Washington Capitals: The 10 Best Snipers in Team History

Dave UngarCorrespondent IIIDecember 12, 2012

Washington Capitals: The 10 Best Snipers in Team History

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    With the present and future of the NHL hanging in the balance this week (ESPN), hockey fans continue to have to look to the past to get their NHL fix. While the NHL and NHLPA seem intent on not learning from past history, we fans can look to our teams' past to find numerous moments to bring a smile to our faces.

    The Washington Capitals have had a, shall we say, checkered past. There have been some great moments. But those have been far outweighed by crushing playoff disappointment and unfulfilled expectations.

    Still, throughout their 38 year history, the Caps have had many excellent players on their roster. Led by these players, the Caps, more often than not, have been very proficient on offense. The reason for this is that throughout their history, the Caps have played host to some of the best snipers around.

    As anyone who has frequented Bleacher Report knows, we writers are quite fond of Top 10 lists. So it makes perfect sense to take a trip down memory lane and come up with a listing of the Top 10 snipers in Caps' history.

    Make no mistake about it. Getting the list down to just 10 players is a difficult task. There are tremendous players who had to be left off the list. Players like Dino Ciccarelli, Dainius Zubrus, Jaromir Jagr, Doug Jarvis, Michal Pivonka or the man who got the Caps to their only Stanley Cup final appearance, Joe Juneau—for one reason or another, they did not make the list.

    Modern superstars like Mike Green or Nicklas Backstrom also had to be omitted—as did present coach and former captain Adam Oates.

    But, of course, that is what makes these lists so much fun—the difference in opinion. So feel free to leave a comment and tell me who I missed. I will be happy to respond.

    So who did make the list? Some choices will be obvious, to be sure. But who is going to be No. 1?

    It is time to find out.

10. Dale Hunter

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    When people think of Dale Hunter, they probably don't think of him as being a sniper.

    In fact, he is probably best known for the cheap shot he laid on the Islanders' Pierre Turgeon in the closing moments of Game 6 of the 1993 Patrick Division semifinals.

    But to simply look at Hunter and judge him for that one moment ignores the body of work he put together as a member of the Washington Capitals. Say what you want, but the man could play.

    As far as all-time records for the Caps, Hunter ranks fifth in points scored, third in assists and 10th in goals scored.

    Hunter is one of only four actual members of the Caps to have had his number retired. Despite what happened in 1993, Hunter is a huge fan favorite amongst Caps fans and his legend only grew after leading the Caps on an unexpected playoff run this past spring.

    It was actually Hunter's first year in Washington—the 1987-1988 season—when he left his mark in the hearts and minds of Caps fans.

    Hunter would score 22 goals and 37 assists during the regular season. But in the playoffs, he went to another level with seven goals and five assists.

    No goal was bigger than the one he scored in Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Caps had trailed in the series 3-1 and fought their way back to tie the series at 3-3 heading back to the Capital Centre.

    Haunted by the lingering memory of the Easter Epic a year earlier, Game 7 would head into overtime. It was there that Hunter would score a dramatic overtime winner on a breakaway, beating Ron Hextall and sending the Capital Centre into absolute bedlam.

    It is a moment any longtime Caps fan can still smile about. It is also a moment that demonstrates how dangerous a scorer Hunter could be.

    No, he was not the best sniper ever for the Caps and Hunter was always better at spending time in the penalty box than he was at lighting the lamp.

    But he is one of the greatest players in Caps' history and he deserves to be on this list.

9. Bobby Carpenter

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    "The Can't Miss Kid."

    That is what Sports Illustrated called Bobby Carpenter when he appeared on the cover of the February 23, 1981 cover of SI. Carpenter was the first United States born hockey player to appear on the cover of SI and he was being hailed as the best US prospect of all time.

    Well, he was never quite that good—but he was pretty impressive all the same.

    The third overall pick of the 1981 NHL Entry draft, Carpenter figured to be the type of player who would lead the Caps out from relative obscurity and into the playoffs. And, to a certain extent, he accomplished this.

    Carpenter was one of the players most responsible for getting the Caps to the playoffs for the first time in 1983.

    Carpenter's best season was the 1984-1985 campaign when he tallied 53 goals and 42 assists. In doing so, Carpenter fulfilled some of the expectations placed upon him and he became the first US born player to reach the 50 goal plateau.

    Unfortunately though, this was the high-water mark for Bobby Carpenter. He only scored 27 goals the following season and conflicts with then coach Bryan Murray led to his being traded to the New York Rangers about a quarter of the way through the 1986-1987 season.

