Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Curtis Leschyshyn

No President in American history served a shorter term of office than did its ninth President, William Henry Harrison.  Elected in 1840, sworn in on March 4, 1841, Harrison served 31 days before he became the first American president to die in office.  There can be but one Capital who can compare to Harrison.  No, not Alexandre Volchkov, who played in just three games for the Caps, but who was a member of the organization from his being drafted fourth overall in 1996 until he was traded in February 2000.  No, not Jonas Johansson, who from the time he was traded to the Caps in October 2003 until he left the organization in 2007 played in only one game for the Caps.

No, the Capital who gets the call here can only be Curtis Leschyshyn. 

Both had very short stays in their respective “offices” in Washington – Harrison for 31 days as President and Leschyshyn for a week as a Capital, but it isn’t as if they didn’t have long and steady climbs before getting to their respective posts.  Take Harrison.  Born in 1773 in what would become the Commonwealth of Virginia, he became Secretary of the Northwest Territory at the tender age of 25.  Less than a year later, barely eligible for the office, he became a member of the United States House of Representatives, representing the Northwest Territory as an at-large member.  He served only a year in that position before assuming the duties of Governor of the Indiana Territory, a position he held for almost 12 years.

Then, Harrison returned to the national stage, returning to the House of Representatives in a special election to finish the term of John McLean (no, not that John MacLean), who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  After returning to Ohio to serve in the state senate and losing an election to return to the U.S. House of Representatives, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served for three years before being appointed minister to Gran Columbia. When he was recalled at the end of the President’s term of office, his public service appeared to come to an end after more than 30 years in various positions. 

Life as a private citizen did not take though, and he returned to public service in county government in Ohio.  In 1836 he ran for President, losing to Martin Van Buren, but in 1840 he ran again, defeating Van Buren in a rematch.  And thus was set in motion a series of events that would result in the shortest presidential tenure in American history.  Harrison, who had just turned 68 years old, the oldest ever to take office until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981, wanted to convey a sense of strength, calling to mind his history at the Battle of Tippecanoe Pride and weather conspired against Harrison on Inauguration Day, though.  On a cold, snowy day in Washington in March 1841, wearing neither hat nor coat, he rode on horseback to the Capitol and delivered what is still the longest presidential inaugural address in American history at one hour and 45 minutes.  To that he added attendance at several inaugural ball, and while it is unlikely that the activity was a direct cause of the pneumonia that he developed three weeks later, it was still a difficult way to begin an administration.  And, just 31 days into his administration, Harrison passed.

Curtis Leschyshyn suffered no similar misfortune upon arriving in Washington, but his path here was a winding one of its own.  After two seasons with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL in Canadian junior hockey, Leschyshyn was taken by the Quebec Nordiques as the third overall pick in the first round of the 1988 NHL entry draft.  He jumped right into the NHL, dressing for 71 games in the 1988-1989 season.  It was a difficult one for the Nordiques, who won only 27 games.  Leschyshyn was second worst on the team in plus-minus that season (minus-32), with some guy named “Sakic” finishing behind him (minus-36).

That rookie year would be a high mark of sorts for Leschyshyn in his early career.  His games played dropped in each of the next three seasons with Quebec, and he eventually split time between the Nordiques and the Halifax Citadels in the AHL in 1991-1992.  The slide was arrested after that, Leschyshyn appearing in 275 regular season and 26 postseason games over the next four seasons, winning a Stanley Cup with the franchise after it relocated to Colorado as the Avalanche in 1995-1996.

Never a particularly prolific defenseman at the offensive end of the ice, Leschyshyn started a bit slowly in the 1996-1997 season, going without a goal in his first 11 games.  At that point, he was an undercard player in a multi-player deal between the Avalanche and the Capitals.  In early November, he and the rights to left winger Chris Simon were traded to Washington for Caps forward Keith Jones, and a first and a fourth round pick in the 1998 entry draft. 

About that “to Washington” thing.  Actually, he never really made it “to Washington.”  At the time, Caps General Manager David Poile said, “With Leschyshyn, well, you can never have enough defensemen. With Sylvain Cote being out and Nolan Baumgartner now having surgery {for a dislocated shoulder} and out four to six months, we felt some of our depth was gone." He added that Leschyshyn would “"definitely…be [with the] Capitals for a while." 

“A while” was seven days.  Leschyshyn joined the Caps for road games in Florida against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers, not registering a point and finishing even in the plus-minus numbers.  Then, the defensemen that the Caps could not have too many of and who would be with the Caps for a while was traded to the Hartford Whalers for center Andrei Nikolishin.  Of the deal, Poile said, “"I knew going into the Simon trade that we were going to have too many defensemen but I said we made the deal for a good player and now that asset has turned into a quality forward for us."  He could have had a future in politics, that one.

Leschyshyn did not suffer the end Harrison did; he finished the season with the Whalers and played another seven seasons with the Whalers (later the Carolina Hurricanes), the Minnesota Wild, and the Ottawa Senators.  But in his blink-of-an-eye stay with the Caps, never having actually dressed for a game in Washington, Curtis Leschyshyn bears a striking similarlity in his tenure to that of President William Henry Harrison.

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