As we inch towards the dog days of summer, here's a look at some things that have happened this week in franchise history.
The week of July 18-24, at least insofar as the history of the Washington Capitals is concerned, does seem to suggest the lazy days of summer and inactivity on the hockey front are upon us… but not entirely. If history is a guide, you might see a deal or two. You might even see one that looks significant (although you probably shouldn’t bet money on it).
The Caps have not made a lot of deals on this date, and none of them could be reasonably termed significant. For example...
- July 18, 1996: Frank Bialowas was nicknamed, "The Animal." Small wonder. In four AHL seasons (the last of them with the Caps affiliate Portland Pirates in 1995-96 after he was signed as a free agent in September 1995), Bialowas piled up 868 penalty minutes in just 192 games. He would never play for the Caps though. They traded Bialowas to the Philadelphia Flyers on this date in 1996 for future considerations. He went on to win a Calder Cup with the Flyers' AHL affiliate and would become a member of the Philadelphia Phantoms' Hall of Fame.
July 18, 2003: In 2003, the Caps signed John Gruden as a free agent. No, not that Jon Gruden... this John Gruden. He was actually quite a story. A former eighth-round draft pick (Boston in 1990), his road to the NHL would be difficult. As it was, he played in 81 games over five seasons with the Bruins and the Ottawa Senators between 1993 and 2000 before the Caps signed him on this date in 2003.
Gruden appeared in just 11 games for the Caps, but one of them - his first with the club on October 9, 2003 - was memorable. He scored his first and only NHL goal in front of an Opening Night crowd in a 6-1 win over the New York Islanders. The 2003-04 season with the Caps was Gruden's last in the NHL.
July 18, 2006: The Caps signed Quintin Laing, a player who would become for Caps fans the embodiment of the tough as nails hockey player. Laing had been a fourth-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings and did manage three games of NHL experience with the Chicago Blackhawks before arriving in Washington (or more precisely, Hershey).
He played the entire 2006-07 campaign with the Bears before appearing in 39 games with the Caps the following season. Over three seasons and 76 games with the Caps, Laing was 3-7-10, plus-7 - but what endeared him to Caps fans was what happened in a game late in the 2008-09 season.
He skated 15 shifts against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a spleen torn in three places, a potentially life-threatening injury (it was the only game he played that season with the Caps). A long and grueling recovery followed, but he was in the lineup on Opening Night of the 2009-10 season and appeared in 18 of the Caps' first 21 games. Then, against the New York Rangers on November 17th, he blocked a Michal Roszival shot and suffered a broken jaw. He was back barely a month later and finished the year having appeared in 36 games for a club that won 54 games and the Presidents Trophy. Those were his last NHL games.
- July 19, 2012: On this date in 2012, the Caps took care of some prospect business, signing Tom Wilson, who was taken with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 entry draft, to an entry-level contract. Wilson, who has played more games than all but four players of his draft class (Alex Galchenyuk, Nail Yakupov, Morgan Rielly, and Hampus Lindholm, for those of you keeping score) and who is 12th in points in that draft class, was re-signed by the Caps to a two-year, $4 million contract last month.
- July 20, 1999: The Capitals signed Glen Metropolit on this date in 1999. For those not acquainted with Metropolit's body of work, you might think it modest at first examination (or last, for that matter - 159 points in 407 career NHL games). But his hockey journey was impressive for the determination displayed in taking it.
Metropolit was never drafted for junior hockey, never drafted by an NHL team. He jumped from Tier II Junior A hockey in Canada to the ECHL, where he started bouncing around the acronyms of the minor leagues - ECHL, IHL, back to the ECHL, two teams in the IHL - before the acronym "NHL" was attached to his resume. And that came, briefly, after his signing by the Caps on this date in 1999.
He played in 30 games for the Caps in 1999-00 and another 15 for the club the following season before being claimed on waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning in September 2001. Less than a month later, he was claimed by the Caps when the Lightning waived him. Metropolit played in 56 more regular season games over the next two seasons before moving on.