    Carpenter would return for one more season in Washington for the 1992-1993 season but by then his playing style had changed and the Can't Miss Kid was now a grown man whose best years were behind him.

    In the end, Carpenter would end up scoring 188 goals for the Caps, good enough for eighth all-time.

    But very much like the Caps themselves, Bobby Carpenter never quite lived up to his full potential. 

8. Dave Christian

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    Dave Christian is probably better known as a member of the Miracle On Ice 1980 United States Olympic hockey team.

    But he was also one of the best snipers in the history of the Washington Capitals.

    Christian was drafted No. 40 by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1979 NHL draft. After his Olympic success, Christian's time in Winnipeg met with mixed results and he was traded to the Caps prior to the 1983-1984 season.

    Christian would spend the next six full seasons in D.C. and he became one of the most consistent players for the Caps scoring 20 or more goals in each season.

    His best year came in the 1985 to 1986 season when Christian scored 41 goals, had 42 assists and totaled 83 points.

    Much of his success during that time frame was credited to his being paired with a couple of guys we will see later on:  Bengt Gustafsson and Mike Gartner.

    The line of Christian, Gustafsson and Gartner was a formidable one to say the least and the Caps would end up with the third best record in the NHL with 107 points.

    Christian had deceptive speed and exceptional moves. When he got a good look at the goalie, he could be deadly accurate.

    At the end of his career, Dave Christian ranked seventh on the Caps all time as far as goals scored. This former Cap is still a favorite amongst longtime Caps fans and he is quite worthy of being ranked No. 8 on this list.

7. Alexander Semin

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    For the No. 7 spot on this list, we leave behind the days when the Washington Capitals were first starting to become a good team and we enter the modern area.

    Alexander Semin was always "The Other Alex" in Washington. Semin was always living in the shadow of Alexander Ovechkin. Despite the large shadow Ovi cast, it could not completely obscure the tremendous talent that Semin had.

    Semin had been drafted No. 13 by the Caps in the 2002 NHL Entry draft, but it was not until the 2006-2007 season that Semin really came into his own. It was during that season that Semin's true sniping ability became apparent.

    Semin scored 38 goals and had 35 assists during the 2006-2007 season. It did not take the Caps long to realize that a line with both Semin and Ovechkin on it would be formidable. They were right.

    Semin and Ovechkin would soon be joined in Washington by Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green and the Core Four was born. With the Core in place, the Caps stopped being the doormats of the NHL and became a powerhouse.

    The high point came during the 2009-2010 season when the Caps won the President's Trophy. The Caps were an offensive monster that season, often ignoring defense completely and just choosing to outgun the opposition. Semin was an absolute beast during the regular season with 40 goals and 44 assists.

    But it was during the Caps Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the No. 8 seed, Montreal Canadiens, that the Caps love affair with Alexander Semin began to wane. Semin did not score a single goal in the series and the Caps suffered one of the biggest upsets in NHL playoff history when they lost to the Habs in seven games.

    Semin was never quite the same after that and the Caps management lost a lot of faith in him. His numbers declined the next two seasons and this offseason the Caps were not willing to invest in Semin any further.

    Semin signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the rival Carolina Hurricanes this past offseason (NHL.com).

    Most Caps fans feel very bittersweet about Semin's departure. The man was blessed with fantastic skating ability and a truly wicked wrist shot. It was never Semin's talent that held him back. It was more his work ethic with which most Caps fans took issue.

    Nevertheless, Semin ranks fifth all time for the Caps with 197 goals. His sniping ability will almost certainly be missed in Washington this year.

6. Bengt Gustafsson

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    Bengt Gustafsson is another player who holds a special place in the heart of Washington Capital fans who recall the teams initial rise to prominence in the 1980's. A true fan-favorite in every way, "Gus" was also one heck of a player.

    Gustafsson was picked in the fourth round of the 1978 draft by the Caps. He was always rather quiet and flew under the radar during his seven seasons in Washington.

    But during that same time frame, Gustafsson showed everyone what a sniper he could be. He was an excellent skater, an even better puck handler, had underrated stick skills and was very difficult to knock off the puck. All of these qualities made him a threat to score whenever he had the puck.

    And score he did. Gus ranks sixth all time for the Caps in points and goals scored and he ranks fifth all time in assists. Gus was also one of the more unselfish players on the Caps and if he had decided to shoot the puck more than pass it, his numbers could be even higher.

    Gustafsson's best season in Washington came during the 1983-1984 campaign. For much of the year Gus was teamed up with No. 8 on this list, Dave Christian, and a guy we will see later, Mike Gartner.

