Over the course of their history, the Washington Capitals have had a number of key defensemen who have contributed on the blueline without much fanfare. In this Alumni Profile, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks back at one such rearguard in Sylvain Cote. (You can check out all of our alumni profiles on our ‘History’ page here.)
Sylvain Côté was born on January 19, 1966 in Quebec City, Quebec, but grew up in Duberger, Quebec. He had a younger brother Alain, who is a year his junior, who also went onto play in the NHL. He played his youth hockey in the Quebec City system, playing in both the 1978 and 1979 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournaments. In the latter, his brother Alain, also played. He played midget hockey with Ste-Foy Gouverneurs of the Quebec AAA league for the 1981-82 season during which he had 18 goals and 29 assists in 46 games. In 1982-83, he began to play major junior hockey with the Quebec Ramparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). During that season, he had 10 goals and 14 assists for 34 points. He improved during the 1983-84 season by scoring 15 goals and recording 50 assists. He was named a Second-Team All-Star at the end of that season. He also participated in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior games, recording two assists in seven games. He played in five playoff games, recording one goal and one assist.
Prior to the NHL Draft, the Central Scouting Bureau issued the following scouting report on Cote, saying, “An excellent skater with an excellent burst of speed, good balance and agility, and is a powerful backward skater. He has a great slapshot from the blueline, keeping his shots low, and gets it through. Excellent puck control, good stickhandler, moves the pucks well and can carry it out of his own end. He is a good body checker who plays the man well in corners and along the boards and clears traffic in front of the net with authority. Has excellent natural ability in all aspects of the game.” His draft year was also the year in which the more heralded Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy (also from Quebec) were drafted.
The Hartford Whalers drafted Cote with the 11th overall pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He played in 67 games for the Whalers during the 1984-85 season, but played in just two games for them in 1985-86 and returned to junior hockey. This time, he played with the Hull Olympiques, also of the QMJHL. Cote scored 10 goals and recorded 33 assists in just 26 regular season games and in 13 postseason games, scored six goals and added 28 assists, the latter leading the league. He was named a First-Team All-Star for the QMJHL playoffs. He also represented Canada in the World Juniors in 1985-86 as well, scoring one goal and recording four assists, helping Canada win the Silver medal and being named to the tournament All-Star team.
Cote started off the 1986-87 season with the Binghamton Whalers, Hartford’s American Hockey League team but was called up to the Whalers on November 7.
NHL Career Prior to Caps
Cote made the Whalers team the season after being drafted, playing in 67 games. In some games, he played as a left wing rather than his normal position of defense. In 1985-86, he could not establish a regular role for the Whalers and played in just two of the team’s first 25 games and was sent back to junior hockey.
During the 1986-87 season, he played in 67 games for the Whalers scoring two goals and adding eight assists. During 1987-88, he played in 67 games once again, but this time his offensive productivity improved as he scored seven goals and recorded 21 assists. Earlier in the season, Cote did not dress in 12 of the team’s first 16 games, but missed just one game thereafter.
Cote remained with the Whalers through the 1990-91 seasons. He played 78 games for the team in 1988-89, scoring eight goals to along with nine assists, but only played in 28 games in 1989-90 due to a variety of injuries, including a broken toe, a knee strain, and an ankle injury. It was the option year of his contract and he became embroiled in a contract dispute, with his contract ultimately renewed at $180,000. As a result, for much of the season, he was not happy. As Hartford General Manager Ed Johnson, would not meet his contract demands and since Cote would not report to the Whalers’ training camp, his rights were traded to the Washington Capitals for a second-round pick before training camp of 1990-91.
After the trade, Johnson, remarked, “I looked at Cote’s record the last couple of years and I haven’t seen much improvement,” Johnston said. “It’s pretty hard to play 70 some-odd games — 20, 25 minutes a game — with 14 minutes in penalties and 16, 17 points. It’s pretty hard to justify that.” Johnson did not care for him as he was neither an offensive defenseman nor a physical player.
During his seven-year tenure with Hartford, he played in 382 games, scoring 31 goals with 61 assists for 92 points overall.
Washington Capitals Career
In his first season with the Caps (1991-92), Cote’s offensive numbers dramatically improved from his days in Hartford, as he scored 11 goals and recorded 29 assists for 40 points overall, which at that time were career-highs. With the Capitals, Cote settled into the role of second-pairing defenseman, behind Kevin Hatcher on the depth chart for right-handed defenseman. 1992-93 would prove to be a banner season on the offensive front, as he scored 21 goals with 29 assists, marking a career-high in goals and tying his career-high in assists. This was also the season in which the Capitals had three defensemen top the 20-goal threshold, the first and only time in NHL history in which that feat was accomplished. The other two defensemen with 20 or more goals that year were Kevin Hatcher (who had 34 goals) and Al Iafrate (who scored 25 goals). Both Cote and Iafrate were part of a very productive power play that season.
