(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here's J.P. from Japers' Rink, giving us The Essentials for the Washington Capitals.)
By J.P. from Japers' Rink
Player: Rod Langway
Ovechkin might be the present-day "Mr. Capital," and before it's all said and done he may end up the gap-toothed face of the franchise for all-time, but to date it's really a two-man race between Rod Langway and Olie Kolzig.
Langway's arrival in D.C. essentially saved the franchise (more on that later), and during his 11 years in Washington — during all of which he served as the team's captain — he won two Norris Trophies (at a time when defensive defenseman could still win the award), earned the perfectly appropriate nickname "Secretary of Defense," and led the team to the playoffs in each season. His number five hangs in the rafters at Verizon Center, and he currently holds a front office position as "Capitals Ambassador" (which, insofar as I can tell, means going places and being Rod Langway).
If the 1980's Caps were Rod Langway's teams, the late-1990's/2000's incarnation was Olie Kolzig's. After a few years that were more notable for the hockey cards they produced than the wins, injuries to Bill Ranford early on in the 1997-98 season opened the door for Kolzig to take the starting goaltender job, a position he held for more than a decade (until Cristobal Huet's white-hot spring of 2008 unceremoniously ended Kolzig's Capitals career). Kolzig led the Caps to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998, won a Vezina trophy two years later and won 303 regular season games for the time, while leaving an equally impressive mark on the community.
So who is the essential Washington Capital? You can't go wrong with either of these guys, but will give the edge to Langway — he had a better moustache.
Without a championship, it'd be easy to go with 1997-98 here. After all, it ended with the franchise's only Finals appearance, featured Kolzig's emergence and a League-leading (tied) 52-goals from Peter Bondra, Dale Hunter as captain and a blue-collar bunch grinding games out on a nightly basis.
But if there's one season that represents the last three decades-plus of hockey in Washington, it might very well be a recent one — 2009-10. That team won the Presidents' Trophy going away, an exaggerated representation of a team that has won its division seven times (and finished second another ten times), but then lost to the Eastern Conference's eighth-seeded Canadiens, a similarly symbolic feat for a squad that has been knocked out of the playoffs by a lower seed double-digit times in 23 post-season appearances (including a 1985-86 loss to the Rangers, despite finishing 29 points ahead of New York in the regular season). Hell, they even blew a 3-1 lead in that 2009-10 series, something that's become all too familiar for long-suffering Caps fans.
High hopes heightened and followed by brutal disappointment. Know that 2009-10 season, know what it's like to be a Caps fan.
Game: 1988 Patrick Division Semifinal, Game 7
Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby trading hat tricks in Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals was something Caps fans (and many NHL fans) won't soon forget, as were the Snovechkin game and Ovechkin's signature game against the Habs back in January of 2008.
But two games stand out when taking a broader look at franchise history, one negative and one positive. No Cap fan can hear the name "Pat LaFontaine" without grimacing and recalling the Easter Epic, and most Flyers fans probably still curse Dale Hunter's name for the overtime goal he scored to cap a 3-1 series comeback (and a 3-0 Game 7 deficit) in the 1988 Patrick Division semis. We'll go with the Hunter game here — it's still probably at least the second-most meaningful win in franchise history, given where the team was at the time.
Goal: Joe Juneau, June 4, 1998 - Eastern Conference Final Game 6
When goals can be readily identified by simply naming the scorer, it's a big goal. For the Caps, there's The Hunter Goal and The Juneau Goal. Then, of course, there's the goal that doesn't even need the scorer's name attached to it… it's just "The Goal."
They're all essential — Caps fans can close their eyes and see them, hear the play-by-play calls in their heads, and take solace in a moment of inner peace — but the Juneau tally sent the team somewhere they hadn't been before and haven't been since. It's the essential Caps goal.
Trade: Rick Green and Ryan Walter for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin
I'll let my good friend Mike Vogel tell the tale on this one: "On Sept. 9, 1982, Washington general manager David Poile — at 33, the youngest GM in NHL history and less than two weeks into his tenure — made what is certainly the best trade in franchise history and one of the best ever in the NHL.
"Poile sent quality (defenseman Rick Green and center and team captain Ryan Walter) to Montreal for quality and quantity: defensemen Rod Langway and Brian Engblom, center Doug Jarvis and winger Craig Laughlin. It's not that the deal propelled the Caps to any Cup championships. It's not that the guys the Caps got were great and the guys they gave up were stiffs. It's simply that the deal saved the franchise. …
"It's not a stretch to say that David Poile's presence in Washington was as important and well timed as that of George Bailey in Bedford Falls. No Poile, no Capitals."
By any definition of "essential" — especially a literal one — the Langway deal is it (and seriously, go read Vogs' full account of the trade — it's well worth your time).