    The line of Gustafsson, Christian and Gartner was a handful for teams to try and deal with. Gustafsson would score 32 goals and have 43 assists that season as the Caps made it to the Patrick Division final before falling to the four-time defending champion New York Islanders.

    It was during that 1983-1984 season that Gus would notch five goals against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 8, 1984. This is a Caps record for most goals in a game that Gus still shares with another guy we will see later, Peter Bondra.

    Bengt Gustafsson was one of the best players and best snipers in the history of the Washington Capitals. He absolutely deserves his spot on this list.

5. Mike Ridley

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    When Bobby Carpenter was traded to the New York Rangers during the 1986-1987 season, one of the players the Washington Capitals got back in return was Mike Ridley.

    Though Ridley was never advertised as a "can't miss" prospect (he was never even drafted by an NHL team), he would become the kind of sniper in Washington that everyone thought Carpenter would be.

    What made Ridley so effective? It was a combination of lots of little things. He was always very creative with the puck and worked tirelessly at improving his game.

    His work ethic was also top notch and during his eight seasons in Washington, Ridley would become a focal point of the Caps offense.

    Ridley would score at least 20 goals in each season when he was in Washington, except for the initial season when he arrived at the mid-point of the season (he still scored 31 goals total that year). This consistent level of production is one of the key factors why Mike Ridley was such an effective sniper for the Caps.

    Ridley's best season would come during the 1988-1989 campaign when he would score 41 goals and tally 48 assists. Ridley's effort would lead the Caps to the Patrick Division championship that season. Alas, the team would falter in the playoffs again, getting eliminated in the opening round by the Philadelphia Flyers.

    As far as Ridley's standing amongst the Caps best ever, he ranks seventh in points, eighth in assists and fourth in goals with 218. Ridley also boasted an impressive .93 points per game percentage during his tenure in Washington.

    Not too bad at all for an undrafted free agent.

4. Dennis Maruk

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    If you were to go back to the early 1980's and take a look at Dennis Maruk, odds are you would not be too impressed.

    He was not a big guy, standing only 5'8" and weighing just 165 pounds. And what was the deal with that Fu Manchu moustache anyway?

    But when Maruk laced up the skates and got down to business, there were not many better than him.

    Maruk had originally been drafted No. 21 overall by the California Golden Seals franchise in 1975. He would go with the Seals to Cleveland to play for the doomed Barons franchise. But once he arrived in D.C. in 1978, Maruk's career would explode.

    With great speed and a nose for the net, Maruk began to redesign the Washington Capitals offense to his liking. He had a great slap shot and an even better wrist shot. He was also quite adept at creating breakaway opportunities and when he got those opportunities, he usually cashed in.

    Maruk's arrival would coincide with the Caps beginning to threaten for a playoff berth. This was readily apparent during the 1980-1981 season when Maruk would be teamed up with Mike Gartner and Ryan Walter on what was termed the "Roaring 20's Line".

    The Roaring 20's Line would transform the Caps and Maruk would have a tremendous season with 50 goals and 47 assists.

    The next season would be even better. Maruk would score a phenomenal 60 goals and assist on 76 others. Maruk's 136 points for the 1981-1982 season is still a Caps record.

    The Caps would miss the playoffs both of these seasons. Somewhat ironically, it was the 1982-1983 season that would see the Caps break through and reach the playoffs—even though Maruk only scored 31 goals.

    Maruk would be traded to the Minnesota North Stars where he would finish out his NHL career. But during his time in Washington, Maruk re-wrote the Caps record books. Despite only playing in 343 games for the Caps, he still ranks ninth in points and goals scored. He also boasts a 1.26 goals per game percentage, which is still the best all time for the Caps.

    Dennis Maruk was as fine a sniper as the Caps have ever had.

3. Peter Bondra

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    I know there are many people out there who would place Peter Bondra at the top of this list and I would be hard pressed to argue with them. There is no disputing the fact that Peter Bondra was one of the greatest snipers to ever play for the Washington Capitals.

    From 1990 to 2004, Bondra was to those versions of the Caps what Alexander Ovechkin is to the present day iteration. Similar to Ovi, it was Bondra who would draw the oppositions attention, forcing him to deal with double teams and similar tactics.

    It never seemed to faze him. Bondra was one of the finest skaters to ever play for the Caps with amazing acceleration, a nasty slap shot and fantastic accuracy. He was absolutely deadly with one-timers.

    Except for his initial season in Washington, Bondra always scored at least 20 goals. His best season, albeit perhaps not statistically, was the 1997-1998 campaign, a season near and dear to the hearts of Caps fans.

