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).