With just 34 games left in the first ten years of the new century, we thought we'd take a look back at the decade that was for the Washington Capitals, a decade that began with back-to-back Southeast Division championships (and first-round playoff exits), and will end with high hopes and expectations.
It was a decade that saw the franchise hit rock bottom and find its presumptive savior, along with a couple of other lottery picks as the organization was torn down and rebuilt the right way (including a return to the team's proper color scheme). It was a decade that saw four different head coaches (Gabby's good through December, right?) compile a 320-281-45-57 record (heading into this season) and win four Division titles - but just one playoff series in five post-season trips. And it was a decade that saw the sport take an entire season away from its fans.
On an individual player level, Caps fans saw half of the top 14 players in terms of games played in team history play their last games for the organization and watched ownership open wide its wallet, first for the wrong guy, then for the right one.
But who have been the best of the best to don the red, white and blue (or blue, black, bronze, white, etc.) in the 2000s? We've put our list together (to make it easy on ourselves, all stats begin with the 2000-01 season and go through 2008-09), and it's after the jump.
|Alex Ovechkin (2005-09)||324||219||201||420||19||216||78||4||34||1,791|
What more can you say about this guy? In four seasons, he's already in the top three in franchise history in goals scored, top ten in points, and top one in hardware and other assorted accolades. He's the best there is, and he's a Washington Capital. Savor it.
|Jeff Halpern (2000-06)||359||69||116||185||-19||312||16||3||14||575|
No skater played more games for the Caps this decade than the Princeton grad who captained his hometown team in the first season out of the lockout. Arguments could be made for other pivots here, but we'll take this heart-and-soul leader.
|Peter Bondra (2000-04)||289||135||107||242||-14||214||20||7||24||1,030|
Bondra would've been the ultimate no-brainer for the 1990's team, but he was still behind only Ovechkin in 2000's goal-scoring and led the NHL in power-play goals in both 2000-01 and 2001-02 (years in which he finished fourth and sixth overall in goals scored). Add to that the fact that he brought back Brooks Laich in trade when he was moved to Ottawa in February, 2004, and his impact on the 2000's Caps is even greater.
|Sergei Gonchar (2000-04)||290||70||162||232||4||224||26||0||6||808|
The prototypical puck-moving blueliner was an All-Star in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and was a second-team All-NHL selection in 2001-02 and 2002-03. And, like Bondra, Gonchar was a key piece in the rebuild, bringing back Shaone Morrisonn and the pick that was used to select Jeff Schultz when he was traded to Boston in March, 2004.
|Mike Green (2006-09)||242||52||92||144||12||184||26||1||8||558|
Green had an historic 2008-09 regular season and that came on the heels of a season in which he led all rearguards in goals. Green is still learning the defensive side of the game, but after accumulating as minus-18 rating through his first two NHL seasons, he was a combined plus-30 in the next two campaigns.
|Olie Kolzig (2000-08)||439||25,886||187||188||54||1,223||2.83||12,982||11,759||.906||19|
And then there's Olie. A lot was written about the netminder when he retired recently, and he deserves all of it. Godzilla is atop most franchise goaltending marks, and in the 2000s he played more games than any Cap, had three 30-win seasons (and a 41-win 1999-2000 campaign, for which he was named first-team All-NHL), and won his 300th game as a Cap. But more impressive than the numbers, Kolzig stuck it out through the leanest of lean years in Washington, seeing the franchise through the dark days and passing the torch to Ovechkin. Things might not have ended ideally for Olie the Goalie in D.C., but he'll always be one of the greatest Capitals of all-time.
Of course, hockey is a team sport and a team is made up of more than just six players, so let's fill out the lineup, shall we?
Semin might have made the first team here had he not spent the first post-lockout year in Russia (see what you threw away, Sasha?!). Oates has the most assists per game (and is fifth in overall helpers) this decade. Zubrus is fifth in games played and can do a bit of everything.
Lang has the fifth-best points-per-game rate of any Cap in the 00's and is flanked by a couple of guys who can score 20 goals apiece the hard way.
A couple of Yanks (and Cap captains) and a Swede formed perhaps the best checking line in team history.
Witt and Gonchar brought a good combination of snarl and skill, and were key returns from the gift that keeps on giving.
Mo has played the second-most games on the Caps blueline of anyone in the decade and has an impressive plus-minus to show for it (not impressive, but still). He's been Green's partner for a while now, so no need to mess with a good thing.
Calle Johansson-Ken Klee
Here's a throwback pairing of a couple of guys who just got the job done on a nightly basis.
Brent Johnson played the second-most games in goal during the 00's, and Semyon Varlamov's 2009 playoff run deserves praise, but it was Huet's run at the end of the 2008 season that really kept the franchise on track after it had derailed earlier in the season. Had he lost just one more game in that 11-2-0/1.63/.936 stretch, the young Caps would have had to have waited another year before getting their first taste of the playoffs. Besides, we know he'd get along well with Olie in the room...
So there you have it - a decade of Caps hockey nearly in the books with the team set to enter the 10's on an uptick. Can't wait to see what the next All-Decade Team looks like.