It’s been a celebration in D.C. for two weeks now, and while we certainly encourage the sustained indulgence in unbridled joy, we also arrive with a request to spare a thought for some former Caps who still flounder in Cupless ignominy.
Consider the following, our “Sadness Rankings” in the wake of the Caps’ Cup Win. Our loose criteria for this was that a) the candidate still had to be in the League and b) the candidate couldn’t have found their glory elsewhere… looking at you, Eric Fehr.
Without further ado…
10. Matt Hendricks
Matt Hendricks played 203 games with the Washington Capitals between 2010 and 2013 (and 28 playoff games on top of that). He was there for Bruce Boudreau, for Dale Hunter, and for Adam Oates. He endeared himself to fans by becoming an unlikely source of shootout surety, and was quick to drop the mitts for the guys next to him. Hendy was a heart-and-soul guy on a team that might’ve been low in the coffers of both, and it’s almost hard to believe he was only in the Nation’s Capital for three seasons.
9. Joel Ward
The Big Cheese has played the lion’s share of his eleven-year career in Washington, with 276 regular season games played and another 35 playoff games. Although Ward arrived on the scene after a couple of the more painful playoff exits in D.C. (namely, the Halaking in ’10, and getting swept by Tampa Bay the following year), he managed to squeeze every drop of pain that he could out of the playoff runs he was here for. To wit, Ward participated in five playoff series during his time in Washington, and all five of those went the full seven games.
Wardo eventually ditched town where he hitched his cart to the San Jose Sharks and finally got that crack at the Cup that eluded him in his previous environs. In doing so, he finally captured that missing piece of the Capitals experience: losing to the Penguins.
8. Dave Prior
Dave Prior was a mainstay as the goaltender coach during the George McPhee era, taking netminders such as a Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, and yep, eventual Vezina-and-Stanley-Cup-winner Braden Holtby under his wing. And that coming after he coached up Olaf Kolzig to his own Vezina-winning campaign back in ’99-00.
Prior’s last season with the Capitals was in 2013-2014, and he re-entered the League this year for, wouldn’t you know, George McPhee’s Vegas Golden Knights. Being in the building, wearing the other team’s colors, and watching your ex hoist Lord Stanley adds to the sadness factor. Sorry, Dave. We’re with Mitch and Scott now.
7. Nate Schmidt
Speaking of former Caps who were on hand in Las Vegas to see their former team reach the pinnacle of hockey world, how about the guy the Golden Knights nabbed from the Capitals in the expansion draft and turned into their #1 defensemen?
Sure, the Knight’s rallying around their shared identity as misfits unwanted by their previous teams was a fun and inspiring throughline for their season, and perhaps especially so for Nate Schmidt, who was twice a healthy scratch during last season’s playoffs, but it’s not like Schmidt wanted off his former team – the group of guys with which he played the first two-hundred games of his NHL career. Even after Vegas’s unreal run this year, Schmidt has still played one more career playoff game in Capitals’ red than Golden Knights’, uh, grey gold black scarlet?
Sorry N88, we never asked for this … but it sure hurts a lot less now.
6. Bruce Boudreau
Irritable, red-faced, rotund, and perpetually endearing, you know the man who coached the Caps’ “young guns” from NHL infancy to perennial Cup threats (or so it seemed during the regular season) was going to make an appearance on this list. Bruce was the systems architect for the highest-flying offense the Nation’s Capital has ever seen on ice, benefiting from the prime years of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, and was arguably the most successful coach in franchise history before Barry Trotz came to town and accomplished what he accomplished.
Of the guys who lifted the Cup this June, Gabby coached Ovechkin, Backstrom, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, and Dmitry Orlov. That’s a serious chunk of the core that’s still in tact today (for the time being). It’s gotta be bittersweet for him to see these guys do the thing, particularly when in the six years since his dismissal from the team, in his following environs of Anaheim and Minnesota he’s accumulated four more first round exits, and another second round loss to boot.
But don’t worry Bruce... we finally filled that big cupholder.
