With the NHL about to take its annual (almost) break for the All-Star Game, it is good to remember that the All-Star Game is a chance for the league to showcase its bounty of talent and for fans to enjoy a respite from the tension of rooting for their team to reach the postseason and challenge for the Stanley Cup.
For players, it is a chance to set aside rivalries and grudges, and appreciate what they share – the chance to play the game at the highest level. From the first official NHL All-Star Game played in 1947 in Toronto, which featured the likes of Turk Broda, Bud Poile, Syl Apps, Maurice Richard, Ted Lindsay, and Milt Schmidt, to last year’s classic elimination format All-Star Game in Tampa that featured Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Drew Doughty, and Carey Price, it is a chance for the biggest stars to shine.
However, not all the stars are immediately recognizable to the casual fan. Sometimes, there is the odd player who catches fire in a season to post numbers that cannot be ignored or is needed to fill in his team’s designated spot on a conference or division roster. Every team has probably had such players represent them in the All-Star Game, and the Washington Capitals are no exception. In that vein, what would an “Unlikely All-Star” team of Capitals look like? Let’s take a look.
Goaltender: Al Jensen (1984)
Going into the 1983-1984 season, goaltender Al Jensen was on the upside of his NHL career, entering his fourth NHL season and third with the Capitals. It was, however, an unremarkable one. Drafted in the second round (31st overall) by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1978 Amateur Draft, he played only one game for the Red Wings before he was traded to Washington in July 1981 for forward Mark Lofthouse. In his first two seasons with Washington, Jensen went 30-20-10, 3.57, .883, with one shutout in 66 appearances. Not bad numbers for the period, but not spectacular, either.
Then came 1983-1984. The Capitals struggled some in the first half of the season, but Jensen had a fine start to the season leading up to the All-Star Game in late January. In 45 games through January 15th of that season, the Caps were just 22-20-3, fourth in the Patrick Division. Jensen, however, was solid in goal. He appeared in 38 of those 45 games, posting a 22-12-2, 2.95, .880 record with four shutouts. Those 22 wins led all NHL goaltenders at the time, as did his four shutouts. He was the only goaltender to have appeared in at least 30 games at the time with a goals against average under 3.00.
Jensen’s first half performance made him an obvious choice to represent the Capitals on the Wales Conference All-Star Team, but before he could play in that game he sustained a back injury. It would prevent him from playing in the game, Pete Peeters and Glenn Resch manning the nets for the Wales Conference in a 7-6 win over the Campbell Conference All-Stars.
For Jensen, it was the start of what would become an injury-plagued career. He appeared in only five more regular season games in the 1983-1984 season, although he did finish the season fourth in votes in the league’s all-star voting for goaltender, finished in a tie for 12th place in voting for the Hart Trophy as league most valuable player (one vote), and he shared the Jennings Trophy with teammate Pat Riggin for the lowest team goals against average in the league. Jensen appeared in only 64 games over parts of the next three seasons before he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Garry Galley in February 1987. Jensen appeared in five games for the Kings to wrap up the 1986-1987 season in what would be his last action in the NHL.
Defense: Robert Picard (1980)
The Washington Capitals have a long and rich history of defensemen, several of whom appeared in multiple All-Star Games. Rod Langway appeared in the game four times. Sergei Gonchar and Kevin Hatcher appeared three times. Scott Stevens and Al Iafrate appeared twice.
And then there is Robert Picard. A highly heralded player as an amateur, Picard was taken by the Caps with the third overall pick in the 1977 Amateur Draft. That might sound like more than it is, the 1977 draft being among the lesser drafts in terms of all-time contributions. Only three players in that draft appeared in at least 1,000 games, only one recording more than 400 goals and 1,000 points. https://www.hockey-reference.com/draft/NHL_1977_amateur.html Picard was not one of those players. But, what he was, was difficult early on. The 1977 NHL Amateur Draft was not the only draft in which he was selected. He was taken in the fourth round of the WHA Amateur Draft by the Quebec Nordiques, and he subsequently signed a five-year contract with the team. It seems the league had second thoughts, though, and banned his participation out of fear of a lawsuit by the NHL. Picard responded in a manner that probably made no friends in Washington, stating that “I’d rather deliver pizzas in Quebec City” than play hockey in Washington.
