Monday, August 25, 2014

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

Team R is next on our trip through the All Alphabet Franchise Teams of the Washington Capitlals.  If you came to be a Capitals fan in the Ovechkin era, you might not recognize these players.  Trust us, we are not making them up.

Left Wing: Torrie Robertson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 62 games, 10-13-23, minus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Over the 1980’s – the 1980-1981 through 1989-1990 seasons – only seven players recorded more penalty minutes than Torrie Robertson.  He was one of nine players to record at least two 300-minute seasons in penalties.  He had 160 fights.

Torrie Robertson did not often play well with others.

He was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1980, a third round pick (55th overall) from the Victoria Cougars of the WHL where he showed a blend of offense (41 goals and 88 points in 141 games over two seasons) with a certain edgy play (439 penalty minutes).  Robertson played one more year with Victoria, and then it was off to Washington for three games at the end of the 1980-1981 season. 

The following season Robertson got a more thorough introduction to the NHL, dressing for 54 games with the Caps (spending 21 games with the Hershey Bears of the AHL).  Despite the somewhat limited playing time, Roberson finished second on the team in penalty minutes (204) to Randy Holt (250).  He also had eight goals and 21 points, suggesting that there was a bit of offense to contribute as well.

Robertson never really got that chance with the Caps.  In 1982-1983 he played in only five games with Washington, playing primarily (69 games) in Hershey.  It would be his last year in the Capitals organization. Just before the start of the 1983-1984 season Robertson was traded to the Hartford Whalers for forward Greg Adams.  By the time his career in Hartford ended with his trade to Detroit in March 1989, he became the Whalers’ all-time leader in penalty minutes.  It was a mark he held until 1997, when Kevin Dineen passed him. 

Robertson’s career ended after a season and change in Detroit in 1989-1990.  In ten seasons he came up one goal short of 50 and one assist short of 100 for his career.  But he had 1,751 penalty minutes, 208 of them with the Capitals.  His was not the flashiest career in Capitals history, but teams are not likely to take liberties with Torrie Robertson on the left side of Team R.

Center:  Mike Ridley

Regular Season (with Capitals): 8 seasons, 588 games, 218-329-547, plus-49
Playoffs (with Capitals): 8 seasons, 76 games, 19-41-60, minus-8

Mike Ridley took something of an unconventional path to the NHL.  He was never drafted by an NHL club, and his formative amateur years were spent playing for the University of Manitoba of the Great Plains Athletic Conference in Canada (today the Canada West Universities Athletic Association).  After two seasons with Manitoba, Ridley was signed as a free agent by the New York Rangers in September 1985.

Ridley wasted no time making a mark.  The next season he was skating with the big club, playing in 80 games, finishing third among rookies in total points (65).  He finished fourth in voting for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.  In the post season, he introduced himself to Capitals fans in an unpleasant way.  He assisted on both goals by Pierre Larouche for New York in Game 6 of the opening round of the 1986 playoffs.  The Rangers won that game, 2-1, to eliminate the Caps in six games. 

Ridley was on a pace to improve his offensive numbers in his sophomore season (16-20-36 in 38 games) when he was traded to the Caps on New Year’s Day 1987 with Kelly Miller and Bob Crawford for Bobby Carpenter and a second round draft pick in the 1989 entry draft.  Ridley scarcely missed a beat with the change in scenery.  In the 1987 portion of the season he went 15-19-34 in 40 games.

It started an eight-year career in Washington in which Ridley would have the third highest number of games played (588), the highest goal total (288), the highest assist total (329), the highest point total (547), and the fourth highest plus-minus total (plus-49) despite often drawing difficult defensive assignments. Three times in his seven full seasons with the Caps he received votes for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward.

Although never drafted by an NHL team, the draft would become an important part of Mike Ridley’s history with the Capitals.  On draft day 1994 the Capitals took advantage, or so they thought, of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ willingness to make deals.  The Leafs had already made a huge trade, sending Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson, and a first round pick to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin, Garth Butcher, and a first round pick.  Later, the Leafs would obtain Ridley from the Caps along with a first round pick for Rob Pearson and the first round pick Toronto had just obtained from Quebec.