As a result of the 1992-93 season, Cote and the Capitals agreed on a two-year deal, with an option for a third year. The next season was another productive season on the offense front for Cote, as he scored 16 goals and added 35 assists for 51 points, reaching career-highs in both assists and total points. Both he and Calle Johansson saw an increased role around midseason. when both Iafrate and Hatcher were out injured at the same time.
Cote spoke to the media at that time, “I’m not trying to do Kevin Hatcher’s job when he’s not there. My job is to play good defense, contribute some offense; but it’s more a defensive job. With Al and Kevin, there are not too many people that can fill up those shoes.”
Cote missed part of the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs due to an orbital injury suffered in the first game of the first round, but returned to play the fourth game. That year, the Caps beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, but lost to the New York Rangers in the second round.
Cote scored five goals and added 14 assists during the 1994-95 season that was shortened due to a lockout. For the 1995-96 season, he was appointed as one of the Capitals’ alternate captains, a position he held for the next two seasons. While his goal scoring did not reach his highs from the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons, he still managed five goals and 33 assists. At this point, Cote had developed into more of a two-way player, playing more of a defensive role and allowing others to handle the offense. The 1996-97 season was an injury-plagued season in which he injured his MCL early in the season and had to miss time. Later in the season, he aggravated his earlier knee injury and as a result, he played only 57 games. During this time, he scored six goals with 18 assists. The 1997-98 season was his last year in Washington. On March 25, Cote was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for veteran defenseman Jeff Brown. From 1991-1998, he had played in 483 games with the Caps, scoring 65 goals and adding 173 assists. While the Caps had made the playoffs nearly every season in that time frame, he missed out on their deep run to Round 3 for the 1990-91 season, as he was still with Hartford and missed out on the Caps’ run to the Stanley Cup in 1997-98 that came after he was traded.
For the remainder of the 1997-98 season, Cote contributed three goals and nine assists for the Maple Leafs in 12 games. The 1998-99 season was a better season for him, especially when it came to postseason performance; Cote scored five goals and recorded 24 assists in a season in which he helped the Leafs get to the postseason for the first time in three years. That year, the Leafs advanced to the Conference Finals, losing to the Buffalo Sabres. He scored two goals and had one assist during that playoff run.
The 1999-00 season was one in which Cote played with three different teams. After just three games, the Leafs traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a second-round draft pick in the 2001 draft and a conditional pick. He played in 45 games for the Blackhawks, scoring six goals and adding 18 assists before being traded again on February 8 in a trade that sent Cote and Dave Manson to the Dallas Stars for Kevin Dean, Derek Plante, and a second-round pick in the 2001 draft. Cote played with Dallas for 28 games, scoring two goals and recording eight assists. His totals for the season read: 76 Games Played, eight Goals, and 27 Assists. That year, the Stars advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils. It would be the only time he would appear in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Return to Capitals
During the summer of 2000, Sylvain Cote returned to the Capitals, signing with them as a free agent. In 2000-01, he played in 68 games, scoring seven goals and recording 11 assists. During 2001-02, he played in 70 games, scoring three goals, and had 11 assists. He had missed some time that season due to a back injury. In 2002-03, he played in just one game before getting released, as the Capitals bought out his contract, a mark of the end of his NHL career. His totals with the Capitals for both his “tours of duty” read, were 622 games, 75 goals, and 195 assists. In his long career, he played in 1,171 games, had 122 goals, 313 assists, and 435 total points.
Throughout his career, he was not large in size (5’11” and 185 pounds) but would finish his checks. In his opinion, the current Capital most like him is Dmitry Orlov.
After his NHL career was over, he opened a fishing charter business, as he was an avid fisherman. He also was assistant coach in 2012-13 for the Team Maryland Pee Wee team. He has been active in the Caps Alumni Association.
NHL Com: Capitals Alumni Profile
Offensive Defensemen: 20-Goal Scorers From The Washington Capitals Blueline
A Whale of a Hat Trick in Hartford – Retro Recap: Washington Capitals vs Hartford Whalers – March 18, 1989
Washington Capitals Legend Blogspot: Sylvain Cote
Baltimore Sun: Contemporary Account of Cote Trade to Capitals
Wash Post: Cote Signs 3 Year Contract With Caps
Wash Post: Cote, Johansson Key for Caps
Wash Post: Caps Trade Cote To Toronto
Link to Fishocmd Site