Thursday, September 04, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team A-E-I-O-U...and Sometimes Y

We have one more team to look at in the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Teams. Some players worthy of consideration suffer by virtue of the fact that they had letters with too few eligible players to form a team. So, we bring you Team A-E-I-O-U…and Sometimes Y.

Left Wing: Mel Angelstad

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 season, 2 games, 0-0-0, even
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Between amateur and pro hockey, between North America and Europe, Mel Angelstad played 1,036 regular season and playoff games covering 18 seasons of hockey in ten different leagues.  Of all those games, over all those seasons, traveling to so many places, there were two games with the Washington Capitals.

The NHL was probably a long shot for Angelstad who, despite an obvious dedication to the game (a maniacal one, one might say), he was not the most skilled of contestants for an NHL sweater.  He was never drafted, never traded for.  His associations with NHL teams were by way of free agency (Dallas and Washington).

He did, however, have a certain skill that made for a hard way to make a living.  It is in this number: 5,608.  That is the number of penalty minutes earned by Angelstad among his many stops in his hockey career, regular season and playoffs.  Five times he recorded more than 400 penalty minutes in a season.  It is a tough way to make a living. 

In 2003-2004 Angelstad was in his third season with the Portland Pirates, his longest stop of any in his career.  On April 3rd, with the Capitals hopelessly out of the playoffs (they were in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, just three points ahead of Pittsburgh for last place), they signed Angelstad to a contract.  He appeared that same day against the New York Rangers, getting 13 minutes of ice time in his NHL debut at the age of 31.  The following day he dressed for the season finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins, recording his only NHL shot on goal and two penalty minutes in 12 minutes of ice time.  And that would be the end of Angelstad’s career with the Caps. 

When the NHL went on extended hiatus, losing the 2004-2005 season to labor-management squabbles, Angelstad went to Europe, playing with the Belfast Giants.  He returned to North America to play for the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League.  It was his last season in pro hockey.

I takes a unique personality to devote so much time, withstand so much physical punishment, pull up stakes and move to another city on almost an annual basis for little chance of making it to the NHL.  Angelstad did, and though he had only those two NHL games, he did achieve a first-ever in league history.  He became the first player in NHL history to wear the number “69.”  He can wear it proudly on Team A-E-I-O-U…and Sometimes Y.

Center:  Stefan Ustorf

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 54 games, 7-10-17, plus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 5 games, 0-0-0, minus-1

In 1991-1992 Stefan Ustorf completed his first season of professional hockey, playing for hometown ESV Kaufbeuren in the German Eishockey-Bundesliga.  His 33 goals in 37 games was not enough to impress teams to taking him high in the 1992 NHL entry draft, but it was impressive enough for the Washington Capitals to take him in the third round (53rd overall).

Ustorf played two more seasons with ESV Kaufbeuren (which might have set off warning signals, in retrospect) before joining the Capitals’ AHL affiliate in Portland for the 1994-1995 season, where he scored 21 goals in 63 games.  The following season he made his NHL debut, appearing in 48 games for the Caps.  As rookie campaigns go it wasn’t bad.  His 17 points is tied for 32nd all-time among Caps rookies; his points per game (0.35) is tied for 25th.  His post-season was disappointing, though – no points in five games.

In 1996-1997 Ustorf regressed, so much so that he spent just six games with the Caps, failing to register a point.  He spent the rest of his season with Portland, scoring only seven goals in 36 games.  Three seasons in North America, two spent in part with the Caps, was apparently enough for Ustorf, who returned to Germany for the 1997-1998 season.  He gave North America another shot, playing with the Las Vegas Thunder, Detroit Vipers, and the Cincinnati Cyclones of the IHL over three seasons, but it would be his last hockey in North America.  Ustorf continued his career in Germany for another 11 seasons, retiring from the game after the 2011-2012 season at the age of 38.

Stefan Ustorf holds the all-time franchise record for games played by players born in Germany drafted by the Caps (54).  OK, so there have been only two such players (goalie Philipp Grubauer is the other).  Still, it is enough to get a spot on Team AEIOUASY.

