A Banner For Bonzai: It Is Long Overdue for Peter Bondra’s Number 12 to Be Raised to the Rafters

NHL

There is no denying that, when all is said and done, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will be remembered as the two greatest players in the history of the Washington Capitals long after they hang up the skates and their sweater numbers will adorn the rafters of Capital One Arena at some point in time. And by that time, they should be joining the man who held the title of franchise “G.O.A.T” prior to the debut of Ovechkin.

Drafted by the Capitals in the eighth round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, Peter Bondra spent all but 120 games of his 1,081-game NHL career in a Washington sweater, and was the team’s best player up until their rebuilding effort in the early 2000’s; as part of the exodus of veteran players, Bondra was dealt to the Ottawa Senators on February 18, 2004 in exchange for Brooks Laich and a second-round draft pick later traded by the Senators to the Colorado Avalanche.

In their 48-year history, the Capitals have retired just four numbers: Yvon Labre’s No. 7, Rod Langway’s No. 5, Dale Hunter’s No. 32, and most recently (2008), Mike Gartner’s No. 11. All four of the aforementioned retirees meant a tremendous amount to the franchise during their time in Washington, and Bondra is long overdue for his familiar “12” to join them.

At the time of his trade to Ottawa, Bondra was the franchise leader in Goals (472), Points (825), Even-Strength (303) and Power Play goals (137), Game-Winning Goals (73), and remains the leader in Shorthanded Goals (32). While surpassed by Ovechkin (in mostly every offensive category) and Backstrom in Points, he still stands second in Goals, including Even-Strength/Power Play/Game-Winning Goals, and is fourth in Games Played (961), third in Points, and is Top 10 in Assists. He appeared in five All-Star Games as a Capital, led the league in Goals twice in the 1990s (34 Goals in 1994-95 and 52 in 1997-98); he finished in the Top 10 in Goals six times in his career.

Bondra was also a key component of the Capitals’ improbably run to the 1998 Stanley Cup Final (where they would be swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings), recording 12 points in 17 Games Played, including an overtime tally in Game 3 of the team’s Eastern Conference Final matchup against the Buffalo Sabres.

Bondra’s contributions to the Capitals’ success during the majority of his career in the District are not lost on the team, as his number 12 has been issued just once since his departure from the team (forward Jeff Friesen wore the number for a part of the 2005-06 season) and he has been involved in many team initiatives since retiring from professional hockey. Upon the release of the Capitals’ new Reverse Retro jersey, Bondra tweeted his approval of the sweater with a mention of his former teammate, goaltender Olaf Kolzig (whose number 37 has not been issued since his departure from the team in 2008).

When it comes to officially declaring Bondra’s No. 12 retired, time is becoming more and more of the essence. And the reason goes back to the two players who have surpassed him on the Capitals totem pole.

While both Ovechkin and Backstrom have a handful of seasons left on their current contracts, both are in their mid-late thirties and it is probably safe to assume that those deals will be their last ones (Backstrom is still recovering from major hip surgery during the offseason and has not played yet this season). There is no doubt that their respective numbers will one day be retired by the team, and it would only make sense that Bondra’s own number have been retired by then.

While never able to capture a Stanley Cup in Washington (by no means a prerequisite for a number to be retired), Bondra’s immeasurable contributions both on and off ice continue to resonate nearly two decades after his departure as a player. And if No. 12 won’t be issued again, it seems only fitting to make it “official”.

By Michael Fleetwood

About Michael Fleetwood

Michael Fleetwood was born into a family of diehard Capitals fans and has been watching games as long as he can remember. He was born the year the Capitals went to their first Stanley Cup Final, and is a diehard Caps fan, the owner of the very FIRST Joe Beninati jersey and since then, has met Joe himself. His favorite player became former Capital Nate Schmidt after he met Schmidt in a Hershey hotel while in Hershey PA to see the Bears play, shortly after Schmidt was injured during a conditioning stint. Michael is also a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Orioles, and enjoys photography, watching WildEarth TV's SafariLive live safaris, and watching animals in his spare time. (Photo by Adam Vingan in 2014 at the Capitals Development Camp).
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9 Responses to A Banner For Bonzai: It Is Long Overdue for Peter Bondra’s Number 12 to Be Raised to the Rafters

  1. novafyre says:

    Absolutely. But I feel the same about Ollie the Goalie, Godzilla, whatever you want to call him. Doesn’t have the pedigree that Bonzai does, but you can’t argue what he meant to the team.

    That being said, I wish there was a “Ring of Honor” or “Caps Hall of Fame” where players could be recognized without having numbers retired. Sort of like having a podium finish versus winning the gold. Retiring the number is yet another step above recognition. The creme de la creme.

  2. steven says:

    I agree its about time that a player that meant so much to this team and accomplished so much doesnt have a banner. I second one for Ollie Kolzig and also one for Pivonka and Gonchar. I think that Stevens . Oates, Hatcher and Gartner also deserve banners. It is truly a shame that the owner and GM appear to not either know the older players or care that there have been players who did important things for this franchise.

  3. Calvin says:

    Isn’t there anything that Caps fans can do to pressure Ted? I mean, Bondra keeps showing up at team/ticket holder events, and after a while, Ted is going to eventually use up any good will that 12 has to offer. Same with Kolzig. Although knowing Bondra, he just wants to connect with the fans, so he will probably continue to show up because that’s just who he is, which is exactly why his jersey should be retired. Dedicated to the team. While I think Hunter was an okay choice for his jersey going to the rafters, I definitely would have chosen Bondra and Kolzig over Hunter, and I’ve had tickets to the Caps since 1983, so I’ve seen them all play, a lot, and Bondra is definitely worthy.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Bondra
    Langway,
    Gartner

    Those three deserve their numbers retired, let alone hung up as banners in a Hall of Fame, its a shame on the organization that they are not.

    • steven says:

      Langway, Labe, Hunter and Gartner presently have banners. There are many others who also deserve it like: Bondra, Kolzig, Stevens, Hatcher Pivonka, Gonchar and Oates just to name a few.

  5. Jerry levine says:

    Capitals ownership and management have been remiss in not retiring Bondra’s number. Bondra brought people to the rink and was an offensive power house. He continued to serve the Caps as a scout and is involved in many promotions and community events. What else do the Caps want from Bondra to make him worthy of the rafters?

  6. Michael Stone says:

    Kolzig and Bondra should go in together. Bondra is still one of the best skaters ever to wear an NHL jersey. Also one of the nicest guys off the ice.
    The series they took from Buffalo to go to the Cup finals is still one of the best. Kolzig outplayed Hasek and Bondra frustrated Hasek so bad he threw his blocker glove at him.
    We still have Kolzigs’ stick from that game. Great memories of that team and Kolzig and Bondra were the core.
    Oates hated leaving Boston and being demoted to the Caps. Never want to see his jersey in the rafters even though he was very professional, and I never saw him have a bad shift

  7. Anonymous says:

    Bondra definitely deserves to have his jersey retired, however I predict it won’t happen until the Caps struggle to fill seats. It seems a lot of times teams don’t retire numbers when they should and instead do it as a promotion. As wrong as it is, with Ovi’s goal chase they will continue to hold out on any jerseys be retired.

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