Ooh, that controversial word: dynasty. Ted bristled at the impetuous suggestion. Talk of an inchoate championship is just that, and clearly, painfully, we haven't won anything yet. But this Washington Capitals team is now being described in a manner typically reserved for only the best squads in recent memory.
It being wedding preparation countdown for me (now T-minus five days and counting until I get hitched), I was unable to make the trip southward, to the most powerful city in the world, to enjoy the opening night festivities last Saturday. But I was consoled by, perhaps, the next best thing: watching the HNIC broadcast of the game in HD, and listening to the captivating voice of Jim Hughson, calling the play. I first became acquainted with Hughson's engrossing delivery via NHL '98 ("Grrrreat save by Kolzig!"), and he remains one of my favorite TV announcers.
Anyway, Hughson mentioned that, during a conversation with Maple Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson (now much more severe, much less "Crazy" than during his tenure in Washington), Wilson compared this current Capitals team to the Edmonton Oilers of the early '80s. Stop Alex Ovechkin, as he put it, and Alexander Semin will dent you. Exhaust yourselves shutting down the top line, and the likes of Brendan Morrison and Mike Knuble could combine to do damage. And, oh yeah, keep your eye on that Mike Green kid on the blueline.
Just how far can we take this tantalizing comparison?
As you'll recall, Green has already been prominently compared to the great Paul Coffey. And while Ovechkin's goal-scoring prowess suggests approaching Wayne Gretzky's gaudy goal totals, including comment from the Great One himself, The Great Eight has also been compared, in certain capacities, to Mark Messier.
Nicklas Backstrom registered 67 "adjusted" assists in his second full NHL season versus 85 adjusted assists for Gretzky in his second full season. No one touches Gretzky in the assist department in his early Eighties heyday, but Backstrom's latest season at least, let's say, orbits Planet Gretzky. Number 99 centered Jari Kurri for all of the Finnish legend's 354 Oilers goals through the 1986-87 season. Nick has centered his superstar winger, Ovechkin, for just about half of the latter's 222 goals to date.
Bumping Knuble up onto the top line, as we'll see periodically throughout this season, and Semin onto line two, creates a second line, with a healthy B-Mo, which, in an ideal world, could rival Glenn Anderson on Messier's wing.
After Green, the comparisons on the blue line get a bit hazy (since this Oilers team played well before my hockey watching time, though they did make two trips to the old Capital Centre per season). But, at least anecdotally, when I read Peter Gzowski's elegant description of Lee Fogolin, in The Game of Our Lives, as "the brawny, wood-working defenseman," I think of John Erskine.
Finally, what of the goalie tandems on the two teams? Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, today, sound like a dynamite pair for any team. Fuhr and Moog split duties patrolling the Oliers pipes in the 1984 Stanley Cup Finals, after the former was injured in Game 3. Could José Theodore and Semyon Varlamov (or even Michal Neuvirth and Varlamov) provide a similar collective performance? We can only hope to find out.
That Oilers team, incidentally, won 57 games that season, far and away the best record in the league. And those were all "true" wins. No shootout victories in those days.
Lest we get too euphoric, and be accused of a baseless comparison, let's set out the "adjusted stats" of the top ten scorers of the current crop of Caps (using 2008-09 season figures) and those of the top ten point getters on the '83-'84 Oilers, the team that won the first of the four Oilers' championships during that decade. For those unfamiliar, adjusted stats seek to "account for different schedule lengths, roster sizes, and scoring environments." (J.P. used them back in July to assess where Ovi's last two campaigns rank amongst those of other greats in Capitals history.)
1983-84 Edmonton Oilers Top Ten (Adjusted) Scorers
2008-09 Washington Capitals Top Ten (Adjusted) Scorers
|Alexander Semin||LW / RW
|Brooks Laich||C / LW||82||24||30||54|
The adjusted numbers are closer than I had thought.
One thing that strikes me here, in addition to the vast disparity in assists awarded, is the lack of offense from the blue line. After Green, no other Caps' D-man totaled more than 11 assists all season. Lowe and Huddy rounded out the top ten scorers on the Oilers, and Randy Gregg was just behind them. Perhaps a full season of Brian Pothier will help there. He notched 30 assists with the Senators in 2005-06.
Some might also hasten to point out that the current squad in D.C. no longer has an enforcer like Dave Semenko. The required team toughness remains to be seen with this current Caps club.
Of course, there's just one spoiler to all of this daydreaming. The Caps aren't the only team in the league with a young corps worthy of comparison to the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s. And that other team is one Stanley Cup victory ahead of us. For now.