    During the 1997-1998 season, Bondra would lead the NHL with 52 goals. But in the playoffs, Bondra took things to the next level. He would score seven goals and have five assists as the Caps would reach the Stanley Cup finals for the only time in their history.

    A key moment during that memorable playoff run was watching Bondra out duel Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals. Unfortunately, Bondra could not carry the Caps all the way and the team was swept by the defending champion Detroit Red Wings.

    The Caps have never returned to those heights. When Jaromir Jagr was brought to Washington to play alongside Bondra in 2001, the Caps figured to be a threat for the Stanley Cup. As most know, that did not work out well at all and by 2004 Jagr had been dealt to the Rangers. Bondra was soon sent to the Ottawa Senators and the fire sale was on.

    Still, there is no way to argue that Peter Bondra is not one of, if not the, best player in Caps history. He is the all time franchise leader in goals (472) and points (825). He also ranks sixth in assists. It is hard to fathom that he was drafted just 156th by the Caps in 1990.

    Bondra's record speaks for itself and there are many Caps fans eagerly anticipating the day when Bondra's jersey will rightfully be retired and hung from the rafters of the Verizon Center.

2. Mike Gartner

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    Mike Gartner is not just one of the greatest snipers in the history of the Washington Capitals, he is one of the greatest players in NHL history.

    Gartner was drafted No. 4 overall by the Caps in 1979 and this would be the start of an absolutely amazing career in D.C. Blessed with a great shot and blazing speed—Gartner still holds the record for the fastest time posted at the NHL Skills Competition—Gartner soon became the centerpiece of the Caps offense.

    Gartner would play nine plus seasons for the Caps and he scored at least 30 goals in each of those seasons.

    Statistically, Gartner's best season was 1984-1985. During that season, Gartner would score 50 goals and rack up 52 assists as he led the Caps to a second place finish in the Patrick Division. In the playoffs though, the Caps would blow a 2-0 series lead and lose the next three games to get eliminated by an Islanders team that finished 15 points behind the Caps.

    Gartner tried his best to prevent that outcome as he scored four goals and had three assists in the five game series.

    Gartner would play for the Caps up until the 1988-1989 season when he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars. He would then play in the NHL for another 12 seasons for the North Stars, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes.

    When he finally retired, Gartner was one of only six players to reach the 700 goal milestone. In 2001 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    As far as the Caps are concerned, Gartner continues to hold several franchise records, including the record for longest points streak at 17 games and the record for most points by a right winger in one season with 102.

    Gartner also ranks second all time on the Caps in goals (397), assists (392) and points (789). If you are wondering why I ranked Gartner ahead of Bondra, I was impressed by the fact that Gartner accomplished so much and he played in 203 fewer games in Washington than Bondra.

    Whatever the reason, Mike Gartner was a tremendous threat whenever he was on the ice and, without question, has to be considered one of the top snipers in the history of the Washington Capitals.

1. Alexander Ovechkin

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    The greatest sniper in the history of the Washington Capitals is the current face of the franchise and one of the men most responsible for hockey's surge in popularity the past few seasons.

    Alexander Ovechkin is a name recognizable by pretty much any hockey fan—and with good reason.

    The Great Eight has meant more to the Capitals franchise since he burst upon the scene in 2005 than pretty much any prior member of the Caps.

    In so many ways, Ovi is the poster child for the word "sniper". There are few players like Ovechkin. He is, in many ways, just a perfect blend of size, strength, speed and skill.

    He can score from practically anywhere on the ice and even when the opposition thinks they have him cornered, he can escape and score a highlight goal. He has one of the best wrist shots in the NHL and an uncanny slap shot. In many ways, watching Ovi play is like watching a composer handle an orchestra.

    Where other lesser players just play the game, Ovechkin creates the game around him. The results over the years speak for themselves.

    Rookie of the Year in 2006.

    A two time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy (2008 and 2009) along with the Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy during the same time frame.

    As for Caps' records, Ovi's 65 goals during the 2007-2008 season broke Dennis Maruk's single-season record and is also an NHL record for most goals scored in a season by a left-winger.

    With the bulk of his career still in front of him, Ovechkin already ranks third all time on the Caps in points (679) and goals (339). There is little doubt that barring a serious injury, Ovi will own almost all of the Caps scoring records before he hangs up his skates.

    Much has been made of Ovechkin's declining production the past couple of years. Yet he was still ranked fifth in the NHL in goals last season. There is no dispute that Ovi's numbers have been off recently.

    But when he is on the ice, he is still the most dangerous player on the Caps roster and someone who can change the course of a game with the flick of his wrist.

    It is that kind of constant threat that makes Alexander Ovechkin the greatest sniper in the history of the Washington Capitals.