Saturday, August 30, 2014

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

Team T is next up on the walk through the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Franchise Teams.  This time, we go deep deep deep into the history vault.

Left Wing:  Dave Tippett

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 91 games, 8-19-27, minus-11
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 17 games, 2-4-6, plus-2

Dave Tippett spent two seasons as a Washington Capital.  In a sense, it was the black hole of his career.  The start to his career was a modest one, an undrafted amateur who spent two years with Prince Albert Raiders of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (where he won two league titles) and another two with the University of North Dakota of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (where he won an NCAA championship as captain of the squad in 1981-1982).  After his 1982-1983 season with the Fighting Sioux, Tippett joined the Canadian National Team for which he played in 73 games, including seven games at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, where he was team captain.

It was only after the 1984 Olympics that Tippett signed an NHL deal, a free agent contract with the Hartford Whalers in February 1984.  He played in 17 games for the Whalers to wrap up that season, but it was in his next one that his style emerged.  Playing in all 80 games of the 1984-1985 season he finished 7-12-19 in scoring.  He also finished a minus-24, yet he did get a vote for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward. Why?  Well, Hartford was a pretty bad team back then, and there were six players (including former Olympic gold medalist Mark Johnson and future hall of famer Ron Francis) who were minus-23 or worse.

It was the first of four straight seasons in which Tippett won Selke Trophy votes, finishing as high as ninth in the voting after the 1987-1988 season. The following season he put up his best offensive numbers with Hartford, 17-24-41 in 80 games, the fifth straight season in which he played in every game. 

The consecutive games streak ended at 419 games early in the 1989-1990 season for Tippett when he suffered an injury. He played in 66  games that season, his last in Hartford.  The Whalers traded him to Washington just before the start of the 1990-1991 season for a sixth round draft choice in the 1992 entry draft. 

Tippett spent two seasons in Washington.  In the first of them he finished with just six goals and 15 points in 61 games, his lowest totals for a full season in his career to date.  His production picked up a bit in the postseason (2-3-5, even, in 10 games), but it did not keep the Caps from being eliminated in five games by Pittsburgh in the second round.

In 1991-1992 Tippett split time with the Caps (30 games) and the Canadian silver medalist Men’s Olympic Team, for which he played in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.  Returning to the Capitals for the playoffs, Tippett did not have an especially inspiring performance.  No goals and one assist in a seven-game loss to the Penguins was not the best way to end his career with the Caps.

Ironically, it would be the team that eliminated the Caps and Tippett the previous two seasons that would sign Tippett as a free agent for the next season.  His personal performance rebounded; in 74 games in the 1993-1994 season he was 6-19-25, plus-8, for the team with the best record in the NHL and adding a goal and four assists in 12 post-season games.  After that season he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, playing in 73 games in what would be his last season in the NHL.

Tippett’s earnest, hard-working style was reflected after his playing days when he took up coaching, putting together a 464-282-28-94 record over a 12-year (and counting) career.  The kind of dedication he displays as a coach was reflected in his play with the Caps and earns him a spot on Team T.

Center: Jeff Toms

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 74 games, 5-11-16, plus-12
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 seasons, 1 games, 0-0-0, minus-1

Jeff Toms might have played in less than a full season's worth of games for the Washington Capitals, but he will forever hold one franchise record to himself.  On December 5, 1997 he scored the first game-winning goal in the first game played at MCI (now Verizon) Center, an overtime goal in a 5-4 win over the Florida Panthers.

And he only just got there.  Toms was in his sixth game with the club.  Less than three weeks before the MCI Center opener, Toms was claimed on waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning.  He was in his third season with the Bolts when he was waived and before that drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the ninth round of the 1992 entry draft. 

The odd thing about Toms and scoring that overtime goal, in addition to the fact that he was not a very prolific goal scorer, was that he also scored a goal in the Caps’ last game at US Airways Arena (originally Capital Centre), a 6-5 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on November 26th.

When Toms scored another goal in his next game after the overtime winner at MCI Center, it might have been the signal that a new day was dawning, a heretofore unrealized offensive gift was expressing itself.

No.  Those three goals in his first seven games with the Caps were the only goals he scored in 33 games with the club in the 1997-1998 season.  He did not get one in the only post-season game he played in that season, either.

Toms played two more seasons in the Caps’ organization, splitting time between the Caps (41 games) and the Portland Pirates in the AHL (52 games).  His production with Washington was typically modest (2-7-9 in those 41 games over two seasons). 

After the 1999-2000 season Toms signed as a free agent with the New York Islanders, the first of what would be four teams with which he played after leaving Washington (the Islanders, the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and interestingly enough, the Florida Panthers) over three seasons. 

Although his NHL career came to an end with the Panthers after the 2002-2003 season, he continued playing in Europe, primarily in Switzerland.  He wrapped up his pro hockey career after the 2010-2011 season with HC Geneve-Servette.

Jeff Toms did not have a long or an illustrious career with the Caps, although he did play as many games as Terry Murray and Brendan Morrison.  But modest though his accomplishments in Washington might be, there is that first game-winning goal on Fun Street, and no one can take that away.  Take a spot on Team T, Jeff.

