Friday, August 27, 2021

Retired Numbers that Weren't - the 2010's

We are up to the last installment of our look at retired numbers not retired by the Washington Capitals.  The 2001-2020 decade is a tough one, because a number of players who might be candidates are still active with the Caps.  But there are departed players, retired or still active with other teams, who might deserve some thought as time goes by.

The Candidates:

“90” In seven seasons with the Caps to open the decade, Marcus Johansson established himself as a well-rounded, reliably productive offensive player with a deceptively accurate shot when he decided to deploy it.  He was one of six Capitals to post at least 100 goals for the decade (102), finished fifth in total points (290), tied for fourth in game-winning goals (20), and had the sixth-best shooting percentage of Capitals who recorded at least 100 shots on goal (13.8).  He also holds the distinction of being one of seven Capitals to score a playoff series clinching goal in overtime (Dale Hunter, John Druce, Brian Bellows, Joe Juneau, Joel Ward, and Evgeny Kuznetsov being the others).

“42” Joel Ward could be thought of as an “any era” Capital, a rugged forward who could have fit in as a “plumber” in the 1980’s, a player who could hold his own in the “clutch-and-grab” 1990’s and early 2000’s, and as an all-around complementary player he was for the Caps in his four seasons in Washington.  He was a decent goal scorer in his years in Nashville preceding his stay in DC, but he improved in that area as a Capital, posting his best two goal-scoring seasons in Washington – 24 goals in 2013-2014 and 19 goals in 2014-2015.  And, he is one of only two Capitals in team history to score a series-clinching goal in Game 7 of a playoff series for the Caps (Hunter being the other) and the only one to do it on the road when his overtime goal in Boston in Game 7 clinched the series against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“83” Odd to find a grinder here, but Jay Beagle is a special case.  His climb to the NHL was a long one, starting with a tryout with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL in 2006-2007, ending when he dressed for 31 games for the Caps in 2010-2011.  He became a fan favorite for his embrace of his role as a grinding defense-oriented player who eventually became an offensive contributor from a fourth line role.  He was an adept faceoff performer (56.4 percent as a Capital) and had an uncanny ability to score goals that mattered (the Caps were 41-1-5 in regular season games in which he scored at least one goal).  And, he is the first player to have won championships in the ECHL (with Idaho), the AHL (Hershey Bears), and the NHL (with the Caps).

“70” Braden Holtby or Olaf Kolzig?  Who was the greatest goalie in Caps history?  Whether one picks one or the other, Holtby deserves at least as much consideration for his number’s retirement as does Kolzig.  Second to Kolzig in games played in team history (468 to 711), second in wins (282 to 301 for Kolzig), tied with Kolzig for first with 35 shutouts as a Capital, second in save percentage (.916) to Philipp Grubauer (.923) among goalies with at least 100 games played, third in goals against average among that same group (2.53), co-holder of the all-time record for wins in a single NHL season (48, with Martin Brodeur), twice a Vezina Trophy finalist and a winner in 2015-2016, first team NHL all-star in 2015-2016, and Jennings Trophy winner in 2016-2017.  As a Capital, he had the second-best playoff save percentage in the post-original six era (.926 to Tim Thomas’ .933; minimum: 50 games played).  And, he is the only goalie in team history to hoist the Stanley Cup.

It might seem a bit odd that no defensemen make this list, but it is a thin list of potential candidates with some still active with the Caps, others who might have made an impact but in a limited stay here, or just not quite worthy of consideration.  As time goes by, the list will undoubtedly include some blueliners, but for now, these four candidates stand out as players and numbers who likely will not see their numbers retired (save for Holtby, perhaps), but are worthy of remembrance.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Retired Numbers that Weren't - the 2000's

We are up to the fourth installment of our look at retired numbers not retired by the Washington Capitals, and with it, the new century dawns.

The Candidates:

"37” It took a while for Olaf Kolzig to become the Capitals’ number one netminder – six seasons, in none of which did he dress for as many as ten games – but when he took over for an injured Bill Ranford in 1887-1998, the job would be his for the next ten seasons.  Kolzig’s record in the 2000’s might be considered mediocre overall (187-188-23, with 31 ties, 2.83, .906), but recall that he was the netminder for much of the Caps’ decline and subsequent rebuild in mid-decade.  Coming off a Vezina Trophy-winning 1999-2000 season, he would win 101 games over the next three seasons (fourth most among all NHL goalies) for an aging Caps team starting its decline.  He was a workhorse, appearing in 209 games over those three seasons (second only to Martin Brodeur’s 218 games), and posted 15 of his career 35 shutouts.  Perhaps only Peter Bondra generates more discussion on the topic of numbers that should be retired than Kolzig.

“52” If Mike Green isn’t the best offensive defenseman in Caps’ history, he is on a short list.  He is the last NHL defemseman to record at least 30 goals in a season (31 in 2008-2009) and the only defenseman to do it since another Capital – Kevin Hatcher – posted 34 goals in 1992-1993.  He posted consecutive 70-plus points seasons in 2008-2009 (73) and 2009-2010 (76), the only defenseman to accomplish the feat in the 2000’s.  That he finished second in Norris Trophy voting in those years is one of the greater travesties in voting for individual awards in recent memory.  He set (and still holds) the record for consecutive games with a goal by an NHL defenseman (eight, in 2008-2009). Despite a reputation as inconsistent in his own end of the ice, he finished the 2000’s with a plus-51 aggregate rating, one of only two Capitals defenseman with a plus-50 or better (Jeff Schultz: plus-80).  He led all Capitals defensemen in game-winning goals for the decade with 12, twice as many as Sergei Gonchar, and his four overtime goals earned him the nickname “Game-Over Green.”