Right Wing: Terry Yake

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 47 games, 6-8-14, plus-2
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 3 games, 0-0-0, minus-2

Terry Yake played 11 seasons in the NHL.  Perhaps in nine of them was he guaranteed a roster spot in trainng camp.  Even when things went well, they didn’t.  In the 1992-1993 season with the Harford Whalers, the team that drafted him in 1987 (fourth round), he scored 22 goals in 66 games, his first full season in the NHL after spending four years bouncing between Hartford and the AHL. 

His reward?  He was left exposed in the 1993 expansion draft.  The Anaheim Mighty Ducks plucked him, and Yake scored 21 goals for the Mighty Ducks in 82 games in the 1993-1994 season.

His reward for that?  He was traded to Toronto for David Sacco, who was coming off a four-game, two-point season with the Maple Leafs (Sacco appeared in 35 games over three NHL seasons).  A year with the Maple Leafs (split with the Denver Grizzlies in the IHL), and it was off to St. Louis.  Then he was signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Sabres, then the St. Louis Blues.  Then he was claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999 expansion draft.  Then he was claimed by St. Louis  off waivers. 

Finally, in January 2000, Yake made his way to Washington, claimed on waivers from the Blues.  It would be his last stop in the NHL.  He had a respectable 6-5-11 scoring line in 35 games to close out the 1999-2000 season with Washington.  The following season, though, he spent most of his time in the AHL with the Portland Pirates (55 games), getting only 12 appearances with the Caps (0-3-3). 

That was the last straw.  After the 2000-2001 season Yake headed off to Europe for the last three seasons of his pro hockey career, and fittingly it was spent with three different teams in Germany. 

The much-traveled and unappreciated Terry Yake spent 11 seasons in the NHL with five different teams.  Two those seasons were spent in the Capitals organization.  Maybe as a consolation prize for his devoted effort, he gets a place on Team AEIOUASY

Defense: Al Iafrate

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 256 games, 58-118-176, plus-25
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 26 games, 11-5-16, minus-1

OK, let’s be honest.  The real reason we have a Team A-E-I-O-U…and Sometimes Y is to find a place for Al Iafrate.  He is the only skater in team history whose name begins with the letter “I.”  Not that he wouldn’t have made a “Team I” if we had one.

He was drafted fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1984 entry draft, a loaded draft that produced Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Patrick Roy. Kirk Muller, Gary Roberts, and oh yeah, some kid from Quebec named “Lemieux.”  His progress was stunning before and after his being drafted.  In successive years he went from the Detroit Compuware squad in the Michigan National Hockey League to the United States National Team (including an appearance in the 1984 Winter Olympics) to a brief stint with the Belleville Bulls in the OHL after the Olympics to the Maple Leafs in 1984-1985.

Iafrate played in 68 games in that rookie 1984-1985 season, starting what would be a six-plus season career with the Leafs.  Off ice problem led Iafrate to seek a trade in the 1990-1991 season.  He got his wish in January 1991, heading to Washington for Peter Zezel and Bob Rouse. 

With Washington, Iafrate showed steady improvement.  He scored six goals in 30 games to wrap up the 1990-1991 season with the Capitals, then scored 17 goals in 78 games the following year.  In 1992-1993 he went 25-41-66 in 81 games, was named a second team all-star, and finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting for the league’s outstanding defenseman.  He played in the All Star Game that season and impressed in the skills competition with a slap shot clocked at more than 105 miles per hour, the first NHL player to top the 100 mph mark in the competition…

The following season Iafrate was caught in team-wide offensive slump (he had only ten goals in 67 games).  To try to remedy the situation, the Caps traded Iafrate to the Boston Bruins for forward Joe Juneau, who was coming off a 102-point rookie season. 

Injuries to his knees were starting to catch up with Iafrate, though.  He had a good finish to the 1993-1994 season with Boston (5-8-13 in 12 games), but he missed the 1994-1995 and 1995-1996 seasons to surgeries on his back and both knees.  Boston traded Iafrate to the San Jose Sharks in June 1996 for Jeff Odgers and a fifth round pick in the 1996 entry draft.  He played in only 59 games over two seasons with the Sharks, totaling just eight goals and 14 points.  The Sharks made him available in the 1998 expansion draft, where he would be claimed by the Nashville Predators.  Less than a month later he was signed as a free agent by the Carolina Hurricanes, but he never dressed for the team, choosing to retire in September 1998.