Right Wing: Jim Thomson

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 24 games, 2-0-2, minus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

OK, here’s the thing.  Only two right wings in Capitals’ history have last names starting with the letter “T” – Rick Tocchet and Jim Thomson.  You think we’re going to pick a guy drafted by the Flyers who is today an assistant coach for the Penguins?  Don’t bet on it.

That leaves Thomson, a true blue draft pick of the Washington Capitals, taken in the ninth round (185th overall) of the 1984 entry draft.  There really is not much to say here, though.  After being drafted by the Caps from the Toronto Marlboros of the OHL, he spent another year in juniors, after which he played four season ending games with the Binghamton Whalers of the AHL. 

After a full season in the AHL in 1985-1986, he made the jump to the NHL in 1986-1987…sort of.  He played in ten games for the Caps, the remainder of his time being spent in Binghamton.  Thomson spent the entire 1987-1988 season in Binghamton without the benefit of a call-up to Washington.  He did get that call in 1988-1989, though, but played in only 14 games with the Caps before he was traded to the Hartford Whalers for Scot Kleinendorst in March 1989. 

It would not be his last move.  By the time his NHL career ended after the 1993-1994 season Thomson would play for Hartford, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Kings again, then the Ottawa Senators, back to the Kings, and then to Anaheim to wrap up his career with the Mighty Ducks.

As hockey careers go it was not especially noteworthy, except for the fact that he recorded 416 penalty minutes in 115 career games (88 PIMs in 24 games with Washington).  But he did parlay his experience into a career as a motivational speaker.  He also has a spot on Team T.

Defense: Greg Theberge

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 153 games, 15-63-78, minus-20
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 seasons, 4 games, 0-1-1, even

Greg Theberge has quite a hockey pedigree.  He is the grandson of hall of fame forward and defenseman Dit Clapper (yes, both forward and defense; he was an all-star at both positions).  Theberge’s path to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps started when he was drafted by the Caps in the sixth round (109th overall) in the 1979 entry draft. 

Theberge, who had just completed his third season in Canadian juniors with the Peterborough Petes, spent the next season in Hershey playing for the Bears in the AHL.  He also had his first introduction to the NHL, getting 12 games with the big club and going 0-1-1.

He played in only one game with the Caps in 1980-1981, getting his first NHL goal in the process, but made the jump to the big club for more work in 1981-1982.  Theberge played in 57 games and posted a respectable 5-32-37 scoring line.  He display a particular knack on the power play, recording 18 of his 32 assists with the man advantage.

Theberge set career highs in games (70) and goals (8) in 1982-1983 and saw his first playoff action (four games, one assist).  It would be his last playoff action.  In 1983-1984 he played in just 13 games for the Caps, getting most of his ice time with the Hershey Bears (41 games). 

That would be his last season in North American hockey.  In 1985 he headed to Europe where he spent his last two seasons in pro hockey. Almost as quickly as he came onto the scene, Greg Theberge was gone, from the Caps at least.  But not so that we would leave him off Team T.

Defense: Mark Tinordi

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 264 games, 16-40-56, plus-27
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 28 games, 1-2-3, plus-2

In the history of the Washington Capitals franchise, only 11 defensemen have played in at least 200 games, recorded at least 50 points, and accumulated at least 400 penalty minutes.  It is one thing to have reached those marks in 983 games with the club, as Calle Johansson did, but Mark Tinordi did it in just 264 games with the Caps.

Mark Tinordi was among the most fearsome physical defensemen of his era.  The NHL did not begin recording hits as an official statistic until the 2002-2003 season, four years after Tinordi left the NHL.  If the statistic had been recorded in his era, no doubt he would have been among the league leaders on an annual basis.  It was not as if Tinordi was an especially frequent fighter, though he was no shrinking violet.  Only twice in 12 seasons did he record at least 10 bouts, and he had only 19 in five seasons with the Caps.  He was just a big hitter.

Tinordi started his NHL journey as an undrafted free agent, signed by the New York Rangers in January 1987 from the Calgary Wranglers of the WHL.  After a year and a half in the Rangers organization, having played in just one game for the big club, he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars with Paul Jerrard, the rights to Bret Barnett and Mike Sullivan, and a third round pick in the 1989 entry draft for Brian Lawton, Igor Liba, and the rights to Eric Bennett. 

It was with the North Stars that Tinordi developed his physical reputation.  It was a double-edged sword, though.  His punishing style was almost as hard on his body as it was on opponents.  Never in six seasons with the North Stars (and the Dallas Stars, when the club relocated to Texas) did he appear in as many as 70 games.  It did not keep him from making steady improvements in offensive production, from a 2-3-5 scoring line in his first season with the North Stars (in 47 games in 1988-1989) to a carrer high in goals (15), assists (27), and points (42) in 1992-1993.

