Dubbed, “The Paralyzer” by Craig Laughlin for his dazzling shootout performances, Matt Hendricks certainly made an impression in his three seasons in the District.
An unknown at the time, Hendricks signed with the Capitals as a free agent in 2010 after several stints in the American Hockey League (AHL) and East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). The primary reason for signing with the Caps was so Hendricks could reunite with Bruce Boudreau, who had coached him during the 2006-07 season in Hershey. While Hendricks, a former fourth-round pick by Nashville, was not the biggest player (6 ft), he made up for it with his grittiness and physical play. Always willing to drop the gloves in defense of teammates, Hendricks soon endeared himself to the Capitals’ fan base. In his first season in Washington, Hendricks played in 77 games and registered nine goals, 16 assists, and 25 points. He also amassed 110 penalty minutes. Hendricks was no slouch when it came to defending his teammates; and a fisticuffs with Gregory Campbell in October 2010 was a testament to that:
But it wasn’t just Hendricks’ efforts on the ice that made him a fan favorite, but off the ice as well. Within the Washington community, Hendricks donated his time to help needy families, under-privileged children, and was a strong supporter of the Caps Courage fundraiser, which helps military families who have lost loved ones. He also helped former teammate Mike Green build playgrounds in under-privileged parts of the Washington area. Hendricks’ tough persona on the ice vanished when he was giving his time to charitable efforts.
The diminutive forward played with an edge, and when an opposing player messed with one of the Capitals’ stars such as Alex Ovechkin, it was a guarantee that they would have to deal with Hendricks or John Erskine. Hendricks played with his heart on his sleeve and was able to provide his coaches with a net-front presence that is crucial to scoring goals. Hendricks played 203 games in a Capitals sweater, and posted 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists). But Hendricks’ role wasn’t that of an enforcer: it was of a hard-working, determined leader who gave it all he could every night. Capitals fans loved him and his shootout bravado was spectacular, prompting Caps color analyst Craig Laughlin to call him “The Paralyzer”:
When the summer of 2013 rolled around, the Capitals had several free agents that had played prominent roles for the team in recent years, Hendricks among them. He was well-respected in Washington and fans were certain that then-general manager George McPhee would get a deal done. As key players such as Mike Ribeiro signed elsewhere, Hendricks remained unsigned. The longer Hendricks remained unsigned, the more nervous fans became.
Then came the heart-breaking announcement: Hendricks had signed a four-year deal with the Nashville Predators, the team that had drafted him back in 2000. The length and financial details were certainly affordable for the Caps. (4yrs, $7.4M) Why didn’t they sign Hendricks? That’s what many asked, and the answer never given. The Caps had plenty of cap space, as they had used an amnesty buyout on defenseman Jeff Schultz, lost Ribeiro to free agency, and signed Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year, $3 million deal. According to Hendricks’ agent, discussions had been going nowhere throughout the season and eventually stopped. It was a sad day for Caps fans, and Hendricks didn’t complete the first year of the deal with Nashville, as he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers early in the season. Hendricks is still in Edmonton, and during a 2014-15 game in Edmonton between the Oilers and Caps, Hendricks took on gritty Caps forward Liam O’Brien, with O’Brien seemingly winning. Hendricks is still sorely missed by Washington fans and while he may never play for the Caps again, he will always be appreciated for what he did on the ice and off.
By Michael Fleetwood