For the Caps, the trade was a bust.  Pearson played 32 games for the Caps, never scoring a goal for them, and the first round pick – Nolan Baumgartner – was a huge disappointment, playing in only 18 games over four seasons for Washington.  Meanwhile, Ridley played all 48 games of the abbreviated 1994-1995 season for Toronto, going 10-27-37.  Unfortunately, his style of game was not compatible with what head coach Pat Burns wanted.  He was traded to Vancouver for Sergio Momesso after one season with the Leafs. 

Ridley spent two seasons in Vancouver, but back problems cut into his playing time and effectiveness.  His NHL career came to an end after the 1996-1997 season.

If there was a word to describe Mike Ridley’s style of play, it might be “crafty.”  He parlayed a modest skill set into a very productive career with that craftiness.  Among Capitals players with at least 250 games played with the club in franchise history, he ranks sixth in points per game (0.93), behind only Dennis Maruk, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Gartner, Nicklas Backstrom, and Adam Oates.  It makes for a resume that puts Mike Ridley in the middle on Team R.

Right Wing:  Tom Rowe

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 191 games, 56-58-114, minus-39
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Who was the first American-born player to score 30 goals in an NHL season?   You might have gone through a lot of names before you came to “Tom Rowe.”  But there it is.  Tom Rowe accomplished the feat in the 1978-1979 season, his third with the Caps after Washington drafted him in the third round of the 1976 amateur draft.  It was part of a year to year improvement that saw him go from one goal in 12 games in 1976-1977, his first with the Caps, to 13 in 63 games in 1977-1978, to 31 goals in the 1978-1979 season.  The strange thing about that first season and the one goal; he scored on his first shift in his first game, beating Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers.  He had a touch.

It did not last, though.  In his fourth season with the Caps, his goal-scoring touch seemed to have left him.  In 41 games he scored only ten goals before he was traded to the Hartford Whalers in January 1980 for Alan Hangsleben.  Rowe played in parts of three seasons with the Whalers, scoring 23 goals in 115 games.  In January 1982 he returned to Washington as a free agent.  Rowe appeared in only six games in the 1981-1982 season for Washington, recording one goal and one assist.

Following the 1981-1982 season Rowe signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent.  In the 1982-1983 season he split time between the Red Wings, scoring six goals in 51 games, and the Adirondack Red Wings in the AHL.  From Detroit he moved on to Edmonton for the 1983-1984 season, but he never dressed for the Oilers.  Rowe appeared in 50 games with the Moncton Alpines of the AHL in what would be his last season in professional hockey.

In an era where the Caps struggled quite a bit, Tom Rowe made some history.  It might not be widely remembered among Caps fans these days, but it is enough to get him a spot on Team R.

Defense: Joe Reekie

Regular Season (with Capitals): 9 seasons, 515 games, 11-64-75, plus-86
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 48 games, 3-4-7, minus-1

Joe Reekie played long before the “fancystat” era of hockey.  It might be a good thing for his reputation.  These days, plus-minus is a widely dismissed statistic.  It might (or might not) be the worst statistic in hockey todaybut in the 1985-2002 era, corresponding to Reekie’s career in the NHL, it was as good a measure as there was to evaluate what happened, good or bad, when a player was on the ice. 

In Reekie’s nine seasons with the Capitals he was a plus-86.  That number led the Caps over the 1993-2002 period Reekie was with the team, and it wasn’t close for second place (Sergei Gonchar: plus-58 in eight seasons over that period).  Reekie had a knack for compiling very good plus-minus numbers despite having a limited offensive game. 

He had decent offensive numbers for a defensive defenseman in his first eight-plus seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning (87 points in 370 games), but with the Capitals his numbers were more modest.  Of the 53 defensemen to play in at least 200 games for the Capitals, Reekie ranks 45th in points per game.  On the other hand, there is that plus-minus.  Of the nine defenseman with fewer points per game, only two (John Erskine and Neil Sheehy) are in plus territory, and neither are close to Reekie’s plus-86 (Erskine is plus-14 in 350 games; Sheehy was plus-7 in 131 games).

