147) and Mike Bossy (132) scored more goals than Dennis Maruk (110).  He was perhaps the most entertaining aspect of Capitals hockey in what were the later stages of its difficult formative period.  He was certainly the most effective part of it.  Despite his lack of size, his feistiness and prolific goal scoring ability put him in the middle on Team M.

Right Wing: Alan May

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 345 games, 27-42-69, minus-19
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 39 games, 1-2-3, even

Alan May was arguably the orneriest player in the history of the Capitals franchise.  Players took liberties with the Capitals at their peril over his five seasons with the Caps.  From 1989-1990 through 1993-1994 May compiled 1,189 penalty minutes, the most of any NHL player over that five-year span (teammate Dale Hunter was the only other player to record more than 1,000 minutes (1,001)).  His average of 3:27 in penalty minutes per game is by far the most in Capitals history (Craig Berube is second with 2:55) among those players having played as many games for the club as May (345).

It was not mere thuggery on a team that had little else to offer.  May was a night-to-night presence and contributed a solid defensive game on a team that won 200 games over his five seasons in Washington, and the 1989-1990 team (his first season with the team) advanced to the conference finals for the first time in its post-season history.

May’s career started as an undrafted free agent signed by the Boston Bruins in October 1987.  He skated only three games for the Bruins in the 1987-1988 season before he was traded to Edmonton for Moe Lemay in March 1988.  After three games with the Oilers in the 1988-1989 season, it was off to Los Angeles in March 1989, a trade with Jim Wiemer for Brian Wilks and John English.  He never played for the Kings, traded just three months later to Washington for a fifth round pick in the 1989 draft.

In Washington he found a home.  He certainly started with a bang.  Perhaps it was fitting that his first game with the Caps was against their bitter Patrick Division rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Caps won, 5-3, May earning four penalty minutes in the contest.  It was representative of the hard divisional fights during that period of Capitals hockey of which May was an integral part.  May also rose to the occasion against division opponents when it came to his own offense.  Though more a checking/physical forward than an offensive one, he recorded 12 of his 27 goals for the Caps against Patrick Division opponents.

Late in the 1993-1994 season he was traded to the Dallas Stars with a seventh round pick in the 1995 entry draft for defenseman Jim Johnson.  A year later the Stars traded him to Calgary for an eighth round pick in the 1995 entry draft.  May played seven games for the Flames at the end of the 1994-1995 season in what would be his last season in the NHL. 

Alan May helped define a period of Washington Capitals hockey.  The late 1980’s and early 1990’s was a period characterized by neither asking for nor giving quarter to opponents.  Those were generally hard-nosed teams that had to struggle for their success.  In fact, the 1990 conference finalist team was one that finished below .500 in the regular season.  May’s contributions came in the defensive end of the ice for the most part and in ensuring that no team could impose their will physically on the Caps.  It was a hard way to play and make a living (his 94 fights in a Caps uniform is testimony), but it was an important part of the Caps’ success of that period.  For that, Alan May is skating on the right side of Team M.

Defense: Shaone Morrisonn

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 377 games, 9-53-62, plus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 27 games, 0-2-2, minus-1

Late in the 2003-2004 season, when the Washington Capitals were selling off their veteran assets to commence their rebuild, it meant parting ways with Sergei Gonchar, one of the most prolific offensive defensemen of his era.  The Caps traded Gonchar to the Boston Bruins for a first round pick and a second round pick in the 2004 entry draft, and a 21-year old defenseman wrapping up his second season with the Bruins – Shaone Morrisonn.

Morrisonn was one of 16 defensemen to dress for that 2003-2004 club and played three games with the Caps.  Coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout, Morrisonn became a cornerstone on the blue line, leading all Capitals defensemen in games played (80).  On a team that was still struggling with too young talent and a lack of experience, Morrisonn provided some steady play.  He was not an offensive defenseman (one goal and 14 points for the season), but he played 20 minutes a night and led all defensemen in plus-minus (plus-7), the only Caps defenseman playing more than half the team’s games to finish on the plus side of the ledger.

It was the first of what would be five very consistent seasons for Morrisonn with the Caps, output wise.  He ranged from 10 to 14 points, from plus-3 to plus-8.  However, there were two things that reflected both his role and those around him.   Starting with that 2005-2006 season he played in fewer games each year: 78 in 2006-2007, then 76, 72, and 68.  Over the first three of those seasons Morrisonn averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time a night.  In the last two his ice time dropped to less than 18 minutes a game.

With Jeff Shultz coming off a plus-50 season and Karl Alzner being groomed for a spot in the lineup, Morrisonn’s spot as a “defensive” defenseman was in jeopardy after the 2009-2010 season.  Coming off a one-year deal paying him $1.975 million, the Caps seemed to be disinclined to give him much of a raise.

Late in the summer of 2010 Morrisonn signed a two-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres.  He appeared in 62 games for the Sabres in 2010-2011, but he was demoted to the Rochester Americans of the AHL in 2011-2012, where he played in 65 games.  A free agent after that season, Morrisonn headed to Europe.  He is currently playing with Medveščak Zagreb in the KHL after stops with Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow.

Shaone Morrisonn played a quiet sort of game that did not set off fireworks.  But his stay at home style was also characterized by a certain toughness.  In 2008 he played in all seven games for the Caps in the post-season despite suffering a broken jaw and a separated shoulder.  He was one of those players who played through the team’s rebuild without enjoying much of the payoff at the end.  But he was a solid player over his five-plus seasons with the Caps and patrols the blue line for Team M.

