The Capitals Through the Decades: 1990s

JapersRink.com

A look at the best and worst the Capitals had to offer in the 1990s

[For background on this series, check out our posts covering the groovy 1970s and totally rad 1980s.]

For the Washington Capitals, the 1990s were a bit of a mixed bag, as their run of 14-straight seasons making the playoffs came to an end in 1997... but was followed up with the franchise's first Stanley Cup Finals appearance the next season. There was change among the suits (two owners, two general managers and three head coaches), the buildings they'd call home (making Jeff Toms the answer to a trivia question) and the team's color scheme and uniforms... because nothing says "Washington Capitals" like blue, black and bronze. And there was more than a little Western Pennsylvania-rooted pain inflicted on the organization and its loyal following, as the Caps would drop five playoff series in the decade (when we include 1999-2000) to the Penguins, three of which featured blown two-game leads; contrary to what some might have you believe, CapsNation's animosity towards Pittsburgh started long before the number 87 meant anything to anyone.

The Caps of the 90s didn't score much - just once did they finish higher than 10th in the League in goals-for (second in 1991-92), with an average rank of 14.3 (in an NHL that averaged 25.2 teams per season over that span), but they did have one guy who could flat-out light the lamp. Just take a look at the top-five individual seasons, by total point shares:

Player Season Pos GP G A Pts +/- SOG OPS DPS PS
Peter Bondra 1997-98 RW 76 52 26 78 14 284 10.5 1.6 12.1
Sergei Gonchar 1999-00 D 73 18 36 54 26 181 5.8 5.3 11.1
Kevin Hatcher 1992-93 D 83 34 45 79 -7 329 6.6 4.0 10.6
Peter Bondra 1995-96 RW 67 52 28 80 18 322 8.6 1.6 10.2
Peter Bondra 1996-97 RW 77 46 31 77 7 314 8.7 1.5 10.2

Peter Bondra led the NHL in goals twice in the 90s, and had two other top-eight finishes. In 1997-98, a quarter of his 52 tallies were game-winners, and he went to five All-Star Games during the decade.

But beyond Bondra, the Caps had little up front. In fact, of the team's top-20 individual seasons of the 90s (by point shares), only five belonged to forwards - four for Bondra, and Adam Oates's 58-assist/76-point 1997-98 campaign, which came in 14th. The rest of that list includes three seasons apiece from Calle Johansson, Sylvain Cote, Al Iafrate and Kevin Hatcher, a pair from Sergei Gonchar, and one from Phil Housley. Granted, that owes partially to the metric's emphasis on defensemen's value... but not as much as one might think - the Caps only had two forwards score 30 goals in a season (Dmitri Khristich twice and Dino Ciccarelli, both early in the decade) and only three individual seasons that topped 80 points (Bondra, Mike Ridley and Michal Pivonka owned those).

Oh, and Jeff Toms' 1997-98 season came in 297th, in case you were wondering. Which you weren't.

Then there were the bottom-five individual seasons:

Player Season Pos GP G A Pts +/- SOG OPS DPS PS
Ken Klee 1996-97 D/RW 80 3 8 11 -5 108 -1.8 1.1 -0.6
Nick Kypreos 1991-92 RW 65 4 6 10 -3 28 -1.4 0.6 -0.8
Mike Eagles 1996-97 C 70 1 7 8 -4 38 -1.9 1.0 -0.9
Kevin Kaminski 1995-96 LW 54 1 2 3 -1 17 -1.8 0.8 -1.0
Craig Berube 1996-97 LW 80 4 3 7 -11 55 -2.1 0.9 -1.1

That 96-97 team was pretty terrible, so it's not surprising to see it well-represented here (even if the guys on this list have a bit more in common - more on that below). Of course, it was at the end of that season when the Caps made one of the bigger trades in team history, which is even bigger when you consider how that deal nearly went down. Bullet: dodged.

By now, you shouldn't be surprised to see how the decade's cumulative top-five shakes out positionally:

Player Pos GP G A Pts +/- SOG OPS DPS PS
Peter Bondra RW 672 337 246 583 88 2260 54.9 13.6 68.5
Calle Johansson D 732 92 282 374 23 1394 25.0 42.1 67.1
Sylvain Cote D 483 65 173 238 78 1119 15.3 31.4 46.8
Sergei Gonchar D 364 74 110 184 47 801 17.5 23.8 41.3
Kevin Hatcher D 313 91 156 247 -12 1059 19.5 16.0 35.5

Bondra was the face of the franchise in the 90s (though Olie Kolzig certainly established himself in the latter half of the decade), but don't sleep on Johansson - he played 732 games during the ten-year span, 60 more than Bondra, and played them very well. And if we look at per-game point shares for the 90s (with a minimum of 100 games played), five of the top-six are blueliners, with Gonchar, Hatcher and Iafrate leading the way, followed by Bondra and then Cote and Johansson. If defense wins championships... well, it didn't... just like it didn't for the Caps and their trio of future Hall of Fame rearguards in the 80s.

Finally, here are the least-productive Caps of the decade:

Player Pos GP G A Pts +/- SOG OPS DPS PS
Nick Kypreos L/RW 144 13 15 28 -7 402 -2.3 1.8 -0.5
Craig Berube LW 397 26 37 63 -29 1202 -5.6 4.4 -1.2
Mike Eagles C/LW 266 13 22 35 -17 206 -4.6 3.1 -1.5
Alan May L/RW 268 20 32 52 -18 850 -4.7 3.1 -1.6
Kevin Kaminski F 132 3 10 13 -5 483 -3.7 1.9 -1.8

If it wasn't clear before, it should be now - point shares crushes crushers. Whether or not that's fair - whether their contributions can be measured, their value quantified - is subject to debate. But ask the scorers who played (or play?) with them if these guys made their jobs easier and you can bet the answers would be uniformly affirmative.

And so the millenium ends with more noteworthy individual performances, but little to show for it. Maybe the next thousand years will be different...

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