Reekie’s offense was not needed on a team employing such as Calle Johansson, Sylvain Cote, Sergei Gonchar, and Phil Housley on the blue line.  Reekie’s job was to be the silent partner, the one who was solid in his own end, freeing up his partners to attack more the offensive zone.

If Reekie had a “best” season with the Caps, it might have been the Stanley Cup final season of 1997-1998.  In 68 games he was 2-8-10, plus-15.  The Caps were 34-24-10 in games in which he played, 6-6-2 in games he did not.  In the post-season he appeared in all 21 games and was 1-2-3, plus-4.

He played for four more seasons with Washington over which he was a victim of age and declining ice time.  From playing more than 20 minutes a night during his peak years with the Caps, Reekie saw his ice time drop to 15 minutes a game by the 2001-2002 season.  Defensemen young (Jean-Francois Fortin: 19:25) and old (Frantisek Kucera: 20:39) were passing him on in average ice time that season.  In January, what seemed inevitable came to pass.  Reekie was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for a fourth round pick in the 2002 entry draft.  He played in 17 games for the Blackhawks in what would be the wrap-up to his 17-year career.

From the time Joe Reekie arrived in Washington from Tampa Bay for Enrico Ciccone and a pair of draft picks to the time he was traded to Chicago, he was among the steadiest defensemen ever to play for the Capitals.  Perhaps his numbers do not stand out, but such is the burden of being a defensive defenseman before the age of fancystats.  There just were not many ways to evaluate the success of a defenseman like Reekie.  Still, what measures were available did make Reekie stand out among his peers in that era of Capitals hockey, and he gets a spot on the blue line of Team R.

Defense: Bob Rouse

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 130 games, 9-33-42, minus-7
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 21 games, 4-3-7, minus-1

In a sense, Bob Rouse’s career with the Washington Capitals might be described as that of a “best supporting actor.”  In March 1989, after having spent parts of six seasons with the Minnesota North Stars to start his career, he was traded with the more well-known Dino Ciccarelli to Washington for Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy.  Two years later, he was traded with Peter Zezel to Toronto for Al Iafrate.

In between, “support” was an apt word to describe his play.  Not a flashy player, Rouse was a good example of the stay-at-home defenseman.  After following up his season-ending 13 game stint with the Caps following his trade from Minnesota (0-2-2, plus-2), he was an important part of the Caps’ 1989-1990 team that reached the Prince of Wales Conference final in the playoffs for the first time.  He appeared in 70 games for the Caps in the regular season, finishing with four goals and 20 points. 

In the 1990 playoffs Rouse continued an odd spike in his offensive output that he displayed in the 1989 playoffs in which he scored two goals in six games (half of his regular season output over 66 games).  Rouse once more scored two goals (this time in 15 games), once more half of his regular season total. The two goals matched Scott Stevens for the team lead among defensemen for the post-season.

The next season Rouse continued his steady play, posting five goals and 20 points over 47 games.  However, with the Caps having lost Scott Stevens to free agency, they might have been looking for a upgrade in offense at the position to make up for the loss of Stevens’ production.  In Toronto, Al Iafrate was having a sub-par year due to off-ice problems and requested that the Maple Leafs trade him.  Those were ingredients for a trade, and the deal that sent Rouse and Peter Zezel to Toronto for Iafrate was made in January 1991.

Rouse played another nine seasons in the NHL with the Maple Leafs, the Detroit Red Wings, and the San Jose Sharks, displaying the same steady, stay-at-home style he showed in Minnesota and with the Caps.  He retired after the 1999-2000 season. 

The Caps have had a lot of sturdy, hard-nosed defensemen over the course of their history – Rod Langway, Mark Tinordi, Timo Blomqvist, Scott Stevens among them, some famous, others less so.  Rouse was out of the same mold, perhaps less famous than some.  However, he was an important part of one of the Capitals’ most successful teams and as such gets a spot on Team R.

