The Top 5 Defensemen in Washington Capitals History

#5 – (Tie) Sergei Gonchar – 1994-2004 (10 seasons) and Mike Green – 2005-2015 (10 seasons)


Each of these players was known for their offensive prowess as defensemen and both were usually on the second defensive pairing.  Gonchar’s best asset was his skating, but he was also an adept passer, had great offensive instincts, and could shoot the puck.  Defensively, while he wasn’t a big hitter, he played positionally well.

Mike Green is one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL.  His shot is lethal, it is accurate and hard.  Green lit the lamp 31 amazing times in 2008/09.  He skates well, has amazing offensive instincts, and is possibly the best passing defenseman the Caps have ever had.  Defensively, he is not quite as strong, though he has been improving on that part of his game.  He doesn’t hit hard and sometimes he gets beat trying to pinch in or trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone.

They both had long careers with the Caps and scored 350 points with them.  During the 1998 playoffs, Gonchar had seven goals, two more than his regular season total.

#4 – Scott Stevens 1982-1990 (8 Seasons)


“Wait, are you talking about Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils?” You might be asking.  Yes, this is the same player.  However, before his career with the Devils, he had an amazing one with the Capitals.  Stevens started playing for the Caps at the age of 18, having never played in the minor leagues.  Initially paired with Brian Engblom, he played well as a rookie coming in third in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy.  His play improved at both ends of the ice.  Stevens had both a 21-goal season and a 72-point season, and he never had a negative plus/minus season with the Caps.  He could be a bone crushing defender even then.  He also had a rough and tough side:  in each of his eight seasons with the Caps, he had more than 150 penalty minutes.  In the 1986/87 season, he had 283 penalty minutes.

After eight years with the Caps, Scott Stevens was a highly coveted player.  He signed as a restricted free agent with the St. Louis Blues.  Because he was a restricted player, his signing eventually turned into five first round draft picks for the Caps, two of which turned into Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt.  When the Blues acquired Brendan Shanahan from the Devils, the Devils acquired Stevens in compensation.

Stevens won the Conn Smythe Trophy at the end of the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Despite never winning the James Norris Memorial Trophy (Norris Trophy), many consider him one of the best defensemen of his generation. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.

He built strong ties with many of his Caps’ teammates, he was at the retirement of Mike Gartner’s number 11 in 2008.

#3 Larry Murphy – 1983-1989 (6 Seasons)


Here’s another player more known for his play with other teams.  While Murphy won Stanley Cups with two other teams, he spent nearly six seasons with the Capitals.  While in Washington, Murphy’s game improved and he grew as a defenseman.  He scored 20 goals twice and even broke the 80-point barrier in the 1986-87 season.   Murphy also only had one negative plus/minus season with the Capitals.  He credits his time with the Capitals as the time he learned to play defense.

Of the members on this list, he spent the shortest amount of time with Capitals.  However, in his career, Murphy played more games with the Caps than with any other team.  That is why, when Alex Ovechkin enters the Hall of Fame, his number 8 Jersey won’t be the first Capital’s number 8 jersey there.

Murphy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Capital, and that puts him at number 3 on this list.

#2 Calle Johansson – 1989-2003 (15 Seasons, 983 Games)


Calle Johansson is the definition of steady.  While he wasn’t a true ‘number 1’ defenseman, he was the perfect complement in the ‘number 2’ position.  His game centered around his good staking and great positioning.  In his prime, he was one of the best and most reliable defenders in the game.  John Davidson once called him the best ‘number 3’ defensemen in the NHL (as mentioned, he usually played on the top pairing, Davidson put him as a 3).  Calle was also a good passer with good offensive awareness, and added some goal scoring punch from time to time.

No player skated in more games for the Caps than Calle Johansson, a testament to his consistency.  While his reserved nature doesn’t get him noticed by the public, the team thought much of his leadership and he was often an alternate captain.  He captained the Swedish National Team during the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and was one of the All-Star defensemen of the tournament, along with Chris Chelios. (Note:  Wikipedia and other sources have Mats Sundin as the Captain. However, watch this video at the 40 second mark:

While he doesn’t get fan recognition for his personality, like Al Iafrate, there wasn’t a more consistent and reliable player in the Caps history.

#1 Rod Langway – 1982-1993 (11 Seasons)


Who else did you expect to be Number 1?  The “Secretary of Defense” came to Washington in a blockbuster trade engineered by rookie GM David Poile in 1982.  The acquisition of Langway brought stability to both the defense and the organization as a whole.  The Caps named him captain right away and he held the title until his last days with the Caps.  In his first two seasons with the Caps, he won the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in hockey, despite not being an offensive force.  He was dominating on defense and many consider him one of the best defensemen of all time.

Even more important was his influence on the team.  Look at the names on this list:  Johansson, Murphy, and Stevens, each of them grew and learned under his tutelage, and each became great defensemen.

He left the NHL in 1993, one of the last players not to wear a helmet.  After his stellar career, he entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002, as a Capital.  He is the only Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame born in Taiwan.  He is also a member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.  The Capitals retired his number 5 in 1997.

In the Discussion:  Brendan Witt, Kevin Hatcher, Sylvain Cote, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Mark Tinordi.

By Lincoln Cajulis

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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3 Responses to The Top 5 Defensemen in Washington Capitals History

  1. Pingback: Capitals Alumni of the Week: Calle Johansson | NoVa Caps

  2. Pingback: Capitals Alumni Profile – Larry Murphy | NoVa Caps

  3. Pingback: History Behind A Number: No. 55 | NoVa Caps

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