Unsung Hero: Calle Johansson
If you gave a non-local hockey fan five guesses at who has played more regular season games in a Caps sweater than anyone else, would they be able to get Calle Johansson? The new Caps assistant coach played 983 games for the red, white and blue (and black and bronze and whatever else), and is fourth all-time in assists and eighth in points, racking up 474 over 15 seasons in D.C. spent playing in any and all situations. Johansson may not have made an All-Star game or even been the best blueliner on any of his Caps teams, but he was versatile, solid… and unsung.
Franchise Villain: Dale Hunter (for everyone else)
For some reason, fans around the League tend to have a negative opinion of Dale Hunter, focusing on his on-ice behavior. It's understandable for Isles fans to, of course. Flyers fans too. And maybe Rangers fans. Bruins fans, too, I suppose. And Flames fans. And so on. Hey, when you rack up more than 3,000 penalty minutes in a career, you make some enemies along the way…
Oh, you mean who has been the biggest villain to the franchise? LaFontaine, Nedved, Potvin, Hrudey, Lemieux, Verbeek ... any number of others — the Caps have been a pretty equal-opportunity victim when it comes to gut-wrenching heartbreaks.
Fight: Bobby Gould vs. Mario Lemieux
Nice segue. Stephen Peat vs. P.J. Stock (January 5, 2002) is widely considered one of the "best" fights in recent memory (whatever that means), and another Caps/B's tilt — Kolzig vs. Byron Dafoe — is great because it was a goalie fight (albeit not too serious a bout) between two close friends. But the essential Caps fight is Bobby Gould feeding Mario Lemieux his lunch back in 1987, "nearly breaking Lemieux's right jaw" and retiring Super Mario from fighting for nine years.
Or, y'know, bongos.
Coach: Bruce Boudreau
Two Murray brothers (Bryan and Terry) combined to go 506-380-111 behind the Caps' bench… but never won a single game past the second round of the playoffs in a dozen tries. Ron Wilson got the Caps over that hump and to the Finals in his first season in Washington in 1998, but that success was fleeting, as the Caps missed the playoffs twice and were dismissed in the first round two other times over the remainder of his tenure.
And while others won more games, got the team further in the playoffs, and hung around town a bit longer, the nod here goes to Bruce Boudreau, who guided the team on an improbable (and Jack Adams-worthy) run to the playoffs upon taking over for Glen Hanlon in November, 2007, his first of four-straight Southeast Division titles. Boudreau's Caps continued on their upward trajectory the following season, pushing the Penguins to seven games before succumbing in the Eastern Semis, a disappointment that was followed by a Presidents' Trophy season and… well, Montreal. Even after that devastating loss, Boudreau led the Caps to another division title and was one of the genuine highlights of HBO's 24/7 series during the 2010-11 campaign before being let go when the Caps hit a skid in November, 2011.
Boudreau won 61% of his regular season games in D.C. and ushered in an era of edge-of-your-seat hockey that's almost hard to remember, given what's been played since. But for a bounce here or a save there, his fate in Washington might have been different. As it is, he'll have to settle for being the essential Caps coach.
Broadcaster: Ron Weber
Joe Beninati has been doing television play-by-play of Caps games for the past 17 seasons (and is fantastic at it, as his resume will attest), Craig Laughlin has been the TV analyst for five years longer, and Al Koken has been covering the team in probably every conceivable role since 1984. The three are absolute giants in Caps broadcasting history. But the essential broadcaster is the first radio voice of the Caps, Ron Weber. Hall of Famer Ron Weber, that is.
Weber called the first 1,936 games in Caps history, spending 23 years never missing a game and describing the action to pre-Internet Caps fans who would listen to his calls in the car, at the arena, in bed on school nights (I know it wasn't just me)… anywhere WTOP's AM signal, however faint, would reach.
Arena Behavior/Tradition/Trend: "OH!"
Caps fans have some bad habits that annoy seemingly everyone… and yet they persist. What probably would qualify as the essential Verizon Center behavior/tradition isn't even an organic creation of Caps fans or even D.C. denizens — it's the exaggerated national anthem "Oh" borrowed from our neighbors to the north in Baltimore (which, in fairness, was a common practice back when the team played its home games out in Landover, Maryland).
That said, when the Star Spangled Banner was belted out at Heinz Field at the Winter Classic a couple of years back and Caps fans all over the stadium united and announced their — our — presence at that moment in the song… it was pretty badass.
Also, Capstronaut is the worst.
Arena Food: ???
People eat in Verizon Center? Hm. I'll have to look into that.
Swag (jersey, hat, shirt, gear, etc.):
Anything red — you might have heard, they like to rock that color at home, right, Marty?