Nevertheless, Picard did report to the Caps, and he did perform well in his first two seasons in Washington. He had a fine rookie season in 1977-1978, going 10-27-37 in 75 games, and then following that up with a 21-44-65 1978-1979 season in which he finished sixth in the Norris Trophy voting for top defenseman. It was mere prelude to a 1979-1980 season that started fast for Picard. In 40 games played through January 15th, he led all Caps defensemen in goals (four), assists (21), and points (25). He was the only Capitals defenseman at the time with more than one power play goal (two), and his 12 power play points exceeded the total of the other nine defensemen to dress for the team (seven).
It was good enough for Picard’s selection as the lone Capitals representative at the 32nd NHL All-Star Game in Detroit on February 5th. He did not record a point for the Campbell Conference in a 6-3 loss to the Wales Conference. It would not be his last All-Star Game, but it would be his last one as a Capital. After the 1979-1980 season he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs with Tim Coulis and a second-round draft pick for goaltender Mike Palmateer and a third-round draft pick that would become Torrie Robertson. Toronto would become one of six stops on Picard’s resume (Quebec, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Detroit being the others) before his NHL career ended with the Red Wings after the 1989-1990 season at age 32.
Defense: Dennis Wideman (2012)
By the time Dennis Wideman arrived in Washington at the trading deadline in February 2011, he had established himself as one of those solid players who never quite gets included in discussions of the elite players at his position. He was, however, something of an overachiever. Drafted in the eighth round (241st overall) in the 2002 Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues, Wideman spent parts of six seasons with the Blues, Boston Bruins, and Florida Panthers establishing himself as a decent offensive defenseman, posting 55 goals and 198 points in 439 games.
Wideman made a decent impression upon being traded to the Caps, posting a goal and six assists in 14 games. But in that 14th game he had a collision with Carolina Hurricane forward Tuomo Ruutu, sustaining and injury that resulted in compartment syndrome in his thigh. The injury ended his season.
Wideman came back healthy, if his early season performance in 2011-2012 was an indicator. In 42 games through January 15th, Wideman led all Capitals defensemen in goals (eight), assists (23), points (31), power play goals (four), power play points (14), and was tied with John Carlson in shots on goal (88). It was good enough to earn him what would be his first and only career selection to the All-Star Game where, in a different contest format, he was drafted by “Team Chara” (that being Boston defensemen and team captain Zdeno Chara). In the SuperSkills Competition preceding the game itself, Wideman represented the Caps and Team Chara in the challenge relay and hardest shot competitions. In the game, Wideman recorded an assist on a Corey Perry goal in what would end in a 12-9 win for Team Chara.
Wideman finished the season with the Caps in somewhat disappointing fashion. He was just 2-10-12, minus-8, in 34 games for the Caps after the All-Star Game, and he was just 0-3-3, minus-7, in 14 postseason games as the Caps were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the second round. It was Wideman’s last action with the Caps. He was traded to the Calgary Flames in June 2012 for Jordan Henry and a fifth-round draft pick. Henry never played for the Caps (or any other NHL team to date), and the draft pick was later packaged in a trade for a draft pick that became Zach Sanford, who begat (with other assets) in trade with St. Louis, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and goaltender Pheonix Copley. Wideman played five seasons in Calgary before his career ended after the 2016-2017 season at age 33. He is an assistant coach with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL.
Left Wing: Randy Burridge (1992)
Randy Burridge is another of those players of who it might be said that he was an “overachiever.” He was taken in the eighth round of the 1985 Entry Draft (157th overall) by the Boston Bruins. He made the jump almost immediately to the big club, dressing for 52 games with the Bruins in 1985-1986. It was the start of a solid, if not exceptional career. In six seasons with the Bruins, Burridge recorded 108 goals and 223 points in 359 games, including a 31-goal season in 1988-1989. It was enough to get on the Caps’ radar, Washington trading forward Stephen Leach for him in June 1991.
Burridge liked his new home. In 46 games through January 15th he led the team in points, the 55 he had at the time withing striking distance of his career high of 61 with the Bruins in 1988-1989. The 39 assists he had at that point of the season was already a career best. It was enough to be included among the Caps’ three representatives at the 1992 All-Star Game at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, joining goaltender Don Beaupre and defenseman Kevin Hatcher on the Wales Conference squad in what would be his first and only career All-Star Game appearance. Burridge would score the last Wales Conference goal in what would be a 10-6 loss to the Campbell Conference.