To Washington Capitals fans, Al Iafrate will always be “Wild Thing,” a blur on the ice with balding head and mullet haircut.  He was a fine hockey player to boot, before injuries whittled away at his game.  He has to get a jersey for Team AEIOUASY.

Defense: Nolan Yonkman

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 50 games, 1-7-8, plus-4
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Nolan Yonkman is probably known more for what he did in a practice than what he ever did in a game wearing a Washington Capitals jersey.  On the eve of the season opener in 2003-2004, Yonkman and Michael Nylander battled for a puck in practice.  Their skates got tangled up, and Nylander – five inches shorter and almost 50 pounds lighter than Yonkman – lost.  He broke his ankle, and injury that would limit him to three games with the Caps that season until he was traded to Boston in March.

At the time, Yonkman was a 22-year old prospect with just 11 games of NHL experience trying to make the club.  He was drafted by the Caps in the second round (37th overall) of the 1999 entry draft (note: the Caps passed on Mike Commodore, drafted five spots later, and Jordan Leopold, drafted two spots after that, but these things happen).

Ironically, Yonkman himself would miss most of that 2003-2004 season to a knee injury.  No sooner did he finish rehabilitation on that knee following reconstructive surgery, he injured the same knee, limiting him to just 32 games with Portland in the AHL for the 2004-2005 season.

In 2005-2006 Yonkman appeared in 38 games for the Capitals, his high-water mark in games played, although he did not score a goal and recorded just seven points.  The Caps did not re-sign Yonkman to a new contract following that season, and he moved on to Nashville.  In four seasons in the Predators’ organization he never dressed for the parent club, and in July 2010 he signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes.  It started a four-year run in which Yonkman would appear in only a total of 26 NHL games with three teams, the Florida Panthers and the Anaheim Ducks being the others.  He is currently a free agent.

Nolan Yonkman might have been that big, physical defenseman that the Capitals lacked in the years before the NHL 2004-2005 lockout.  It was his body that betrayed him as much as anything, though, with injuries cutting deeply into his developmental schedule.  Still, he did manage to play in parts of three seasons with the Caps between causing and sustaining injuries.  Give him a sweater for Team AEOIUASY

Goalie: Gary Inness

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 54 games, 16-24-12, 3.64
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Even for the period, that being the early 1970’s, Gary Inness’ path to the NHL was not the usual sort.  Inness was not drafted by an NHL team and took the Canadian university path, playing two years with McMaster University and another at the University of Toronto.  At that point he was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent. 

Inness made the jump right from university to the NHL, appearing in 20 games for the Penguins in 1973-1974 (7-10-1, 3.26).  His sophomore year was better – 24-18-10 with a goals against average of 3.09 as the Pens’ number one goalie.  That was the regular season, though.  After escaping into the second round of the playoffs after beating the St. Louis Blues, 2-0, in a best-of-three series, Inness got the call in all seven games of the second round series against the New York Islanders.  He won the first three of them.  He lost the last four, though, allowing the Islanders (in their first playoff appearance in franchise history) to become only the second team to win a Stanley Cup playoff best-of-seven series after losing the first three games (Toronto did it in 1942).

He lasted into his third season with the Pens when he was traded across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia for Bobby Taylor and Ed Van Impe.  After a season and change with the Flyers in which he appeared in a total of only eight games, Inness signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association.  After barely a season in Indy, Inness arrived in Washington, signing a free agent deal in December 1978.

Inness played three seasons in Washington.  He appeared in 37 games in his first season, after arriving from Indianapolis, posting a 14-14-8 record with a 3.70 goals against average.  It was by far the best record among the four goalies playing for a team with a 24-41-15 record.  Over the next two seasons, though, he would split time between Washington and the Hershey Bears in the AHL.  After the 1980-1981 season, he retired to take up a job as head coach with the Bears (replacing Bryan Murray when Murray was promoted to Washington) where he spent three more seasons.

Gary Inness spent the last three seasons of his NHL career toiling for a team that struggled quite a bit.  Nonetheless, he earned the nickname, “Man with the Golden Glove” for his early play with the club.  It has to earn him a spot on Team AEIOYASY.