And move he did. In April 2003 he signed with Jokerit Helsinki in Finland, the start of a three-year tour of Europe. He returned to North America in 2006 with the Atlanta Thrashers, starting a four-year, five team trip around the NHL that ended in 2010 with the Montreal Canadiens. Since then he's been playing in Europe, although the 42-year-old journeyman may at last be contemplating retirement.
- July 21, 1998: In 1998 the Caps began what would be a flurry of activity on this date (four deals in three years) by claiming defenseman Phil Housley off waivers from the Calgary Flames. Washington would be Housley's sixth stop in a 21-year, eight-team career that was good enough for him to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Housley played in 141 regular season games for the Caps over two seasons and played in 18 playoff games on the 1998 club that reached the Stanley Cup finals. Despite having only a brief stay in Washington, Housley ranks 22nd in club history in career points by a defenseman (71). He also holds one record no player would grow up dreaming about: he played in more games in NHL history (1,495) than any other without winning a Stanley Cup.
July 21, 1999: A year later, the Caps signed forward Ulf Dahlen on this date. A lot of attention is paid these days to "possession" statistics, but before Corsi and Fenwick, you could see it play out live by catching a Caps game when Ulf Dahlen was in the lineup. He played for three seasons with the Caps, but when he was skating on a line with Jeff Halpern and Steve Knowalchuk, he might have been the most accomplished player in the league at playing "keep away" with the puck.
Using a skating style no one would teach, with his skates splayed out pointing at 10-and-2 on a clock face, he was especially adept at controlling pucks along the boards. Holding onto the puck for an entire shift was not altogether uncommon for that trio. He also pitched in 138 points over his three years in Washington, posting progressively higher point totals along the way. After the 2001-02 season (one in which he scored 52 points, his highest in six seasons), he signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars, his second tour with that club, for one final NHL season.
July 21, 2000: This was a "two-fer" day for the Caps... not that folks will remember much of either deal.
In one, Washington acquired Remi Royer from Chicago for Nolan Baumgartner. Call that one a trade of lost potential. Baumgartner was a former 10th overall draft pick (1994) in a draft where the first round was largely underwhelming in retrospect. He did play in 18 games for the Caps, but over four seasons before the trade (no goals, two assists). He would end up playing in 143 NHL games over 10 seasons for six clubs. Meanwhile, Royer never played for the Caps and would be traded to the Florida Panthers in March 2001 for David Emma (who also never played for the Caps).
In the other deal, the Caps signed Todd Rohloff as a free agent. He had been in the Chicago Blackhawks organization but never made his way to the big club. With the Caps he appeared in 16 games of the 2001-02 season before he was signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent in September 2003. Four months after that, he was waived by Columbus and claimed by the Caps, with whom he appeared in another 35 games in 2003-04 to close the record on his NHL career.
- July 21, 2006: Not all signings make a splash. Not all signings leave a ripple. Some barely bend a blade of grass. That would be an apt description of the Caps signing Peter Vandermeer on this date in 2006. Vandermeer lasted one year in the organization, playing in 26 games with the Hershey Bears before moving on again at the end of the season. His NHL career includes two games, both with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007-08.
- July 22, 1974: The Caps acquired Tommy Williams from Boston for cash, one of the earliest transactions of the expansion franchise, executed before they played their first game in franchise history. Williams was one of those players who was part of the NHL/WHA wars in the early 1970's, having played for the Boston Bruins, Minnesota North Stars, and California Golden Seals of the NHL before jumping over to the New England Whalers of the WHA for two seasons (he was the first player selected in the 1972 general player draft in the WHA).
During that time, his NHL rights were traded to Boston by California, and it was the Bruins who sent him to the Caps for cash. Williams played in Washington for the Caps' first two seasons, recording 30 goals in 107 games overall at what would be his last career NHL stop.
July 22, 1988: In 1988, perhaps looking to add some scoring punch to a roster lacking it, the Caps acquired the rights to Geoff Courtnall from the Edmonton Oilers for Greg Adams in one of the more interesting deals in NHL history. At the time, Courtnall was a restricted free agent with the Edmonton Oilers, a team for which he played in just 12 regular-season and 19 playoff games after he was traded there by the Boston Bruins. The Oilers were in a bind. Despite the fact that Courtnall recorded 36 goals in the 1987-88 season with Boston and Edmonton, he had no goals in 19 postseason games with the Oilers. Then, to complicate matters, the New York Rangers tendered an offer sheet to Courtnall.
