While still basking in the silver shine of a Stanley Cup victory, the attention of many Capitals fans has shifted to looking ahead to the future. There are contracts to sign and coaches to choose. Young players and new draft picks are in town to be observed and speculated upon at development camp. And T.J. Oshie planted the early dream of a Washington repeat with his parade day “Back to Back” chant. Planning for a bright future is important, but looking back can be fun too. Not only to the recently completed championship run, but deep into the 43 year history of the franchise.
The Caps’ all-time roster is filled with beloved players who never earned the right to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. Some got close; others never got a sniff of playing in the Final. What these players did earn was a permanent place in the hearts of Washington fans. Whether rocking the red or the black, bronze, and cornflower blue, certain players, through hard work, style of play, and sheer force of personality, became fan favorites and local legends.
I have put together a starting lineup of former Capitals I, if I had a magic wand, would put on this season’s roster so they could experience the joy and relief of hoisting the Stanley Cup. With so many players that have made significant contributions to the organization, it was difficult narrow the list to six. I excluded from consideration any player that won a Stanley Cup elsewhere eliminating stalwarts such as Langway, Stevens, and Gonchar. Each fan will have their own favorites; each compile their own list. Here’s mine:
Goalie: Olaf Kolzig (Honorable Mention: Don Beaupre)
Olie the Goalie anchored the only other Caps team to reach the Stanley Cup Final. During that 1998 playoff run, Kolzig posted an outstanding .941 save percentage, had a 1.95 Goals Against Average, and outplayed Dominik Hasek in the Eastern Conference Final. That 1997-1998 season marked the first of ten straight seasons in which Kolzig played at least 50 games in the crease for Washington. The man nicknamed “Godzilla” also earned the Vezina Trophy and King Clancy Memorial Trophy during his tenure, cementing his legacy as one of the best goalies in franchise history.
Defenseman: Calle Johansson, Al Iafrate (Honorable Mentions: Kevin Hatcher, Mike Green, Sylvain Cote)
Calle Johansson admirably guarded the Washington blue line for parts of 15 seasons. During that time, the quiet Swede made 3 All-star appearances and had a positive plus/minus rating 10 times. Johansson, like honorable mentions Kevin Hatcher and Sylvain Cote, was a steady Capital that suffered through some of the worst playoff disappointments in the team’s checkered past.
Yes, honorable mention Mike Green was one of the Young Guns instrumental in ushering in the Rock the Red Era, but few defensemen in team history have impacted the fans like Al Iafrate. The cigarette-smoking, motorcycle-riding, mullet-flowing Iafrate brought a booming slapshot, offensive prowess, and heavy metal personality that rocked the Capital Centre. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see Al party with this current team?
Wings: Peter Bondra, Steve Konowalchuk (Honorable Mentions: Mike Gartner, Kelly Miller, Brooks Laich)
Simply put, Peter Bondra is one of the most dynamic players to ever wear a Capitals uniform. In terms of goal scoring and excited goal celebrations, Bonzai was a previous generation’s Alex Ovechkin. The speedster netted 472 goals including 19 hat tricks, a 5-goal game, and a playoff overtime winner while playing for Washington. While it was sad to see Bondra traded away in 2004, he was part of the fire sale that ultimately led to drafting Alex Ovechkin.
Steve Konowalchuk embodied the hard-working spirit of the Capitals teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The tight-checking grinder relished the forecheck and going into the corners. Kono’s line was often seen efficiently cycling the puck in the offensive end and capably defending the opponent’s top line in the defensive zone. In 2002, Konowalchuk was elected team captain by his teammates.
Center: Dale Hunter (Honorable Mentions: Jeff Halpern, Michal Pivonka)
Perhaps the easiest choice on this list, Dale Hunter was the snarling leader of the Capitals for parts of 11 seasons. Big Game Hunter was a force in both ends of the rink, earning Selke Trophy votes in 9 different seasons and topping the 70-point mark 7 times. Hunter scored one of the most important goals in franchise history, eliminating the Flyers in overtime of Game 7 in 1998, and captained the team to the Final in 1998. As the only player in NHL history to compile 1000 points and 3000 penalty minutes, there is little wonder why Dale’s retired number 32 is hanging in the rafters of Capital One Arena.
Who would make your lineup of favorite all-time Caps to never win a Stanley Cup?
By Bryan Hailey