And there you have it.  Team A-E-I-O-U…and Sometimes Y is the last entry in our look back at the All-Alphabet Teams of the Washington Capitals.  Some teams are impressive, some are not.  But they are all, in their own way, Capitals.

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

We have come to the end of the alphabet.  Not necessarily the end of our Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Teams, just the end of the alphabet.  With Team Z we find some zip, some zing, and some razzmatazz. 

Left Wing: Dainius Zubrus

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 331 games, 86-130-216, minus-13
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 12 games, 2-2-4, minus-1

Dainius Zubrus was the 15th overall selection of the 1996 entry draft, taken by the Philadelphia Flyers.  No player taken in that draft has played in more regular season games than the 1,169 contests in which Zubrus has played.

It started in Philadelphia, where Zubrus played for three-plus seasons, then in Montreal, where he played in parts of another three seasons.  In March 2001 he came to Washington in one of the more important trades since the turn of the century.  Zubrus was traded with Trevor Linden and a second round pick in the 2001 entry draft for Richard Zednik, Jan Bulis, and a first round pick in the 2001 entry draft.

Zubrus was coming to a team on a roll.  The Caps were 17-2-2-1 in the 22 games leading up to trade and jumped out to a 15-point lead in the Southeast Division.  Maybe it was upsetting the delicate chemistry of a team, maybe it was a misevaluation of talent, maybe it was just bad luck, but the Caps finished the season 4-7-0-2 after the trade and dropped their opening round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

Linden was traded to Vancouver the following November, but Zubrus remained.  He spent parts of six seasons in Washington and pretty much saw it all.  There was the stalled momentum of the 2000-2001 season after he arrived, and he was without a point in the six game opening round playoff series that the Caps lost to Pittsburgh.  Not the best way to curry favor with the new fan base. 

The Caps missed the playoffs altogether in Zubrus’ second season with the club, although his 17-26-43 scoring line (sixth on the club) was a career best to date in total points and not bad for a 23-year old.  He slipped a bit in 2002-2003 (13-22-35 in 63 games), with a disappointing return to the playoffs for the Caps, and in 2003-2004 (12-15-27 in 54 games) a period of upheaval as the Caps began the heavy lifting to retool their roster.

After the Caps and the NHL came out of the 2004-2005 lockout, Zubrus’ role on the club changed some.  As a 27-year old with eight seasons of NHL experience, he became one of the veterans on whom a young team (16 players dressing that season younger than 25) would depend.  Zubrus responded.  Given first line responsibilities to ride shotgun with rookie winger Alex Ovechkin, Zubrus set career highs in goals (23), assists, and points (57).

The following season was a walk year for Zubrus; he would be an unrestricted free agent after the 2006-2007.  While he was having a season that was on pace to surpass the career marks he set in 2005-2006, he and the team were unable to agree on terms of along term deal.  It became a familiar case of a team having to choose between the potential of finding agreement later or risk losing the player with no return.  The Caps chose to trade Zubrus and defenseman Timo Helbling to the Buffalo Sabres for forward Jiri Novotny and a first round pick in the 2007 entry draft. 

Zubrus spent the remainder of the season with the Sabres, finishing the 2006-2007 season with what were (and remain) career bests in goals (24), assists (36) and points (60).  He signed as a free agent with the New Jersey Devils, where has been the last seven years.

Dainius Zubrus occupied that transitional period in which the Capitals went from playoff team to rebuild to the cusp of competitiveness once more.  He was productive on a club that was finding itself on its way to a string of playoff years that ended last year.   For that he has a place on Team Z.

Center: Peter Zezel

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 season, 20 games, 7-5-12, minus-13
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

By the time Peter Zezel came to the Washington Capitals in 1990, he had shown himself to be a solid point producer with the Philadelphia Flyers (who drafted him in the second round of the 1983 entry draft) and St. Louis Blues. In six seasons with the Flyers and Blues he averaged 22 goals and 64 points a season.

Zezel came to the Capitals in July 1990 with Mike Lalor in exchange for Geoff Courtnall.  He got off to a good start in the 1990-1991 season with goals in his first three games with the Caps and five in his first 13 games.  An ankle injury sidelined him for 23 games during which the Caps were 11-11-1.  Zezel returned to the lineup on December 22nd, but his ankle was not cooperating.  He appeared in only seven of the next ten games, recording a pair of goals. 