5. Jason Chimera
Talk about a guy who was sneakily present for almost all of the Caps’ heartbreak. Jason Chimera, aka the Ice Cheetah, came over from Columbus in exchange for captain Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina – a transaction that catalyzed the Ovechkin captaincy – and went on to play 490 regular season games and an additional 63 playoff games with the Ovechkin era Caps. He got a little piece of every coach from Boudreau to Trotz, and had his hand in a seriously big moment.
Chimera has played in over 1100 NHL games over a span of an impressive seventeen-year run in the League, and the majority of those were spent with the Ovechkin-captained Caps. If he’d been here when they’d done the thing, rest assured he would have been one of the first guys in the Cup line. Sorry, Chimdog.
4. Marcus Johansson
While spared from the 2010 Halaking, Marcus Johansson arrived on the scene the next season, and would become a mainstay in the Caps’ forward corps (and specifically in their top six), as well as an integral part of a perennially fearsome power play. Marcus tossed up a cool 102 goals and 188 assists over the span of 501 games at the then-named Verizon Center, and just last year scored one of those memorable playoff overtime winners versus Toronto to propel the Caps into the second round.
After being eliminated by Pittsburgh for the second year in a row, Mojo still had two years on a contract that was pretty team-friendly given his consistent production, and he was protected from the Golden Knights in the expansion draft... so it was something of a surprise when Brian MacLellan shipped him off to New Jersey for a pair of picks in this week’s draft.
Johansson, like Schmidt, didn’t willfully part from his former squad, and that’s gotta sting.
3. Mike Green
Talk about a guy who went through it. Mike Green was the Capitals’ first round draft pick back in the 2004 entry draft – the same draft (and round) in which George McPhee got his hands on a guy named Alex Ovechkin. Mike Green was there for those famine years of ’05-‘06 and ’06-’07, before the Caps started Rocking the Red (and rocking the perennial playoff appearances).
In a full decade with the Caps, Green logged 12,758 minutes of ice time in D.C. Put another, he’s spent nine full days of his life on the ice in game situations as a Capital. To put in perspective the type of player he was during his time here, Green was only one on four defenseman who has notched 75 points since he came into the League, and the only one to score 30 goals in a season.
At the time Mike Green left the organization in the Summer of 2015, he had played more games, accumulated more time on ice, had the best shooting percentage, the best rate point production, and was on the scoresheet for a greater percentage of goals scored while they were on the ice, than any other defenseman post-2007. Green saw five head coaches (Glen Hanlon to Barry Trotz and everyone in between), and five defensive assistants (Jay leach to Todd Reirden and everyone in between).
It’d be easy to go on at length about Greener’s contributions to this organization and, really, to D.C.’s evolution into a hockeytown. But we already did that when he left.
Sorry you couldn’t be here for the big day, Mike… especially because it sounds like you almost were.
2. Karl Alzner
Pending UFA Karl Alzner on #Caps changes coming: "This is a pretty good window that we had here, and unfortunately it's not there anymore."— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) May 12, 2017
Alzner couldn't overlook #Caps playoff failures: "I want to win. ... It was frustrating to keep getting stumped in the second round."— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) July 1, 2017
I mean, those 591 games in a Caps’ sweater were nice, and we’ll fondly remember the years of Carlzner and the iron man streak, but now Alzner is in the crosshairs for a potential buyout from his new team, just a year after deeming them a more likely destination for a trip to the promised land.
That’s gonna stick with you like a raspberry seed caught in a molar.
1. George McPhee
Alex Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom. Evgeny Kuznetsov. Braden Holtby. John Carlson. Tom Wilson. Dmitry Orlov. Andre Burakovsky. Jay Beagle. Chandler Stephenson. Christian Djoos. Madison Bowey. Phillip Grubauer. Those are the players for which George McPhee was the acquiring General Manager when they came to Washington. Put another way, George McPhee was responsible for 56% of the roster that defeated him in the Stanley Cup Finals, and that 56% of the roster was responsible for 63% of the points the Capitals scored during the span of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs.
But hey, at least he had a front row seat.
Alright, now it’s your turn to tell me who we missed, who we slotted too high, and which former Cap might be more despondent than we’re giving them credit for.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order, and in which we bend the rules for qualification): Mathieu Perreault, Greg “Smitty” Smith, Brooks Laich, John Erskine, Michal Neuvirth, Alex Semin