Over the course of his 14-year career in DC, Peter Bondra was the epitome of the dominant goal-scorer, putting up massive scoring totals over the course of his tenure as a Cap and setting franchise record after franchise record. He was to offense what Olie Kolzig was to goaltending, the best the team and its fans had ever seen to that point – a true superstar for a team that had seen few to that point.
Prior to Bondra’s emergence in the NHL, the most potent offensive talent the Caps had was Mike Gartner. A 1979 first-round draft pick by the Caps, Gartner played just under 10 seasons in Washington, over the course of which he established new franchise records in just about every offensive category. He was traded to Minnesota in March of 1989; the following summer, Bondra was drafted by the Caps.
Over the next 14 years, Bondra would not only surpass Gartner’s records but demolish them, one by one putting up numbers that established him as the greatest scorer in Caps’ history to that point.
The first record to fall was game-winning goals, with Bondra picking up his 55th in a victory over the Lightning on January 23, 2001; a few months later, the next record became Bondra’s as he picked up power-play goal #99 against the Panthers. Gartner’s franchise-record 397 goals held up a bit longer, with Bondra scoring #398 in November. And then in the final game of the 2002-03 season, Bondra established a new franchise mark in points with his 790th – an empty-netter goal to seal the comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
2003-04 marked the final season for Peter Bondra in Washington. He played in 54 games for the Caps that year before being traded to Ottawa on February 17, 2004 - part of a massive organizational overhaul that saw a number of aging stars depart in favor of young up-and-coming prospects and draft picks. Just a few days before his trade, in his second-to-last game as a Cap, Bondra made his final mark on franchise history, scoring a goal against the Blackhawks – his 137th power-play goal, 73rd game-winner, 472nd career goal and 825th point, records all.
It was the end of an era… and as is so often the case, the beginning of a new one. Because later that summer, Alex Ovechkin would become a Washington Capital.
Read More About #8 and #12
Read More About #8 and #12
From the start, it seemed all but certain that Ovechkin would one day surpass most of Bondra’s records (although those 32 shorthanded goals of his are likely safe for the foreseeable future). Ovechkin’s first season saw him put up 52 goals and 106 points – a phenomenal introduction to the NHL that earned him the Calder Trophy as the League’s best rookie, and the beginning of what continues to be a sparkling career. Each season since, Ovechkin has put up numbers that eclipse all but a few of Bondra's best offensive seasons, including a 65-goal campaign that toppled Dennis Maruk's 26-season record for goals in a single campaign.
Like Bondra before him, Ovechkin has now begun chipping away at other franchise records set a decade earlier. Last year the Caps’ captain surpassed Bondra for both power-play goals in a single season with 24 (topping Bondra’s previous high of 22 set in 2000-01) and overall (154 and counting). And on Sunday, Ovechkin picked up four points - that last of which brought him into a tie with Bondra for the all-time franchise scoring lead of 825 points.
That he is on the verge of surpassing Bondra's record - and in the franchise's 40th season - is both unsurprising and fitting. Ovechkin has been and remains the face of the franchise he joined a decade ago, and is becoming not only the greatest player to wear a Caps jersey but also one of the greatest players to ever play the game. And it is just the beginning, as over the next season or two it's likely that Ovechkin will also pass Bondra's 472 goals and 19 hat tricks, as well as Michal Pivonka's 418 assists - just a few more titles to add to his increasingly impressive resume.
There is something perhaps a little bittersweet about this impending milestone, as it tends to be when one great fades into the shadow of one greater. For so many years, Peter Bondra was the Washington Capitals - the same way Ovechkin is today, synonymous with the team and the city, a leader through the ups and downs of his time here. Another chapter of the organization is in the past, as a new one is being written.
Still, Bondra's place in history is not in danger of disappearing altogether simply because his name appears just after Ovechkin's in the record books. Like Ovechkin after him and Gartner before him, Bondra was the driving force of the Caps for so many years, carrying the team when there was no one else and bringing fans out of their seats on a nightly basis. He has been the measuring stick, the mile-marker for Ovechkin's spectacular career; and even as his records fall, it's safe to say that Bondra remains one of the all-time greatest Caps.
But records were made to be broken, torches meant to be passed... and now the torch is set to be handed off to Alex Ovechkin.