One notable Washington Capitals tradition has been defensemen who were also great contributors on the offensive end. Throughout the years, the Capitals have had eight defensemen on their roster who have topped 20 goals.
In NHL history, defensemen have scored 20 or more goals in a single season a total of 154 times. Caps players have been great contributors in that regard, with eight different defensemen topping 20 goals and three of them accomplishing the feat twice. NoVa Caps has compiled a list of these offensive defensemen.
Robert Picard — The tradition began with Robert Picard. The Washington Capitals drafted Picard with the 3rd pick overall in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft. Picard began his NHL career with the Capitals during the 1977-78 season, when he recorded 10 goals with 27 assists.
The next season, 1978-79, Picard scored 21 goals and recorded 44 assists for 65 points overall. He was unable to duplicate this in 1979-80 and was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs after the season. During his 13 year NHL career, Picard scored 104 goals and had 319 assists. 42 of his goals were with the Caps.
Scott Stevens – Scott Stevens, whom the Caps drafted #5 in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, first made the team during the 1982-83 season. From the beginning of his tenure with the Caps, Stevens showed offensive ability in addition to his hard hitting and great defensive ability.
In 1984-85, his third season with the Caps, he scored 21 goals and 44 assists. 21 goals would be his high-water mark in goals for his career, although he had seasons where he topped 44 assists. Stevens remained with the Caps through the 1989-90 season and then he signed with the St Louis Blues as a restricted free agent.
Stevens May be best known for his days with the New Jersey Devils which followed his single season with the Blues. During his 22 year career, he scored 196 goals and had 712 assists. 98 of his career goals were with the Caps. He currently ranks #22 in career goals for a defenseman and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
Larry Murphy — The Los Angeles Kings originally drafted Larry Murphy #5 overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. He played for the Kings for three full seasons before being traded to the Caps in the early part of the 1983-84 season.
In 1985-86, Murphy scored 21 goals and recorded 44 assists and in 1986-87 had 23 goals and 58 assists. Topping 20 goals was not a fluke for Murphy as he had scored 22 goals prior to joining the Caps, back in the 1981-82 season with the Kings.
Murphy remained with the Caps until the trade deadline of the 1988-89 season when he and Mike Gartner were both sent to the Minnesota North Stars. Murphy went on to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Detroit Red Wings. He had two more season of topping 20 goals, both with Pittsburgh.
During his 21 year career Murphy scored 288 goals and had 929 assists, ranking sixth overall in career goals for a defenseman. He scored 86 of his career goals with the Caps and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.
Sylvain Cote – The Hartford Whalers originally drafted Sylvain Cote in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft with pick #11 overall. He started his NHL career with the Whalers in the 1984-85 season and played with them for seven seasons.
The Caps acquired him before the 1991-92 season in exchange for a second round pick. During the 1992-93 season, Cote scored 21 goals and recorded 29 assists for the Caps. He remained with the Caps until he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 1997-98 trade deadline.
Cote also played for Chicago and Dallas before being traded back to the Caps midway through the 2000-01 season, and remained with the Caps for the remainder of his career. In his 19 year career, he scored 122 goals and had 313 assists, scoring 75 of his career goals with the Caps.
Al Iafrate — The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Al Iafrate with the 4th overall pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He remained with the Leafs for six full seasons before the Caps acquired him midway during the 1990-91 season.
During the 1992-93 season, he scored 25 goals and 41 assists. The prior season, he had scored 17 goals. Iafrate topped 20 goals one other time in his career – with Toronto in 1987-88.
Iafrate remained with the Caps until the 1993-94 trade deadline when he was traded to the Boston Bruins. He also played for San Jose. In his 12 year career, he had scored 152 goals with 311 assists. 58 of his career goals were with Washington.
Kevin Hatcher – The Washington Capitals drafted Kevin Hatcher with the #17 overall pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He returned to his junior hockey team, the North Bay Centennials for the 1984-85 season after being drafted, but appeared in two games for the Caps that season.