“28” Although the adjective “enigma” seemed to follow him around in his seven seasons as a Capital, one cannot deny that Alexander Semin was one of the most supremely gifted players ever to play for the Caps.  In 327 games in the 2000’s, Semin posted 300 points, second only to Alex Ovechkin (529 in 396 games) for the decade.  He tallied 148 goals over the period, also second to Ovechkin (269) for the decade; and he had 127 power play points, another second-place ranking for the 2000’s.  In five seasons in the 2000’s he topped 30 goals three times with a high of 40 in 2009-2010.  Another player who might be described as “challenged” in the defensive end of the ice, he still managed a plus-34 rating for the decade, sixth-best among all Capitals skaters, and received votes for the Selke Trophy as top defensive forward in 2008-2009, including two votes for fourth place among all vote-getters.

The Choice:

The 2000’s were an up and down decade for the Caps, who spent much of it tearing down the old and building up the new.  The constant through all of it was Olaf Kolzig, who gets the nod here as the clear choice.

Honorable Mention

“55” Sergei Gonchar had more points (232) and averaged more points per game (0.80) than did Mike Green (220/0.69) in 27 fewer games in the decade and was twice a second-team NHL all-star, and he did suffer somewhat for playing in the early part of the decade when the Caps were in decline, but he was not the impactful player Green was.

“9” In parts of six seasons with the Capitals, all of them spent with the Caps in decline and then in rebuilding mode, Dainius Zubrus was a reliable contributor, finishing fourth in goals among all skaters in the 2000’s (86), sixth in assists (130), and seventh in points (216).  He tied for fourth in game-winning goals (14) and fifth in power play goals (35).

“11” Being quite literally a “home grown” player (native of Potomac, MD) gets Jeff Halpern some points here, but he happened to be perhaps the best two-way forward of the decade for the Caps until Nicklas Backstrom became a Capital.  Despite playing only five seasons for the Caps in the decade, Halpern finished ninth in goals scored (69), ninth in assists (116), and tenth in points (185). Twice he received votes for the Norris Trophy as top defensive forward.


Retired Numbers that Weren't - the 1990's

In this third installment of our look at retired numbers not retired, we look back at the 1990’s.  This promises to be a hard one to sort out.

The Candidates:

“6” Calle Johansson was not as prolific a scorer as an offensive defenseman as, say, Kevin Hatcher or Al Iafrate.  He was not a thundering hitter playing with an edge like Brendan Witt or Mark Tinordi.  But he was the best two-way, most consistent defenseman to play for the Caps in the 1990’s.  He was the only defenseman to play in all ten seasons in the decade (no other appeared in more than seven), led defensemen in games played (732, almost 250 more than Sylvain Cote (483)), was first in goals/assists/points (82-282-374), was first in power play goals/points (40-185), was second in game-winning goals (13, to Kevin Hatcher’s 14), and had the only two overtime goals scored by Caps defensemen in the decade.

“12”  No number gets more attention on this topic than the number Peter Bondra made famous as a Capital.  In the 1990’s Bondra led the Caps in goals scored (337, tenth among all NHL players in the decade). Led the Caps in even strength goals (235, third among all NHL’ers in that period), led in shorthanded goals (25, tied for sixth in the league in the ‘90’s), twice led the league in goal scoring (34 in the abbreviated 1994-1995 season and 52 in 1997-1998), twice had 50-goal seasons (62 in 1996-1996 and the one mentioned above), led the league in shorthanded goals in 1994-1995 (six), and was a five-time participant in the NHL All-Star Game.

“20” Michal Pivonka seems to get lost in any conversation about the best players in Capitals history.  His story on becoming a Capital is amazing in itself,  but once he arrived, he established himself a a fine, if persistently underrated player.  He appeared in 552 games in the 90’s (fifth among all Capitals), ranked third in goals scored (119), first in assists (312), second in points (431), fifth in power play goals (38), third in power play points (137), second in game-winning goals (24), tied for first in overtime goals (four), and fourth in shorthanded goals (nine).

The Choice:

This might be the deepest pool of candidates, but there is no clearer winner here than Peter Bondra.  It would take a generational talent such as Alex Ovechin to break many of Bondras’s goal scoring records, but Bondra remains perhaps the most dangerous penalty killing forward in team history, a skill that sometimes gets overlooked among his career achievements.

Honorable Mention

“4” Kevin Hatcher was the most dangerous offensive defenseman the Caps had in the 1990’s.  Second in goals scored (91, one fewer than Johansson), third in assists (156), second in points (247), second in power play goals (36) and power play points (112), and first in game-winning goals (14), while finishing sixth in games played (313).

“10” Kelly Miller is one of those examples of a player who sacrificed a part of his game to become a better all-around player. An accomplished scorer in college (82 goals in 165 games at Michigan State), he developed into more of defensive specialist in the NHL, but still capable of chipping in offense (106-168-274, plus-45, in 663 games in the 1990’s).  He led the Caps in shorthanded points in the ‘90’s (28), was third in game-winning goals (21), and tied for most overtime goals (four).

“17” Mike Ridley is another of those Capital players whose performance seems overlooked.  In just 324 games in the 1990’s, Ridley posted 104 goals, 188 assists, and 292 points.  He led all Capitals in points per game in the decade (0.90).