(Ed. Note: There’s entirely too much sunshine in the summer. So your friends at Puck Daddy are offering a month of thrown shade and perpetual gloom. Behold, our Summer of Disappointment series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to recall the biggest bummer moments, teams and players in franchise history! Please wade into their misery like a freezing resort pool, and add your own choices in the comments!)
Written by J.P. of Japers' Rink
Most Disappointing Team: 2009-2010 Washington Capitals
Drive down the road of failure a ways and eventually you come to the cross street that is expectation. There are no traffic lights or stop signs at the crossroads, which is probably why there are so many horrible wrecks there. This intersection where failure and expectations meet is disappointment, and the Washington Capitals and their fans know it well.
Back in 1985-86, the Caps entered the second round of the playoffs with a 20-plus point advantage on every team remaining in the Conference, and 29 on the Rangers, whom they’d face… and to whom they’d lose. With help elsewhere, that was the franchise's clearest path to a championship. But they’re not the most disappointing Caps team.
No, the most disappointing team in Caps history was the 2009-10 edition. That team racked up 121 regular season points, smashing the previous franchise record and capturing the Presidents’ Trophy. It was an offensive juggernaut led by players’ MVP Alex Ovechkin (109 points), Nicklas Backstrom (101) and Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green (76 points in 75 games), not to mention five other 20-goal scorers.
Then came the playoffs, where the Caps brought a commanding 3-1 series lead home for Game 5. And then Jaroslav Halak happened - 131 saves on 134 shots over the next three games, all Habs wins.
Check the boxes of team disappointment: High expectations? No question. Loss to a (much) lower seed? Yup. Blown chance(s) to close-out the series? Uh-huh. Blown three-games-to-one lead? Dagger.
Most Disappointing Capital: Jaromir Jagr
There are different types of disappointment when it comes to individual players. There are draft busts, guys taken with picks that often turn into franchise saviors but who just don’t pan out. Take, for example, Greg Joly, selected first overall in 1974, who played just 98 games for the Caps while posting an eye-popping minus-114. Or the fourth pick in 1996, Alexandre Volchkov, he of the three career NHL games.
Then there are flashes in the pan: guys who give early glimpses of greatness, and then flame-out just as spectacularly. After becoming the first U.S.-born 50-goal scorer, Bobby Carpenter - The Can’t Miss Kid - never again topped 27. Or Jim Carey, who finished third in Vezina voting as a rookie, then won the trophy as a sophomore before forgetting how to stop pucks.
But draft busts and flashes in the pan are characterized by a failure to meet ultimately unrealistic expectations. True disappointment involves the failure to meet high-but-realistic disappointment, and for that we turn to Jaromir Jagr.
When the Caps traded for Jagr, he was coming off four-consecutive scoring titles and was 29-years-old. He should’ve been the missing piece that that Caps team needed, the talent influx that would push them to “true contender” status. He wasn’t. He was pouty and (relatively) unproductive, which eventually led to the dismantling of the team. Jaromir Jagr should have been the best thing to happen to the Capitals franchise in nearly two decades; instead he was the worst.
Most Disappointing Moment in Capitals History: Esa Tikkanen misses a tap-in
Are we having fun yet?
It’d be easy to go with Pat LaFontaine’s Easter Epic tally, or Petr Nedved’s quadruple overtime gut-punch or even the washed-out goal in Game 7 against Montreal. But no. It’s this:
As I’ve written about it before, with the Caps already down a game in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals, but leading Game 2 by a goal on the road in the last ten minutes of regulation, Tikkanen beat Chris Osgood and... pushed the insurance goal wide. The Caps would go on to lose the game 5-4 in overtime and the series - their only appearance in the Finals up to then or since - in four games, and Caps fans are left wondering what might have been, if not for the biggest blooper in team history.
Whether or not the Caps could’ve beaten the Wings in that series with a Game 2 win is largely beside the point - in the moment, with the whole hockey world watching… that happened. That’s just about as disappointing as it gets.
Most Disappointing Capitals Transaction: Letting Scott Stevens walk
Jaromir Jagr’s contract extension was and is pretty darn disappointing, but nothing compares with the Caps’ decision to let Scott Stevens go via free agency in the summer of 1990. Granted, there were extenuating circumstances at the time and the Caps actually still have some residual assets kicking around the organization that were acquired via the compensation they’d received from St. Louis when they didn’t match the Blues’ RFA offer sheet to which Stevens was signed.
But the decision to let Stevens go was about money, and the Caps didn’t believe their top blueliner was worth one million dollars per year. As Stevens’ teammate at the time, Alan May, put it (via SB Nation):
"At the time, I thought it was devastating to the team," he said. "He was the leader of the team, the most important player. And I thought he was our best player, and it changed the whole look of the team - and the attitude.
"He was the most professional player in the dressing room and at dinner, and it affected everyone. In the locker room, everything was changed. He wasn't the captain, but you looked at how young he was, how hard he played injured, how good he played, how fierce he was. He was basically the identity of the team, and we lost it. ... In the room, we were pissed, we were pretty upset.
So were the fans. So are the fans.
Stevens went on to win three Cups and a Conn Smythe; the Caps have gone on to win eight playoff series and a draft lottery in the 24 years since.
Most Disappointing Capitals Coach/Executive: Bruce Cassidy
If you went with Adam Oates here, you wouldn’t be wrong - wasting two seasons on the back-end of Alex Ovechkin’s prime is monumentally disappointing. But Bruce Cassidy did that whole “inexperienced-coach-turned-failed-coach” thing while Oates was still playing, and he did it worse, because those teams (on paper) were better.
In his first year behind the Caps bench, Cassidy had Jagr and newly-signed free agent Robert Lang, Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar, Michael Nylander, Olie Kolzig and others, and that talent carried the Caps to the playoffs (where poor coaching would be a big contributor to their undoing). And then the wheels fell off the wagon, as Cassidy quickly lost the team the following fall (if he still had it at that point), crossing lines and just lacking the professionalism needed of an NHL coach.
Of course, the team probably could’ve seen that coming, in retrospect.
The Caps had high payrolls in each of Cassidy’s two seasons (the second being truncated, of course), but they turned those rosters over to the wrong man.
Most Disappointing Capitals Fashion Choice: White pants
For ten years, the Caps wore some version of that bad black-and-bronze uniform with the Capitol dome logo, and that’s my least favorite of the jerseys they’ve worn (it’s certainly disappointing to see a team from Washington, D.C. that goes by “Capitals” not wearing red, white and blue), but the biggest disappointment, fashion-wise has to be white pants. Not only did they look horrible (fittingly, though, given the team that wore them),
but, via Capitals.com: “The white pants quickly became a hot-button issue – perspiration left them discolored – and the league granted the team mid-season approval to wear blue pants on the road for the rest of the year.”
“Perspiration left them discolored.”
I think we’ll just leave that there to mark the corner of expectations and failure...
• • •
Other disappointments (in order of appearance): New York Rangers • Calgary Flames • St. Louis Blues • New York Islanders • Dallas Stars • Boston Bruins • Colorado Avalanche • Ottawa Senators • Arizona Coyotes • Minnesota Wild • Edmonton Oilers • San Jose Sharks • Winnipeg Jets • New Jersey Devils • Los Angeles Kings • Florida Panthers • Carolina Hurricanes • Buffalo Sabres • Montreal Canadiens • Tampa Bay Lightning • Chicago Blackhawks • Columbus Blue Jackets • Nashville Predators • Detroit Red Wings • Anaheim Ducks • Philadelphia Flyers • Pittsburgh Penguins • Vancouver Canucks • Toronto Maple Leafs