Throughout the Capitals’ 42 years in existence, they’ve issued a total of 87 different jersey numbers to the hundreds of players that have suited up in the District. In NoVa Caps’ feature, History Behind A Number, NoVa Caps’ writer Michael Fleetwood looks at a few notable players that have worn a given number. Today’s number: No. 55.
In the history of the franchise, only three players have worn 55 on their sweaters, ironically, all defensemen: Sergei Gonchar, Jeff Schultz, and Aaron Ness.
Capitals Career: 1994-2004
Background: Sergei Gonchar was one of the best offensive defensemen of his era. Drafted by the Capitals in the first-round (14th overall) of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, Gonchar spent 10 seasons in a Caps sweater and, in that time, established himself as one of the league’s best offensive blueliners.
Gonchar’s first season (1994-95) wasn’t the most spectacular, as he recorded just seven points (two goals, five assists) in 31 games played. His second season in the NHL was more indicative of his future production, as he had 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in 78 games played, with a plus/minus rating of plus-25. He was named to his first All-Star team and put his name in the spotlight.
In the coming seasons, Gonchar established himself as arguably, the best offensive defenseman in the NHL. In 654 games played with the Caps, Gonchar recorded 416 points (144 goals, 272 assists), with a plus-51 rating. He finished in the Top 10 in Norris Trophy (best defenseman) voting six times, and is one of the best rearguards in franchise history. He ranks fourth in franchise history in games played by a defenseman, second in goals, fourth in assists, and fourth in points.
As a result of the then-ongoing rebuild by the Capitals in the early 2000’s, Gonchar was traded to the Boston Bruins on March 3, 2004 in exchange for fellow defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, Boston’s first-round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft (later used on Jeff Schultz), and a 2004 second-round pick (later used on Mikhail Yunkov). After leaving Boston, Gonchar signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in free agency, playing five seasons in the Steel City and winning his first career Stanley Cup in 2009. He then spent short stints with the Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars, and Montreal Canadiens before retiring. He finished his NHL career having played 1,301 games and scoring 220 goals and adding 591 assists for 811 points. Some could argue that these numbers are worthy of the Hall of Fame, but Gonchar is not yet eligible.
Jeff Schultz (pictured above)
Capitals Career: 2006-2013
Background: Always considered somewhat of an enigma during his time with Washington, Schultz was drafted by the Caps in the first-round (27th overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, a pick that was acquired in, ironically, the Gonchar trade. Drafted with the expectation of developing into a solid, two-way blueliner, Schultz spent his seven years in a Capitals sweater in a primarily shutdown role.
During his first few seasons as a Capital, Schultz was used extensively by former head coach Bruce Boudreau, who had coached in the AHL with the Hershey Bears. He was paired often with Mike Green, and established himself as a solid, shutdown defender. His best season in the NHL came in 2009-10, during the Capitals’ first President’s Trophy-winning season, when he recorded 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 73 games played, with a plus/minus rating of plus-50, which led the entire league.
After seeing his role rapidly reduced under former coaches Dale Hunter and Adam Oates, Schultz was bought out by the Capitals in the summer of 2013, after finishing the season having played only 26 games. He then signed with the Los Angeles Kings as a free agent, with whom he played parts of two seasons, playing a meager 10 games, recording just one assist and an even plus/minus rating. He saw playing time during the Kings’ 2014 Stanley Cup run, and the Kings petitioned to have his name put on the Cup, giving him his first Stanley Cup championship.
Schultz played in 399 games in a Caps sweater, recording 75 points (11 goals, 64 assists). He ranks fourth in franchise history with a plus-78 rating and still holds the franchise record for highest plus/minus rating with his aforementioned plus-50 in 2009-10.
Capitals Career: 2015-2017
Background: The most recent player to wear No. 55, Ness signed with the Caps in the summer of 2015. Originally drafted by the New York Islanders with the 40th pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Ness played eight games in his first season in the organization, recording two assists. While not a regular NHL defenseman, Ness has given the Caps an experienced defenseman to turn to as depth. Ness saw action in two games with the Capitals this past season, with a plus/minus rating of minus-1 and averaging 12:50 minutes of ice time.
By Michael Fleetwood