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We’ve all thought about it at one point or another since June, “I wish _____ had been on the team when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup”. It’s common to grow a personal fondness to certain players, whether they’ve played for the Capitals or not. But when that big ol’ Cup is being passed around in those first few moments of glory, we often don’t think of the players who have come and gone before that final buzzer sounded.
In fact, it’s only come up now that the team has a lot of alumni who have come and gone in recent years, former Capitals that we would have loved to have seen hoist Lord Stanley with the rest of the boys this June. And so with that, let’s take a look at some of the best the Caps have parted ways with, whose presence might have been felt while the champions celebrated.
“Mojo”, as he was affectionately known, was a fan favorite to many in D.C., from the time he was drafted in 2009, until he was traded last summer to the New Jersey Devils. He scored 102 goals as a Capital, and assisted on an additional 188 goals for a total of 290 points earned while he sported the Capitals sweater. Johansson scored his first-ever NHL goal as a Capital against the Boston Bruins in October 2010. He was a mainstay in the lineup until the team grappled with salary cap issues in the summer of 2017. As a result, Johansson was traded to the Devils in exchange for a second and a third-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. In his first season with the Devils, Johansson scored five goals and added nine assists before a rash of injuries kept him out of New Jersey’s Stanley Cup playoff run. All in all, it looks like the Devils are hoping Johansson will be his old self once his injuries clear up, as he will be a key piece to their offense this coming season. Johansson was one of the team’s most productive players during their most heartbreaking playoff runs, and fell one season shy of helping the team exorcise their demons.
Before being acquired by the Capitals in a trade involving longtime Capital Brooks Laich in 2016, Winnik spent time with the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Toronto Maple Leafs. During his time with the Capitals, Winnik put up a total of 14 goals and 16 assists, earning him a total of 30 points. Winnik might not have been the most offensively-gifted forward Washington has ever seen, and he may be best remembered for his time on other teams, but that doesn’t mean his time in Washington wasn’t memorable. Winnik played a full 60 minutes every night and was a valuable member of the team’s penalty kill. He became a fan favorite and fell just one season shy of winning his first career Stanley Cup with the Caps.
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In 2007, the Capitals drafted defenseman Karl Alzner with the seventh overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and spent over a decade in Red, White, and Blue, becoming a fan favorite and establishing himself as a reliable defensive defenseman. In the summer of 2017, Alzner signed a five-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens after it became clear the Capitals would be unable to re-sign him. Alzner caused a bit of a stir prior to the season when he said he signed with Canadiens due to the fact that he wanted to win, implying that he was unlikely to do so with the Caps. At the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, the Habs missed the playoffs and finished the season 28th of 31 teams, besting the Arizona Coyotes by only point, and finishing ahead of them, the Ottawa Senators, and the Buffalo Sabres.
As mentioned above, Alzner was not known for any offensive prowess, and more for his defensive reliability. While in Washington, Alzner scored 19 goals from 2007 to 2017, and assisted on 98 others, for a total of 117 points. Alzner is one of those players whose name is synonymous with the Capitals franchise, and his parting ways with the team was a difficult one for many fans. Like the first few players on this list, Alzner missed out on his first Stanley Cup by just one season.
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Nate Schmidt was virtually an unknown when he first appeared for the Capitals in 2013-14, but over the following three seasons, became one of the team’s best young blueliners. A strong two-way defenseman, Schmidt was left unprotected by the Capitals in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and was subsequently drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights. In 200 games played with the Capitals, Schmidt scored eight times and added 35 assists for a total of 43 points. Arguably Vegas’ top blueliner, Schmidt recorded a career-high 36 points (five goals, 31 assists) in 76 games played, helping the Golden Knights reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural campaign, losing to the Capitals of all teams in five games. Known best perhaps for his charming, contagious smiles, Schmidt’s infectious grin still makes Capitals diehards reminisce with a smirk of their own. While he may not have had the service time of some of the other members on this list, he certainly played a key role in the Caps’ journey to their first championship
“The Ice Cheetah” Jason Chimera
Former Capitals left winger Jason Chimera was acquired by the Capitals in a trade in December 2009. Chimera would go on to play six full and one half season with the Capitals, and during that time, the Ice Cheetah, as he became known, proved himself to be a well-rounded player. In 490 games played in a Capitals sweater, Chimera scored 82 goals and added 115 assists for 197 points. During the summer of 2016, Chimera signed a two-year contract with the New York Islanders. Chimera would play 140 games with New York before being traded at the 2017 trade deadline to the Anaheim Ducks, with whom he would record just one goal and one assist before becoming an unrestricted free agent. At 39-years old, it is unlikely many teams will come calling, but having Chimera sign a one-day contract to retire a Capital would be a fitting end to a remarkable NHL career. Like many of the players on this list, Chimera was a member of many teams that suffered heartbreaking losses and playoff disappointments, and fell two seasons shy of being a part of the Capitals team that exorcised the demons of the past.
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Now many of you know me as the transplant writer from Bruins Country. New England used to be the home of two hockey teams, way back in the day, and Williams is now on what’s left of what will always be in my opinion, the better New England hockey team, the Hartford Whalers. In 1998, the Whalers were taken from Connecticut’s capital city and became the Carolina Hurricanes. Williams started his NHL career as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, but he really took off (pun completely intended) a few years later as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he won his first of three Stanley Cups in 2006. During his two-year tenure with the Capitals (2015-17), Williams lit the lamp 46 times, and assisted on 54 others for 100 points in a Capitals sweater. Now halfway through the two-year deal he signed with the Hurricanes last summer, Williams has 16 goals and 35 assists for 51 points. He seems to average about 50 points a season, which is solid for someone of his age. While the Capitals failed to accomplish what they intended to when signing the three-time Stanley Cup champion, Williams’ veteran presence and experience was a valuable asset to the Caps’ locker room and set the attitude and tone for their 2018 Cup run.
Signed by the Capitals as unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015, Chorney proved himself a capable depth defenseman, and played reliably well in 55 games of action in his first season in D.C. In his third and final season with the team, Chorney saw little playing time and was placed on waivers as a result. The Columbus Blue Jackets claimed him and despite this, used him for just one contest, sitting him in the press box for the rest of the season and playoffs. For the true professional that Chorney is and showed in his time with the Caps, it may have been a bit bittersweet to watch the Capitals go on to win it all. While he was not the flashiest player nor the most noticeable, Chorney proved to be the saving grace for the team’s defense in an injury-riddled 2015-16 season. Unlike many of the other players on this list, Chorney missed out on winning his first Stanley Cup by just a matter of a waiver claim.
The only non-player on this list, Greg “Smitty” Smith served as the team’s Head Athletic Trainer from 1999 to 2017, when he stepped down to focus on his physical therapy clinics and to spend more time with his family (detailed here by NoVa Caps prior to last season). Smith was one of the most recognizable faces behind the Capitals’ bench that was not a coach, and joined the Capitals after spending two seasons with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now the Anaheim Ducks), and served in his 1,500th game behind the team’s bench during the 2014-15 season. Smitty, as he was affectionately known by the players and coaches, was named the Head Athletic Trainer for the Metropolitan Division in the 2017 NHL All-Star Game. Despite having stepped away from the team, Smith showed his support for the team on Twitter throughout the season and playoffs. Smith fell just one season short of winning a much-deserved Stanley Cup, but his contributions to the team and care of the team’s core players throughout his career helped in the team’s path to their first championship.
By: Chris Laroche