The Oilers were disinclined to match the offer, but they rid themselves of the problem by trading Courtnall to the Caps. Washington matched the offer sheet and signed Courtnall, who would go on to score 77 goals in 159 games over two seasons for the Caps, plus another six goals in 21 playoff games, before being another casualty of the incident in Georgetown after the 1990 playoffs. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues for Peter Zezel and Mike Lalor in July 1990, going on to score 208 goals for the Blues and the Vancouver Canucks over ten more seasons.
July 22, 1996: We already noted that defenseman Phil Housley was claimed off waivers by the Calgary Flames on July 21, 1998, but that wasn't his first tour of duty with the team. Two years earlier, the Caps signed Phil Housley as a free agent.
At the time, his three-year deal, said to be worth at least $2.5 million per year, was the highest single season contract in club history. At the time, then Capitals General Manager David Poile said, "We are excited to add him to our roster because he will improve our team offensively, especially with his ability to score on the power play." He recorded seven power play goals in 159 regular season and playoff games with the Caps.
July 22, 2013: In 2013 on this date the Caps signed Nicolas Deschamps. Not a deal that registers high on the hockey Richter scale. Originally a draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks (2008 second round), he ended up with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization by 2013, and they traded him to the Caps in March for Kevin Marshall.
Deschamps started his stay with the Caps by skating with the Hershey Bears. He was promoted to the Caps on February 26, 2014 and made his NHL debut the following night against the Florida Panthers, getting 7:38 of ice time in a 5-4 Capitals win. But just like that, it was over. After three games with the Caps, Deschamps was reassigned to the Bears, never to see action with the Caps again. Washington declined to offer him a qualifying contract, making him a free agent on July 1st. On July 23, 2014 he signed a contract with Oulun Kärpät in Finland's top league, Liiga.
- July 23, 1981: The Caps acquired goaltender Al Jensen from the Detroit Red Wings for forward Mark Lofthouse. Jensen was a second-round draft pick of the Wings who played in just one game for the club before he was sent to Washington (he allowed seven goals...not something to endear himself to the Detroit faithful). He would play five-plus seasons with the Caps, eventually becoming part of a tandem with Pat Riggin, winning the Jennings Trophy jointly with Riggin in 1984 (fewest goals allowed, minimum 25 games played).
He played 183 of his career 179 regular season games and all 12 of his postseason games in Washington. Of his 95 career regular season wins, 94 came with the Caps (fourth in club history); he was traded to the Kings in late in the 1986-87 season for defenseman Garry Galley.
July 23, 2002: Bill Hajt enjoyed a long NHL career with one club, 854 games over 14 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. It is not something every player can experience. It was not to be for his son, Chris, who was signed by the Caps on this date in 2012. Once a second-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers (1996), Chris Hajt labored to reach the NHL, finally doing so for one game of the 2000-2001 season. It would be his only game experience with the Oilers.
After spending another year in the Edmonton fold, he signed with the Caps, with whom he played five games of the 2003-04 season. He was one of 17 defensemen to dress for the Caps that season, one of six to play in fewer than ten games, and one of five not to record a point. That would be the end of his NHL experience, eventually signing as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes in August 2005, but never appearing with the club.
- July 24, 2015. The history of activity in the week of July 18-24 ends with a deal made just last season, when the Caps signed Ryan Stanton as a free agent. He had been in the Vancouver organization, where he played in 118 regular season games over two seasons. He was caught in a logjam of veteran defensemen with the Caps and appeared in only one game this past season, skating eight minutes and change (no points) in a 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 19th. After the season, he moved on, signing with the Colorado Avalanche.
And so the week goes, from Hall-of-famers (Phil Housley) to really tough gamers (Quintin Laing) and a lot in-between. The summer has something for every Caps fan... although a Stanley Cup tour would be nice someday.