Examining The Misses: Washington Capitals Non-Playoff Seasons Since 1982-83

Photo: Barstool

The Washington Capitals missed the playoffs during their first eight seasons of existence, but after that, missing the playoffs was relatively rare for the franchise. Since the 1982-83 season, the first season the Capitals qualified for the playoffs, there have been only seven seasons where they missed out on post-season action. This does not include the current 2022-23 season, which is likely to be playoff miss, as well. 

1996-97 Season

The Capitals finished in fifth place in the Atlantic Division with a 33-40-9 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1981-82. Jim Schoenfeld served as their Head Coach for his second consecutive full year.

The performance of goaltender Jim Carey, who performed brilliantly after the Capitals  called him up in 1994-95, had nosedived. Ultimately he was traded to the Boston Bruins in a multi-player deal with the Capitals acquiring center Adam Oates.

That season was also a season marked by numerous injuries to key players, including Joe Juneau and Mark Tinordi, among others. In all, the Capitals lost what was believed to be a then club-record 361 man-games to injury.

After the season, the team’s subpar performance resulted in a shakeup of management, starting with the firing of longtime General Manager David Poile on May 12th, and reached a pinnacle with the firing of Head Coach Jim Schoenfeld on June 4th. Poile went on to become General Manager of the expansion team, the Nashville Predators. Ironically, Schoenfeld interviewed for the Capitals’ General Manager job just a week before being ousted as Head Coach. The Capitals ultimately hired George McPhee to be their General Manager and hired Ron Wilson, the former coach of the Anaheim Ducks, as their Head Coach.


1998-99 Season

After their run to the Stanley Cup during the 1997-98 season where they lost to the Detroit Red Wings, the Capitals missed the playoffs the following season. The Caps entered training camp with high hopes; however players on the team kept getting injured, one by one, which ultimately derailed the season. This included Joe Juneau, Steve Konowalchuk, Sergei Gonchar, Michal Pivonka, Peter Bondra, and Jan Bulis.

In all, the team lost 511 man-games to injury, which was more than their previous two seasons, which were also injury plagued. The Capitals ended with an overall record of 31-45-6 for 68 points and finished third in the Southeast Division.

With the team out of the playoff picture at the trade deadline, the team traded away long-time team Captain, Dale Hunter, Joe Juneau, and Craig Berube for draft picks and a prospect. When the season was over, the Capitals let go of trainer Stan Wong who had been with team since 1988-89 and brought in Greg Smith, as his replacement.

17 Washington Capitals – Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
Washington Capitals First Round Picks Derailed by Injuries | NoVa Caps (novacapsfans.com)
CURING THE CAPITALS – The Washington Post

2001-02 Season

The Capitals amassed a record of 36-33-11-2 and finished second in the Southeast Division but finished ninth in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs. They won more games than the division winning Carolina Hurricanes but had more regulation losses and less ties.

The Capitals had many injuries to several key players, including Jaromir Jagr, Calle Johansson, Steve Konowalchuk and Jeff Halpern. They started slowly for the fourth consecutive season, but made a late playoff charge after trading center Adam Oates.

Originally, General Manager George McPhee planned to retain Coach Ron Wilson, their head coach for the previous five seasons, including the year they made the Stanley Cup Finals, but after conducting exit interviews with players and staff, he changed his mind and fired Wilson. He was replaced by Bruce Cassidy.

ESPN.com: NHL – Capitals fire Wilson after missing playoffs

Photo: Score

2003-04 Season

The Capitals hoped to contend with their veteran-laden team but got off to a 2-7-1 start at the end of October. With most of the team’s key players 30 years of age or over, including Peter Bondra, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Michael Nylander, Steve Konowalchuk, and Sergei Gonchar, the Capitals’ management decided it was time for a rebuild.

Starting with team captain Steve Konowalchuk, the veteran core players were traded for draft picks and/or prospects. Their final record was 23-46-10-3 for just 59 points, last place in the Southeast Division and just one point higher than the league worst Pittsburgh Penguins who had just 58 points.