Goaltender: Pat Riggin

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 143 games, 67-46-19, 3.02, .884, 6 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 10 games, 2-5, 2.91

Over the first eight seasons of Washington Capitals hockey, goaltenders combined for a rather grisly overall record: 163-375-102 with a 4.23 goals against average.

In June 1982, the Caps made a trade for yet another contestant in the franchise goalie competition. They sent Howard Walker, George White, a sixth round pick in the 1982 entry draft, a third round pick in the 1983 entry draft, and a second round pick in the 1984 entry draft to Calgary for winger Ken Houston and goaltender Pat Riggin. That trade, with seven assets being exchanged, was the biggest trade in Capitals history until March 1997 when the Caps acquired Bill Ranford, Adam Oates and Rick Tocchet from Boston for Jason Allison, Jim Carey, Anson Carter and a 3rd round pick in the 1997 entry draft.  Never in franchise history were more assets exchanged in trade.

Riggin and Al Jensen, who arrived in Washington the previous season from the Detroit Red Wings, immediately became a tandem to reckon with. In the 1982-1983 season, Jensen appeared in 40 games, Riggin in 38, the latter posting a 16-9-9 record with a team best 3.36 goals against average. The formula worked; the Capitals reached the playoff for the first time in franchise history.

Things did not go so well in the playoffs, either for Riggin (0-1 in three appearances, a GAA of 4.75) or the Caps, but first things first. Making the playoffs after so long a period of frustration was a big step.

The following season the tandem routine worked again. Riggin (41 appearances) and Jensen (43) split the work roughly evenly, Riggin finishing with 21 wins and a GAA (2.66) and save percentage (.890) that led the team. His performance and that of Jensen were good enough to allow them to finish tied for third in Vezina Trophy voting and for the two to combine to win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. In the post-season Riggin and the Caps were excellent in the first round, a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in a best-of-five series for the franchise’s first playoff series win in which Riggin won Game 1. Things did not go as well in the second round. After the Caps beat the Islanders in Game 1, 3-2, neither Riggin nor Jensen could establish any rhythm. Each goalie would be pulled once over the next four games, all Islander wins to eliminate the Caps.

When Jensen missed significant time to injury in the 1984-1985 season, Riggin took over the number one duties. He made a career high 57 appearances (in 80 games), winning a career high 28 games. For the second straight year he received consideration for the Vezina Trophy, finishing fourth in the voting. By the time the post-season came around, the tandem routine was restored, but it lost its magic. Riggin won Game 1 over the Islanders, 4-3, in overtime. However, after sitting out Games 2-4 in favor of Jensen (who was fine in Games 2 and 3, but was ineffective in a 6-4 loss in Game 4), Riggin was called upon to stave off elimination in Game 5 of the best-of-five series. He allowed only two goals, but it was one too many as the Islanders eliminated the Caps for the third straight post-season.

Riggin got off to a slow start in the 1985-1986 season. Over his first seven appearances he was 2-3-1, 3.74, .827. It made things easier for the Caps to work out a trade with Boston for a slow-starting goalie of their own. Pete Peeters was 3-4-1, 3.84, .873 in his first eight appearances. The two were traded for one another on November 14th.

Riggin finished the 1985-1986 season and started the 1986-1987 season in Boston, but after ten appearances with the Bruins in the 1986-1987 season he was traded to Pittsburgh (again, for a goalie, this time Roberto Romano) where he wrapped up his NHL career after the 1987-1988 season.

Pat Riggin was a small goalie (5’9”, 170), even by 1980’s standards. But he was very effective for the Capitals in a particular role, working in tandem with Al Jensen. He was an important part of the Capitals making the final leap from also-ran in their early years to playoff team. He helped set in motion a 14-year streak of playoff appearances by the Caps, and it makes him the goaltender for Team R.

Team R… ornery, crafty, historic, steady, rugged, and… short.  It is quite a mix.