However, with the season passing its half-way point, the team was having trouble getting traction after having appeared in the Wales Conference finals the previous spring.  When the Caps lost to the St. Louis Blues by a 7-3 score on January 15th, the Caps were 21-24-2 and in fifth place in the six-team Patrick Division.

It was at that point that Zezel’s career with the Caps came to an abrupt end.  On January 16th the Caps traded Zezel to the Toronto Maple Leafs with defenseman Bob Rouse for defenseman Al Iafrate, a player who wanted to and was happy to leave Toronto

The Caps recovered to go 16-12-5 down the stretch and finish third in the Patrick Division, good for a playoff berth.  As for Zezel, he had a fine finish, too, going 14-14-28 in 32 games with the Leafs.  Zezel would play another eight seasons in the NHL with the Maple Leafs, the Dallas Stars, the Blues once more, the New Jersey Devils, and the Vancouver Canucks.  In 1999, he requested a trade to an Eastern Conference team to be closer to his niece, who was terminally ill.  The Leafs traded him instead to the Anaheim Ducks for a late round draft pick.  Zezel declined to report to Anaheim.

Zezel passed away in May 2009 of a blood disorder.  He finished his NHL career with 873 games played and 219 goals.  Only 20 of those games played and seven of those goals were scored in a Capitals uniform, but Peter Zezel gets a spot on Team Z.

Right Wing: Richard Zednik

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 289 games, 69-65-134, minus-13
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 22 games, 7-3-10, even

For a time, there might not have been a Washington Capital with as fierce a following as Richard Zednik.  So much that he had his own “night” while still a member of the club.  On Hallowe’en night 2000 a local radio station sponsored a promotion win which fans received free tickets and a player jersey if they bleached their hair in the same blond fashion that Zednik was sporting at the time.  In return, Zednik treated his fans to a hat trick in a 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

As for Zednik the player, his “night” came in what was his fifth season with the club.  He was a tenth round pick (249th overall) in the 1994 entry draft from SK Iskra Banska Bystrica in Sloakia.  After being drafted by the Caps he spent two seasons playing with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL (and one game in his NHL debut with the Caps in 1995-1996).  His pro career began in earnest with the 1996-1997 season in which he split time between the Capitals (11 games) and the Portland Pirates in the AHL (56 games).

In his rookie season of 1997-1998 Zednik finished third among rookies in goals (17, including the first goal scored at the Caps’ new MCI Center) and seventh in Calder Trophy voting for the NHL’s top rookie.  He followed the regular season up tying for the team lead in goal scoring (7) in the Caps’ advance to the Stanley Cup final.

Injuries delayed Zednik’s development in the 1998-1999 season, limiting him to just 49 games in which he scored only nine goals for a team that missed the playoffs.  That performance seemed to stall his development.  In 1999-2000 he started the season with just one goal in his first 16 games.  He did recover to score 19 goals in 69 games, but it was not the arc of progress one might have hoped for the 24-year old in his third full season. 

In 2000-2001, he started slow once more.  He did have the hat trick on his night on Hallowe’en, but otherwise he had just three goals in 32 games for a total of six in his first 33 contests of the season.  At that point he and the Caps gathered momentum.  Over the next 32 games the Caps went 21-7-3-1, culminating in a thrilling come-from-behind 6-5 win over the Ottawa Senators on March 11th.  Over that span of games, Zednik recorded ten goals. 

The Caps were pulling away in the Southeast Division race with a 37-20-10-2 record, 15 points ahead of Carolina in the division.  There was the question, though, whether the team was configured for a deep playoff run.  The Caps opted to add experience and pulled the trigger on a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, sending Zednik, another youngster, Jan Bulis, and a first round pick in the 2001 entry draft to Montreal for Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus, and a second round pick int he2001 draft.

For the Caps, the trade simply did not work.  They stumbled to a 4-7-0-2 finish and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. 

For Zednik the rest of the year was unremarkable – three goals in 12 games for a team that did not qualify for the post-season.  The following season, though, he recorded his first 20-goal season (22 in 82 games, the first time he appeared in every season game).  It started a four season run over which he scored 95 goals, including what would be a career high 31 in 2002-2003.