Hatcher became a full time NHL player during the 1985-86 season. In 1990-91, he broke the 20 goal threshold for the first time, scoring 20 goals with 50 assists. Two years later, in 1992-93, he scored 34 goals and 45 assists for 79 points overall. That total, to this day, stands as the Caps’ franchise record for goals scored by a defenseman. During that year, two other defenseman on the team also topped 20 goals, Sylvain Cote and Al Iafrate. It is the only season in Caps history where multiple defensemen on the team topped the 20 goal threshold. In fact, it is the only season in NHL history where three defensemen topped 20 goals in a season.
Hatcher remained with the Caps through the 1993-94 season when he was traded to the Dallas Stars in the offseason. He was the Capitals’ team captain in his last year with the team. He also spent time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes before retiring.
During his 16 year career, Hatcher scored 227 goals and had 450 assists. He scored 149 of his career goals with the Capitals. He currently ranks #13 on the All Time list in career goals by a defenseman.
Sergei Gonchar – The Washington Capitals drafted Sergei Gonchar with pick #14 overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. He remained in Russia for most of the first two years after being drafted, playing with Moscow Dynamo, but came over to North America and played with the Caps farm team, the Portland Pirates, for a handful of games during the 1993-94 season.
Gonchar played with the Portland Pirates for much of the 1994-95 season, due to the lockout that had delayed the start of the NHL season. The 1995-96 season was his first as a full time NHL player.
In 1998-99, he scored 21 goals with 10 assists. In 2001-02, he scored 26 goals with 33 assists. Gonchar had several other seasons where he scored close to 20 goals. He remained with the Caps until he was traded to the Boston Bruins near the trading deadline of the 2003-04 season.
Gonchar played several years for the Pittsburgh Penguins after that and also spent time with the Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars, and Montreal Canadiens before retiring. During his nearly 20 year career, he had 220 goals and 591 assists. He scored 144 of his career goals with the Caps. He currently ranks #17 on the All Time List for career goals.
Mike Green – The Washington Capitals drafted Mike Green with pick #29 overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He returned to his junior team, the Saskatoon Blades, for the 2004-05 season and mainly played with the Caps’ AHL farm team, the Hershey Bears, for most of the 2005-06 season, although Green was called up to the Capitals and played in 22 games for them.
Green mostly played with the Caps during the 2007-07 season but played in a handful of games for the Caps. The 2007-08 season was his first full year in the NHL and he scored 19 goals.
During the 2008-09 season, Green had 31 goals and 42 assists including an eight game streak where he had scored at least one goal. This set a record for NHL defensemen. Green’s 31 goals that season were the second highest number of goals scored in a season for a Caps defenseman, only behind Kevin Hatcher from 1992-93. It was the only time since 2000 that a defenseman topped 30 goals. His 31 goals is tied for 11th best in the NHL for a single season, along with Ray Bourque, Denis Potvin, and Phil Housley.
Green remained with the Caps through the 2014-15 season when he became a free agent. After that, he played several years with the Detroit Red Wings until he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers.
Honorable Mention: Philip Housley, who ranks #4 on the All Time Career Goal list for defenseman, played two seasons for the Caps but his high goal scoring days were over by the time he joined the Caps.
Doug Mohns, who ranks #9 on the list and was the first Captain of the Caps, was also past his high goal scoring days when he was with Washington.
Calle Johansson, who ranks tied for third for the Caps in career goals for defensemen with 113, had never exceeded 15 goals for a season.
John Carlson, who ranks fifth for most career goals by a defenseman, has never topped 15 goals in a season, either.
Conclusions: All eight of the defensemen who scored 20 or more goals for the Caps were first round picks, whether by the Caps or by another team. Five of them were selected by the Caps (Picard, Stevens, Hatcher, Gonchar, and Green) while others were selected by another team (Murphy, Cote, Iafrate,) and later acquired by the Caps.
Picard, Stevens, Murphy, and Iafrate were drafted with very early picks, prior to the fifth pick. Cote, Hatcher, and Gonchar were chosen in the middle rounds (between 11 and 20 overall). Green was the only late first round pick; i.e. after #20, as he was chosen #29 in the first round.
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By Diane Doyle