All Capitals fans are aware that Alex Ovechkin holds nearly every goal scoring record for the team, including goals for a single season and goals for a career. But years ago, there was another prolific goal-scorer who plied his trade in Washington: Dennis Maruk. In this piece, NoVa Caps takes a look back at Maruk’s Capitals and hockey career.
Early Life and Career
Dennis Maruk was born on November 17, 1955, in Toronto, Ontario. He is of Ukrainian descent and was the fourth-oldest child of eight children, with three brothers and four sisters. He began his junior hockey career with the Toronto Marlies but after just eight games was traded to the London Knights. He initially did not wish to report to the Knights as he had his heart set on remaining with the Marlies. In fact, he was ready to quit hockey and play lacrosse instead. However, he finally reported to the Knights and had three high-scoring seasons, with over 40 goals in each of those seasons and over 60 goals his last season.
Despite his scoring prowess with the Knights, he was passed over in the first-round of the 1975 NHL Entry Drat due to his relatively small size (he was only 5’8” and 175 pounds). He eventually was drafted early in the second-round, with the 21st overall pick, by the California Golden Seals. He had a good inaugural season with the Seals in 1975-76, in which he scored 30 goals and added 32 assists for 62 points overall. He became the first rookie to score five shorthanded goals that season. He remained with the franchise the next season, but the team left California for Cleveland and became the Cleveland Barons. The Golden Seals were having financial issues and were unable to get a new arena built-in the San Francisco Bay area, so they ended up moving to Cleveland. Maruk scored 28 goals and had 50 assists in 1976-77, and 36 goals and 35 assists in 1977-78. However, the Barons fared no better in Cleveland then they did in Oakland. The team continued to lose, did not make the playoffs in either 1977 or 1978, and was beset with attendance problems. They also had financial problems, with problems making payroll. As a result, the NHL decided to merge the Barons with another struggling franchise, the Minnesota North Stars, with the combined entity to continue play in Minnesota after the season.
After arriving in Minnesota, Maruk learned he did not fit in the North Stars’ plans for the team. Their General Manager at the time, Lou Nanne, preferred to stick with the North Stars existing centers and, in addition, had just drafted a center, Bobby Smith, in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft. Because of this, on October 19, 1978, Maruk was traded to the Washington Capitals for a first-round pick. Oddly, the Capitals’ General Manager at the time, Max McNabb, called him to notify him about the trade before the North Stars gave him the news.
Career With the Washington Capitals
Initially, Maruk joined the Caps with some trepidation, as the Caps were also a under-performing team with poor attendance. Maruk, however, continued his excellent goal-scoring with the Capitals during the 1978-79 season. He scored 31 goals and added a then career-high 59 assists for 90 points overall. He tied Tom Rowe for the team lead in goals and led the team in assists and points overall. He had one hat trick on January 12, against the Colorado Rockies. The Caps themselves went 24-41-15 for 63 points that year.
Maruk began the 1979-80 season very well, as he had seven goals and three assists for 17 points in the first seven games. Then came a game against the Vancouver Canucks on October 27. That day, he had scored a shorthanded goal and an assist, but then collided with Thomas Gradin of the Canucks at the blueline. The result was a torn MCL that required surgery. He returned towards the end of the season and finished the season with 10 goals and 17 assists in 17 games. The Caps the season with a 27-40-13 record and, once again, missed the playoffs.
In 1980-81, the Capitals’ Head Coach at the time, Gary Green, decided to have Maruk center a line which consisted of veterans Bob “Hound” Kelly, and Jean Pronovost. The line was dubbed the “Roaring 20’s” line as they all had uniform numbers in the 20’s. The line started off well, as Maruk scored hat tricks in two consecutive games, one on 11/12/1980 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the other against the Hartford Whalers, both on the road. He also had a point scoring streak of 10 games during that time frame. For the season, the Caps were in the fight for the final playoff spot, which would be the team’s first appearance in the playoffs. On the final day of the season, the Capitals needed to beat the Detroit Wings and the Quebec Nordiques needed to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Caps won their game 7-2, which included Maruk’s 50th goal of the season. However, the Maple Leafs beat the Nordiques 4-2 and the team ended up missing the playoffs by a single point. The Caps had gone 8-15-6 since February 1 which greatly hurt their quest for the playoffs.
The 1981-82 was an even better season for Maruk on a personal basis. That year, he scored a then-team record 60 goals (later broken by Ovechkin in 2007-08) and had 76 assists for a total of 136 points (which remains a franchise record), playing on a line with Ryan Walter and Chris Valentine for much of the season. Maruk was also selected for the 1982 All-Star Game, which was held at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, that season. Maruk’s 60-goal season got very little attention within the NHL, as the same season Wayne Gretzky scored 92 goals, setting the all-time NHL record, and fueling speculation on whether he would score over 100 goals. The Caps ended up with a 26-41-13 record and, once again, were out of the playoffs.
In the 1982-83 season, Coach Bryan Murray moved Maruk to wing, despite the fact he had scored 60 goals as a center. This was to allow Bobby Carpenter, who had been drafted third overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft to play his natural position of center. The season was not as productive for Maruk, as he scored 31 goals and had 50 assists while playing left wing on a line with Doug Jarvis at center and Ken Houston at right wing. The Caps finally made the playoffs for the first time ever as they posted a record of 39-25-16 and finished third in the Patrick Division. They ended up losing Round 1 in four games to the New York Islanders.
Return to North Stars
After the 1982-83 season, Maruk was traded back to the Minnesota North Stars for a second-round draft pick. He finished his career in Washington having played 343 games, scoring 182 goals, and adding 249 assists for 431 points overall in nearly five full seasons. At the time he left the team, he was the Capitals’ career leader in goals, assists, and points. As of February 2018, he was 10th in goals, 16th in assists, and 10th in points.
Remainder of NHL Career
Maruk played the remainder of his career with the North Stars but his productivity there was not the same as it had been with the Caps. Instead of playing on one of the top-lines, as he had with the Caps, he was a third-liner with Minnesota. During his first four seasons after returning to the North Stars, he scored between 17-21 goals per year with the North Stars and about 60 assists. The 1983-84 North Stars made it to the third round of the playoffs, where they were swept by the Edmonton Oilers.
During the 1987-88 season, he busted a kneecap after blocking a shot and only played 22 games that year. He rehabbed his knee over the winter and played in some games for the North Stars’ AHL affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings, in a rehabilitation stint before returning to the North Stars in December. He played only six games for them in 1988-89 before retiring.
He played a total of 888 games, scoring 356 goals, and recording 522 assists for 878 total points in his NHL career.
Immediately after the end of his hockey, Maruk sold tickets for the North Stars. He also took a job for a Minnesota-based company called Creative Concepts and coached high school hockey. In 1998-99, he was briefly a player-coach for the Lake Charles Ice Pirates in the Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL).
He now lives in Toronto again but has been involved with Washington Capitals’ Alumni Association and has participated in many alumni functions. He wrote an autobiography of his life: Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man.
For more Capitals Alumni Profiles click HERE.
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By Diane Doyle