After a 2005-2006 season, the end of that four season run, in which he scored 16 goals, he was traded back to Washington by the Canadiens for a third round pick in the 2007 entry draft.  The team to which Zednik returned was not a playoff contender, and his game was not what it was in his first tour in Washington. After 32 games with the Caps in which he scored just six goals, he was traded to the New York Islanders for a second round pick in the 2007 entry draft.  It would be one of the more productive draft picks for the Caps in an indirect way.  They selected defenseman Theo Ruth with that pick, who was later traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Sergei Fedorov.

Zednik stayed the rest of the season on Long Island, scoring only one goal in ten games, then signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers.  In two seasons with Florida he recorded 32 goals in 124 games, but might have been known best for an incident in a February10, 2008 game in Buffalo when his neck was cut by a teammate's skate blade It would end Zednik’s 2007-2008 season, but he did return for one more season in Florida, closing out his NHL career with 17 goals in 70 games for the Panthers.

Zednik played two more seasons in Europe before ending his professional hockey career that included 13 seasons in the NHL, seven of them over two tours with the Capitals.  The promise he displaed early in his career was not fulfilled, but he was still a productive player for the club, especially in its Stanley Cup final year in 1997-1998.  For that Richard Zednik has a place on Team Z, which should make his “Zedhead” fans happy.

Defense: Rob Zettler

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 90 games, 1-10-11, plus-2
Playoffs (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 11 games, 0-0-0, minus-3

Rob Zettler was a defensive defenseman.  He better have been, what with having scored only five goals in 569 games in his NHL career.  Only once did he score more than one goal in a season, and only once did he record more than ten points, both achieved in the 1996-1997 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, three seasons before he made his way to Washington.

That path to Washington started for Zettler when he was drafted in the third round (55th overall) by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1986 entry draft, the 20th defenseman taken.  Zettler played three seasons with the North Stars before making stops in San Jose, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Nashville, who claimed him in the expansion draft of 1998.

Zettler, who until he was claimed by the Predators, played in 477 NHL games over ten seasons.  He played in only two games for Nashville in 1998-1999, spending most of his time (77 games) with the Utah Grizzlies of the IHL.  That would be all for his stay in the Nashville organization; Zettler signed with the Caps as a free agent in September 1999.

Zettler did not find it much easier to crack the Capitals’ lineup.  He played in just 12 games of the 1999-2000 season, while appearing in 23 games for the Caps’ AHL affiliate in Portland.  He split time once more in the 2000-2001 season between the NHL and AHL, 29 games with the Caps and 36 games with the Pirates. 

In 2001-2002 he hit his high water mark with the Capitals, appearing in 49 games and scoring his only goal as a Capital.  It came on February 23, 2002 at MCI Center against the Montreal Canadiens.  Nine minutes into the contest, Andrei Nikolishin took control of the puck at the left wing boards and laid out a pass for Zettler at the edge of the faceoff circle.  Zettler’s one-timer beat Jose Theodore to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.  Alas, it was not the game-winning goal.  The Caps lost, 5-3 (oddly enough, former Caps Richard Zednik and Joe Juneau scored the game tying and game-winning goals).

Zettler would retire in the off-season to follow and embark on a career in coaching, named as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks in December 2002.  He has held a variety of assistant coaching positions since, mostly under Ron Wilson.  He is currently head coach of the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.  While his stay in Washington was not particularly noteworthy, it did coincide with the last years of success before the team went into a decline  that forced a rebuild.  Rob Zettler makes for a steadying influence on Team Z.

Defense: Dwayne Zinger

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 season, 7 games, 0-1-1, plus-2
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Some guys have long, productive careers in the NHL that follow a nice clean arc of progress that spans years.  Those are the comparative rarity in sports, or in life, for that matter.  On the other hand, there are guys who undertake an arduous climb from rung to rung up the ladder so that they might get one brief moment in “the show.  The “Crash Davises” of the NHL.

Meet Dwayne Zinger.  His was a career that started with little fanfare, undrafted by any NHL team, spending a season as a 19-year old with the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey league, then four years with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Upon his completion of his four year stint in Alaska, Zinger signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings in March 2000.  He never played for the parent club, having played for two years in the AHL with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.  In July 2002 he was signed as a free agent with the Capitals.  That meant another year toiling in the AHL, now with the Portland Pirates. 

