Washington, DC Sports Franchises: Washington Capitals
February 10, 2011 Leave a comment
Stanley Cups: None
Retired Numbers: #5 Rod Langway, #7 Yvon Labre, #11 Mike Gartner, #32 Dale Hunter
The Washington Capitals joined the NHL in 1974, along with the Atlanta Flames (now in Calgary), the New York Islanders and the Kansas City Scouts (now the New Jersey Devils). The early years of the Capitals franchise was marked by historic lows, including managing only eight wins in their inaugural season. Things got bad enough that by the early 1980’s, there were strong rumors from the comissioners office about moving the team north to Canada.
However, in 1982, the Capitals traded for defenseman Rod Langway along with three other players from the Montreal Canadiens. Coupled with the drafting of fellow defenseman Scott Stevens and the scoring from forward Mike Gartner, the Capitals experienced a massive jump in the standings, making the playoffs in 1983 for the first time in franchise history. From there, the Capitals enjoyed yearly success, reaching the post-season for 14 consecutive seasons. The high point in the Capitals run of successful seasons came in 1997-98. Led offensively by Petr Bondra and Adam Oates, with Olaf Kolzig in goal, the Capitals marched into their first Stanley Cup Finals. There, they took on the defending champions Detroit Red Wings, who promptly swept the Capitals away.
In 2000 and 2001, both years in which the Capitals had won the Southeast Division but failed once making the playoffs, the Capitals looked to make a splash in the free agent market. That led the team to sign former Pittsburgh Penguins star Jaromir Jagr to a NHL-record seven-year, $77 million contract. The next season, despite having a winning record, the Capitals failed to make the playoffs, and the structure of the team begin to spiral downward. Jagr would never live up to the massive contract he signed, team captain Adam Oates forced his way out of town, league-leading scorer Robert Lang was traded mid-season, and Petr Bondra was also traded away to Ottawa. The team decided to cut its losses in 2004, sending Jagr to the Rangers in exchange for Anson Carter. The team was so desperate to get out from under Jagr’s contract, the team agreed to pay the Rangers $4 million annually for the remainder of his contract.
The rebuilding effort of the Capitals was rewarded when the team acquired the first overall draft pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and selecting winger Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin made his debut in the 2005-06 season, leading all rookies in goals, points, power-play goals and shots. He beat out defenseman Dion Phaneuf and center Sidney Crosby for Rookie of the Year honors. Over the next few seasons, the Capitals would add defenseman Mike Green, winger Alexander Semin, and center Nicklas Backstrom through the draft. The Capitals returned to the playoffs in 2007-08, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Quarterfinals. Ovechkin continued to blossom as one of the three best players in the NHL, winning the Hart Trophy (league MVP) in 2008 and 2009, and claiming the Maurice Richard Trophy (most goals) those same seasons.
Though Ovechkin is in the middle of his prime and the Capitals are enjoying the primes of fellow stars Green, Backstrom and Semin, they continue to clash with the Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins. We will cover the current state of affairs for the Capitals later in the week as we continue to cover DC Sports.