Defense: Larry Murphy

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 453 games, 85-259-344, plus-57
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 42 games, 9-17-26, plus-1

To the extent that Capitals fans remember defenseman Larry Murphy, it might be only for “oh yeah, the guy everyone shouted ‘whoop’for.”   That isn’t really fair to Murphy.  In his six seasons with the Capitals, only seven defensemen compiled at least 85 goals and 340 points.  Murphy (85-259-344 with the Caps over those seasons) was one of them. 

Murphy began the Capitals phase of his career after spending three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, who made him the fourth overall pick in the 1980 entry draft.  Six games into his fourth season with the Kings he was traded to Washington for Ken Houston and Brian Engblom.  It started a four-year period in which Murphy’s offensive numbers improved each year.  From 13 goals and 46 points with the Caps over 72 games of the 1983-1984 season, Murphy improved to 23 goals and 81 points over 80 games of the 1986-1987 season.

In that 1986-1987 season Murphy was named to the second NHL all-star team with Calgary’s Al MacInnis, and he finished third in the Norris Trophy voting behind Ray Bourque and Mark Howe.

Murphy slipped some in the 1987-1988 season, going 8-53-61, but it was still good enough to finish tied for ninth with Montreal’s Chris Chelios in points among defensemen.  His most important play that year came in the post-season, though.  Every Caps fan of the period remembers that in overtime of Game 7 of the opening round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, Dale Hunter ended the series.  Folks might not remember it was Murphy who stood up the Flyers’ Murray Craven at the Capitals’ blue line, poked the puck off his stick, then fed the puck through the neutral zone to a breaking Hunter to start the final scoring sequence...

Even by that time, though, fans seemed to be souring on Murphy’s game, which was viewed as neither physical enough or “defensive” enough.  In 1988-1989 his offensive numbers dropped again, and the fans turned on Murphy, perhaps as a symbol of the frustration felt at the Caps failing to advance past the second round of the playoffs in any of his five seasons with the club.  In March of that season Murphy was traded to the Minnesota North Stars with Mike Gartner for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse.

After spending parts of three seasons with the North Stars, Murphy moved on to Pittsburgh, where he skated on two Stanley Cup winning teams with the Penguins.  After five years in Pittsburgh he went to Toronto for parts of two seasons.  From there it was on to Detroit, winning two more Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, the second of which was won on Capitals home ice in 1998.  Finally, after his 21st season in 2000-2001, Murphy retired.  He is still fifth in all-time scoring among NHL defensemen (1,216 points) and was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.

Despite playing only parts of six seasons with the Capitals, Larry Murphy is still fifth in scoring among defensemen in club history (344 points).  On a points-per-game basis, Murphy is the best offensive defenseman in Capitals history (0.76 points per game).  Those playoff frustrations and the perceptions of inadequacy in Murphy’s game left fans wanting more from him, though.  In hindsight, Murphy deserved more respect for his game.  It is certainly more than enough to give him a spot on Team M.

Goalie: Bob Mason

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 76 games, 35-29-7, 3.16,  .889, 1 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 4 games, 2-2, 1.75, .937

The lasting image Washington Capitals fans have of goaltender Bob Mason is one of him on one knee, exhausted after 128 minutes of hockey, the New York Islanders Pat LaFontaine celebrating with his teammates on winning Game 7 of the opening round of the 1987 playoffs in a fourth overtime.

There was more to Mason’s career with the Capitals than that.  He was signed as an undrafted free agent in February 1984 after two seasons with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and a stint with the U.S. national team, including three games in the 1984 Winter Olympics. 

Mason appeared in two games for the Caps in that 1983-1984 season and five more with the Hershey Bears in the AHL.  He bounced between the Caps and the AHL in each of his next two seasons before catching on with the Caps for good in the 1986-1987 season.  Mason led the team in appearances in 1986-1987 (45) and finished the regular season with a record of 20-18-5, 3.24, .890.

In the post season, Mason started on the bench in favor of the more experienced Pete Peeters.  After Peeters and the Capitals split the first two games of their series with the Islanders, Mason got the call in Game 3.  In its own way it would be historic.  Mason stopped all 26 shots he faced to record the first shutout in Capitals playoff history, a 2-0 win on Long Island.  The following night Mason also faced 26 Islander shots, allowing a single goal in a 4-1 Capitals win that gave them a 3-1 lead in games.

In Game 5 Peeters got the call, the Caps dropping a 4-2 decision at Capital Centre.  Head coach Bryan Murray turned to Mason to try and close out the series on Long Island in Game 6, but the Islanders prevailed by a 5-4 score in a game that might have ended worse for the Caps but for Mason stopping all 18 shots he faced in the first period.

That set up the Easter Epic, the longest game in Capitals history to that date.    It was a game full of ups and downs, but in the end it was a heartbreaking night for the Capitals.  It was also the last game Mason would play for the Capitals.  He signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent the following June.

After a year in Chicago, Mason was traded to the Quebec Nordiques for Mike Eagles (who later would be a Capital).  Another year later, Mason made his way back to Washington for future considerations.  He was one of five goalies the Caps used in the 1989-1990 season, getting 16 appearances with a record of 4-9-1, 3.50, .877.  After losing eight of his last nine decisions, he did not appear in another game after giving up four goals in a 5-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on February 9th.  It was his last game for the Capitals.

Mason played in one more season, appearing in six games for the Vancouver Canucks in the 1990-1991 season that would be his last in the NHL.  He spent four more years in the minors before his career ended after the 1994-1995 season.

Bob Mason is remembered for one game, one that any Capitals fan from the period remembers vividly to this day.  Lost in the disappointment is the fact that it was and remains one of the great single game performances by a goaltender in Capitals history.  There were other contributions to the club in his brief stay, though, and it makes for Bob Mason starting in goal for Team M.

Team M is a combination of grit and skill, a reflection of its era, with most of the players coming from a time when hockey was more of a rough and tumble sort of game.  They might not win every game, but they would not go down without a fight.