It was the worst Capitals finish in over thirty years. They had the same number of points as the Chicago Blackhawks but were considered to have finished “ahead” of Chicago, due to tie breakers. As a result, the Caps were third to last. Fortunately, the Capitals won the draft lottery for 2004 and were able to draft a young Russian who was expected to be a generational player on the order of a Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux – Alexander Ovechkin.

Young Rookie Ends Month of Horrors — Retro Recap – Atlanta Thrashers at Washington Capitals – October 31, 2003
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2005-06 and 2006-07 Seasons

Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons were the first two years after the NHL lockout that resulted in cancelling the 2004-05 season. The Capitals were also continuing their rebuild.

2005-06 was the first season where they had the services of Alex Ovechkin and the team finished with a record of 29-41-12, which was the fourth-worst record that season but allowed them to draft franchise center, Nicklas Backstrom. The season after that, 2006-07, was a continuation of the rebuild where they ended up with a 28-40-14 record.

2013-14 Season

This season was their first full season after the lockout and the first full season where Adam Oates was the Head Coach. That was a season known for defensive deficiencies.

Oates was obsessive about handedness of players, wanting left-handed players playing on the left side and right-handed players playing on the right side. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov asked for a trade as Adam Oates did not wish to play him, preferring to play nearly every other defenseman in the organization over him.

Oates also could not handle goaltending, shuffling Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby, and Philipp Grubauer. Eventually, Neuvirth asked for a trade and was sent to the Buffalo Sabres for still another goaltender, Jaroslav Halak. Their final record that season was 38-30-14.

Photo: Washington Post

After the season, the Capitals fired General Manager, George McPhee, and Head Coach Adam Oates. McPhee was replaced with Bryan MacLellan, the team’s assistant General Manager. Oates was replaced with Barry Trotz.

To address their deficiencies in defense, they hired Pittsburgh’s defensive coach, Todd Rierden to handle the defensemen and signed defenseman Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, who played for Pittsburgh. The off-season moves set the stage for the Capitals’ eventual winning of the Stanley Cup in 2017-18.

By Diane Doyle

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
This entry was posted in History, Injuries, News, NHL, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Examining The Misses: Washington Capitals Non-Playoff Seasons Since 1982-83

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice piece!

  2. jerry levine says:

    Perhaps now is a good time for the Caps to bring up Ethan frank from hershey to see what he can do rather than wait for training camp. He will face better competition now.

    • KimRB says:

      Can’t bring up Frank. He doesn’t have an NHL contract for this season, and it’s too late to sign him to one.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Jerry, I’m with you. A bit of a Caps boo boo. They were running low on the league allowable contracts (50) last year and had to sign Frank to an AHL (only) deal. They will be able to call him up beginning next season.

  3. KimRB says:

    So by my count, including this season as a presumed non-playoff year, the Caps have made the playoffs 32 times in 40 seasons played. In 40 calendar years, since the first time making the playoffs, they have had one full scale rebuild. Tampa, by contrast, has had two, first in 1998 when they drafted Lecavalier first overall, which led to a Cup in 2004, then again in 2008 and 09, getting Stamkos and Hedman, and leading to their current edition, that is the only team since the 1980s to make the Cup finals three years in a row. Rebuilds do work, and they can also fail, but you can’t win a Cup in the cap era without one in your recent past.

  4. Prevent Defense says:

    Great analysis, Diane D!

    This season’s debacle brings back memories of previous Caps failures. The most galling one listed above was replacing Ron Wilson with Butch Cassidy. That sure worked out well. I’ll give Butch credit for not wrecking World-class Roster teams like BOS and VGK. He obviously learned better coaching skills over 20 years

    Prevent Defense has some confidence that GMBM will do GOOD things in the offseason. I have high hopes for an excellent new Coaching arrangement and finding upgrades from a number of extreme disappointing players.

    So as Jon S says: New Coach must not “Stephenson” talented young players
    He also must not alienate the Ovechkin Generation
    But it’s GMBM that won’t give us a Forsberg-for-Erat insanity

    Please Hockey Gods! Hurry up and END this disaster season!

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