It started that way in the 2003-2004 season, too.  Over the first two months of the season he was the Pirates leading scorer from the blueline.  Through 23 games he had four goals and three assists.  In December, however, he got the call, and on the 11th he dressed for his first NHL game.  It was against the Boston Bruins, a team that always provides a physical challenge.  Sure enough, with the Caps holding a 4-2 lead in the second period, Zinger had his baptism in the NHL, a fight with the Bruins’ Doug Doull…

It would be Zinger’s only dent in the score sheet for the evening in just 2:08 of ice time.  He played another six games with the Caps before returning to Portland.  In the last of them he scored his first (and only) NHL point , and assist on the game-winning goal with less than one minute left in regulation time in a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens at MCI Center. 

With that game, the NHL portion of his career was complete.  Zinger finished the season in Portland and played with the Pirates in the 2004-2005 NHL lockout season.  In February 2006, in one of the little ironies that you see in sports from time to time, Zinger was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for none other than Doug Doull, his fighting partner in his NHL debut.  He would not rise higher than the AHL again, though, playing with the San Antonio Rampage for the rest of the 2005-2006 season, then spending two years with the Providence Bruins.

After the 2007-2008 season he tried his hand in Europe with the Odense Bulldogs in Denmark.  After one season there he returned to North America for a final season with the Cincinnati Bulldogs in the ECHL.  After the 2009-2010 season his hockey resume was complete.  There was that brief moment, though, one in which he experienced the roughness and the joy in the NHL.  It’s more than most can say they had, and for that Dwayne Zinger gets a spot on Team Z.

Goalie: Roger Crozier

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 season, 3 games, 1-0-0, 1.17
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Left with no goaltenders in franchise history whose name starts with the letter “Z,” we turn to a player who at least carries the letter in his last name.  It might be fitting that we come to the end of the alphabet with Roger Crozier in goal.  He played in only three games for the Capitals, those coming at the end of a 14-year career in which he played in 540 regular season and playoff games.

It started for Crozier as an undrafted goalie out of the St Catharines Teepees in the OHA junior league, where he helped the Teepees win a Memorial Cup in 1960.  The Teepees were owned by the Chicago Blackhawks at the time, and league sponsorship rules stipulated the Blackhawks had rights to all of the team’s players.  Crozier never played for Chicago, though, his rights being traded to the Detroit Red Wings with Ron Ingram for Howie Young in June 1963.

That trade did not pay immediate dividends for the Red Wings, but in the 1964-1965 season Crozier made Detroit happy with the deal.  He appeared in 70 games and posted a record of 40-22-7 with a goals against average of 2.42.  He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie, garnered a first team all-star selection, and was fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.  The following year he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the post-season, even though the Red Wings lost the Stanley Cup final to the Montreal Canadiens.  He is one of five players in the history of the award to have won it as a member of a team that did not win the Cup.

That would be a tough start to a career to sustain, let alone eclipse.  Over the next ten seasons, with Detroit and then the Buffalo Sabres, Crozier’s record bounced around .500, both in the regular season (133-145-47, with a season high of 23 wins with Buffalo in 1972-1973) and in the playoffs (5-5 over three seasons).  As the years went by, his health declined, reaching the point where he played in only 11 games in the 1975-1976 season.  Finally, in March 1977 he was sent to the Capitals by the Sabres in a cash deal.  He played in just three games for the Caps with a 1-0-0 record, allowing only two goals in 113 minutes of play (1.17 goals against average).  He was unable to finish any of the three games he started, although he did play two periods in a March 18th game against the Colorado Rockies, giving up no goals in his 40 minutes and combining with Ron Low for a 5-0 shutout for his only win with Washington.

Crozier retired after that 1976-1977 season, but he would go on to serve as interim head coach for the team for one game in 1981 between the tenures of Gary Green and Bryan Murray (he lost that lone game).  He also served as interim general manager for the club from November 1981, replacing Max McNab, until August 1982, when he was replaced by David Poile.

Roger Crozier passed away in 1996 after a battle with cancer.  He served in more capacities for less time than anyone even associated with the club – player, coach, general manager.  He covered the full range of experience with the club, and for that he gets the last spot on Team Z.