August 12, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore" which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Today, representing the Washington Capitals, J.P. from Japers' Rink.)
By Jon Press
High above the District of Columbia stands Mt. Capsmore, its weathered faces peering down upon our nation's capital with the watchful eyes of local hockey legends, simultaneously inspiring and intimidating the current crop of puck purveyors and fans alike. Or maybe those were just the banners on the side of the parking garage out at the Caps' practice facility in Ballston.
Anyway, if there was a Mt. Capsmore to commemorate the four most important players (sorry - no suits) in Washington Capitals history, it might look a little something like this:
Rod Langway, D
It's no exaggeration to say that if it wasn't for Rod Langway, there might not be a professional hockey team in D.C. today. The "Secretary of Defense" was named captain, led the team to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and won the Norris Trophy ... all in his first season in red, white and blue (after four years in bleu, blanc et rouge).
He'd repeat his Norris win in 1983-84 and go on to play 11 seasons in Washington, a tenure during which the team never missed the playoffs and three times topped 100 points. All that and he had a sweet moustache, could front a band, scored a playoff OT goal against the Rangers (his first goal of that season), and played helmetless. Stud.
The Caps retired No. 5 on November 26, 1997, and Langway was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002. Nearly two decades after his last NHL game, he continues to inspire bloggers ... among scores of others.
Dale Hunter, C
Huntsy captained the Caps for the last five of his 12 seasons with the team, played 80 or more games in seven of those seasons, and still ranks first in franchise history in penalty minutes and playoff games played, third in assists, fourth in games played and points, and first in Game 7 overtime goals scored against the Flyers. His unbridled joy at the team's high-point-to-date still brings a smile to most fans' faces, even if the obvious happiness just to be there would prove to be an ominous foreshadowing of the dismantling to follow.
The Caps retired No. 32 on March 11, 2000 to honor their former "heart and soul" captain, a guy who embodied what the team was back in his heyday: namely hard as hell to play against.
As Mike Vogel put it, “Just as the organization is better for Hunter’s presence over his 12 years in DC, so are the fans. He played the game the way it was supposed to be played—the Capital Way.”
Olie Kolzig, G
With the Caps looking to make a big splash at the 1997 trade deadline, then-GM David Poile worked out a deal with his counterpart in Boston, Harry Sinden: The Caps would get veterans Adam Oates, Rick Tocchet and Bill Ranford from the Bruins in exchange for promising young forwards Jason Allison(notes) and Anson Carter(notes), a pick and a goalie.
"David asked if I wanted [Olie] Kolzig or [Jim] Carey," Sinden recalled. "Of course, I went for the younger guy who had won the Vezina. Obviously, that wasn't one of my smarter decisions."
Sinden's loss was the Capitals' gain, as "Godzilla" would go on to win 301 games and a Vezina of his own for the Caps, not to mention he lead the franchise to its only Stanley Cup Finals appearance to date. Kolzig -- as strong a member of the community as he was a fiery competitor -- sits atop the team's leader board in career seasons and minutes played, wins (and losses and ties), shutouts, save percentage, shots faced, saves made, goalie assists, on-ice fights with the best man at one's own wedding and absolutely amazing hockey cards.
Alexander Ovechkin, LW
Out of the darkness of the Jaromir Jagr(notes)
error era of Capitals hockey (and the 2004-05 season that never was) sprang forth The Great Red Hope, a raging-bull-in-the-china-shopon skates with a shot that should probably be the subject of a multi-national arms treaty and a personal highlight reel that ought to prompt Dominique Wilkins to surrender his nickname in shame.
In his five seasons in the League, Alex Ovechkin(notes) has won the Calder Trophy, back-to-back Hart and "Rocket" Richard Trophies, three-straight Pearson/Lindsay Awards and the Art Ross Trophy. He's been an NHL First All-Star Team selection following every one of his NHL campaigns (the first player in history to achieve that feat), joined Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy as the only players in NHL history to top 250 goals and 250 assists in their first five seasons in the League, and is the active leader in playoff points-per-game.
At the franchise level, the recently-minted captain is third in goals, seventh in points and, frankly, doesn't have much in the way of team-based postseason achievements on which to hang his hat.
Is all of the above enough to earn a spot on Mt. Capsmore over guys like franchise points leader Peter Bondra or Hall of Famer Mike Gartner, the only two players to light the lamp for the Caps more times than Ovechkin already has, or games-played leader Calle Johansson?
Maybe. Maybe not. But what cements the appropriateness of that glorious gap-toothed mug of his alongside the team's all-time greats is that Alex Ovechkin represents hope -- the hope that one day the Washington Capitals will stand atop the hockey world as Stanley Cup champions. Sure, fans have dreamt this dream before, but never has it seemed so close to possible as it has recently or as it presumably will next April.
Alex Ovechkin is hope ... and for 35 seasons, that -- and a handful of truly great players -- is all Caps fans have had.