His 1993-1994 season was limited to 61 games by a broken femur, sustained oddly enough as the result of going in for a touch on an icing call and being tangled up with the Los Angeles Kings’ (and former Capital) John Druce.  Three days before the start of the abbreviated 1994-1995 season, Tinordi was traded to the Capitals with Rich Mrozik for Kevin Hatcher, who had requested a trade.  At the time, Tinordi was not excited. “At this point, I have to say I'm more disappointed than happy.  I've been with [the Stars] when it was building and I've developed from being just a fighter to the team captain. It's really hard to leave." 

It started a five-year stay in Washington that was marked by an impressive physical presence when he was in the lineup and frequent battles with injuries that kept him out of the lineup.  He was effective when he was in the lineup, though.  In 1995-1996 he led all Capitals defensemen in plus-minus (plus-26) and tied for 11th in the league among defensemen.  In 1997-1998 he appeared in only 47 games, but he still recorded eight goals and 17 points, a pace not far off his career best and still good for second in goals and fourth in points among Caps defensemen.  He was a second-best plus-6 among defensemen in the post-season run to the Stanley Cup final.

Mark Tinordi was as tough as they come, even among hockey players. This was a player whose career almost ended in before it got started.  In 1991, starting his fifth year in the league, he was struck by a puck behind his left knee when the Calgary Flames’ Al MacInnis tried to shoot it around the boards.  The shot left Tinordi with nerve damage that robbed him of feeling in his left foot.  He came back to build a 12-year career that was a combination of physicality and a surprising amount of offense from one who might have been characterized as a “physical” defenseman. 

With the Caps, Tinordi had a memorable career, one that brought him a devoted following.  One might wonder how much greater in might have been if not for the injuries.  Finally, after playing just 48 games in the 1998-1999 season and being claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999 expansion draft, he retired at the age of 32.  His kind of toughness and production is welcome on Team T.

Goalie: Jose Theodore

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 104 games, 62-24-12, 2.84, .905, 3 shutouts
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 4 games, 0-2, 3,71, .849

Jose Theodore’s career with the Washington Capitals was one of the stranger ones in team history.  There was the good (62-24-12 record in 104 games) and the bad (.905 save percentage, second worst among the five teams for which he played; 2.84 goals against average, worst among those five teams). 

By the time Theodore put together those two years, he was far removed from what might have been his best years, those spent with the Montreal Canadiens.  He was a second round pick of the Canadiens in the 1994 entry draft from the St-Jean Lynx of the QMJHL.  He spent two more seasons in Canadian juniors, with one NHL game snuck in during the 1995-1996 season, then started a slow climb to the NHL.  He spent three seasons splitting time between the Canadiens and the Fredericton Canadiens of the AHL, then the 1999-2000 season between Montreal and the Canadian national team in the World Championships.

Finally, in 2000-2001, at the age of 24, he took over the bulk of the work in the Canadiens’ net, appearing in 59 games.  The following season his ascent was complete.  He posted a 30-24-10 record in 67 games with a 2.11 goals against average and a .931 save percentage, the latter being tops in the league.  It was good enough to earn him the Vezina Trophy as outstanding goalie, the Hart Trophy as most valuable player, and a second team all-star berth.

After that, though, the word that might have described Theodore’s game was “inconsistent.” Over the next five seasons, split between Montreal and the Colorado Avalanche (where he was traded in 2006 for goalie David Aebischer), he was 112-113-21, 2.76, .905.

That was the record Theodore brought to Washington when he was signed as a free agent in July 2008.  At the time the Caps had a couple of precocious kids growing into a number one goaltender role – Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.  Neither were ready to assume that role.  Theodore could be that “bridge” between the days of Olaf Kolzig and those of either Varlamov or Neuvirth. 

His first year with the Caps was respectable in wins and losses (32-17-5), but his underlying numbers – a 2.87 goals against average and a .900 save percentage – were as inconsistent as those he brought to Washington.  That problem was laid bare in the playoffs.  In Game 1 of the opening round against the New York Rangers he allowed four goals on 21 shots in a 4-3 loss.  He did not appear again in that series, one that the Caps won in seven games.  He gave way to Semyon Varlamov at that point and did not appear again in the post-season until getting mop up duty in the 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the second round.

In the following season, Theodore was once more impressive in wins and losses (30-7-7).  The goals against average (2.81) and save percentage (.911) were more ordinary. Once more he got the call in Game 1, and once more he came up short, losing in overtime, 3-2.  Varlamov took over for the remainder of the series.

It was not a satisfying end to his brief stay in Washington, but an end it was.  Theodore signed with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent in October 2010 and played there for a season before heading on to Florida for his final two seasons in the NHL. 

Only six goalies in Caps history have more wins than Jose Theodore, but only Olaf Kolzig, who played in 16 seasons for the Caps, has more 30-win seasons (5) than Theodore (2).  It is something of a mirage, though, as Theodore played behind Capitals teams that were loaded on offense.  Still, it is enough for Jose Theodore to get the call in goal for Team T.

Not all teams in the alphabet can be whirling dervishes with the puck.  What Team T lacks in skill, they make up for in grit.  In their own way, they make for an entertaining group.