If Burridge is another player who could be called an “overachiever,” he is also one whose post-All-Star Game production waned. He was just 7-5-12, minus-12 in 19 games after the All-Star Game, following that up with a lone assist in Games 1 and 2 of a Patrick Division semi-final loss in seven games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a shoulder separation that was the source of Burridge’s misfortune in the second half of the 1991-1992 season, and he missed all but four games to injuries the following season. He bounced back with a 25-goal year in 78 games for the Caps in 1993-1994 season, but after playing only two games with the Caps in 1994-1995, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on February 10th for forward Warren Rychel, who would be traded on the same day to Toronto for a draft pick that became goaltender Sebastien Charpentier. Burridge finished the 1994-1995 season with the Kings but would sign as a free agent with the Buffalo Sabres the following summer. He spent his last three NHL seasons with the Sabres, ending his NHL career in Buffalo at age 30.
Center: Bill Clement (1976)
Capitals fans of a certain age probably look at Bill Clement as something of an odd character, one who did not seem thrilled to join the club via trade as a 25-year old fresh off four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, the latter two of them ending in Stanley Cup wins. But there it was, Clement, defenseman Don McLean, and a first round draft pick (later to become Alex Forsyth) heading to a struggling team for the Caps’ first round pick in 1975 (Mel Bridgman).
In terms of credibility as an All-Star Game candidate, Clement was not making all that convincing a case to be the Caps’ representative, at least as far as his numbers were concerned. In 43 games played through January 15th, he was fourth on the club in goals (10) and not even first among centers (Nelson Pyatt had 18 at the time). He was fifth on the club in points (24). Four skaters had more power play goals than did Clement (two), and his seven power play points was tied for fourth on the team.
However, there he was, selected to the Wales Conference team that would skate in the 29th All-Star Game in Philadelphia on January 20th. Clement did not figure in the scoring in the Wales’ 7-5 win over the Campbell Conference. It would, however, perhaps be the high point of Clement’s stay with the Caps. He dressed for one more game with the club after the All-Star Game, a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders on January 21st in which he did not record a point. The following day, Clement was traded to the Atlanta Flames for forward Gerry Meehan, defenseman Jean Lemieux, and a first-round draft pick that became Greg Carroll. His Capitals career was over after 46 games, during which he served as the second team captain in franchise history, succeeding Doug Mohns.
Clement spent the remainder of that 1975-1976 season and the following six seasons with the Flames, the last two of them in Calgary after the club relocated. He was selected to another All-Star Game, representing the Atlanta Flames in the 1978 game in Buffalo. His career ended after the 1981-1982 season at age 31, after which he became well-known as an analyst on national hockey broadcasts for ABC, NBC, ESPN, SportsChannel America, and other outlets.
Right Wing: Bob Sirois (1978)
At least Bill Clement got to play for Stanley Cup champions. Bob Sirois started his NHL journey as the Flyers’ third-round pick (53rd overall) in the 1974 Amateur Draft. He played in three games with the Flyers in 1974-1975 but did not appear in the Flyers’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup. The following season he appeared in one game for the Flyers before being traded to the Caps for “future considerations” on December 15, 1975 (which became John Paddock the following September).
Sirois recorded 23 goals and 64 points in 88 games over two seasons with the Caps before breaking out in the 1977-1978 season. He had a fine first half for the Caps, posting 17 goals and 33 points (both second on the club to Guy Charron) in 41 games through January 15th. At that point of the season he was the only Caps player having played in at least 15 games and on the “plus” side of the ledger (plus-6).
Sirois, in a bit of an ironic twist, would be on the 1978 Wales Conference squad that faced former Capital Clement (in his only other All-Star Game appearance) on the Campbell Conference team. He, like Clement, would not figure in the scoring in the 3-2 overtime win for the Wales Conference. It would be a mere blip on the 1977-1978 radar for Sirois, who would finish up the season with what would be career highs at the time in goals (24), assists (37) and points (61).
Sirois followed up that season with a career best in goals the following season with the Caps (29), but in 1979-1980 he dressed for only 49 games, posting 15 goals and 32 points in what would be his last NHL season at age 25.
The six players here represent almost a thousand games played for the Caps (977 to be exact). But each of them appeared just once representing the Caps in the All-Star Game. Well, five of them, since goalie Al Jensen could not participate due to injury. Only Robert Picard and Bill Clement went on to play in a second all-star game. None appeared in a third contest.
Still, one game is more than the vast majority of NHLers will experience in their careers - and unlikely as any of these players might be as Washington Capital All Stars, they are part of a select fraternity that deserves no small measure of respect.