The 5 Biggest Fan Favorites in the History of the Washington Capitals
Throughout their history, many colorful and popular players have called the Washington Capitals home.
Indeed, 2014 will mark the Capitals' 40th anniversary, and while a Stanley Cup championship continues to elude the franchise, that does not mean there has been a shortage of memorable moments supplied by equally memorable players.
There was Dale Hunter's overtime game-winner in Game 7 of the 1988 Patrick Division Semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Ten years later, Joe Juneau scored in overtime of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final to lead the Caps past the Buffalo Sabres and to their only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
We have seen tremendous goaltending performances from players like Jim Carey, Olaf Kolzig, Semyon Varlomov, and, most recently, Braden Holtby.
These great players have been involved in some truly epic moments, such as the Easter Epic in 1987 or Game 4 of the 1996 playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, both games resulted in four overtime losses for the Caps.
Not surprisingly, all of this history and great moments have endeared several Caps players in the hearts and minds of their fans.
Which players are the biggest fan favorites in Washington Capitals' history?
This article will explore that very issue.
Dennis Maruk plays in the Caps vs. Penguins alumni game from the Winter Classic in 2011.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Before we get to the top five fan favorites of all time, let's take a look at five players who did not quite make the cut, but who are all very beloved by Caps' fans everywhere.
Yvon Labre played on some really bad Caps teams. From 1974-1980, Labre played for the Caps and scored the first home goal in franchise history. Unfortunately, there were not many good moments to be had in that first season, and the Caps' .131 win percentage (8-67-5) is still the worst in NHL history.
Still Labre played some very tough defense and fans in the new market took notice. Labre quickly became the most popular player for the Caps during those early years, and his off-ice community activity only endeared him to the fans even more.
He was the team captain from 1976-1978 and was also an assistant coach for the Caps from 1982-1993.
Labre's number was retired on November 22, 1981.
The original pet detective.
OK...maybe not. Still, when this Jim Carey put his mask on, he was "smokin," no doubt about that.
Selected No. 32 by the Caps in the 1992 NHL draft, Carey would eventually debut in 1995 and would go on to win his first seven games.
The 1995-96 season would be Carey's finest moment, as he racked up a record of 35-24-9, with nine shutouts, a 2.26 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. That was good enough for Carey to win the Vezina Trophy.
Carey became very popular during this run, but he ran into major problems two years in a row against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. The Caps organization lost faith in him, and he was traded to the Boston Bruins midway through the 1996-97 season.
He was never the same.
Still, for a couple of years there, Carey was incredibly popular in D.C.
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 1980s. 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.
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 1983-84 campaign. It was during that 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 Peter Bondra.
Gustafsson's personality and demeanor, combined with his excellent play, made him one of the biggest fan favorites in the history of the Washington Capitals.
It was not until Rod Langway arrived that the Caps escaped the bonds of true mediocrity and became a very good team.
In many ways, if not for Langway, there might not be hockey in D.C. any longer. The Caps were on the brink of moving from Washington when Langway was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in a huge trade prior to the 1982-83 season.
Langway immediately helped to transform the team. The Caps would finally break through and make the playoffs in Langway's first season with the team, and they would make the playoffs in each of the next 11 seasons Langway was there.
While Langway would never be confused with Mike Green as far as a two-way defender was concerned, he was an absolute and complete defender in every other way imaginable. He won the Norris Trophy in 1983 and 1984 and was also the captain of the Caps from 1982 to 1993.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Langway never sought out the adoration of the fans. He rarely clamored for the accolades. Perhaps, that is what made him so popular. There is little question that the man who saved the franchise is one of the most popular players in Capitals' history.
For me personally, it was very difficult to not have Dennis Maruk in the top five. When I first started watching the Caps, and watched them begin to get good, Maruk is the player I remember the most.
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.
Maruk's arrival would coincide with the Caps beginning to threaten for a playoff berth. This was readily apparent during the 1980-81 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 1981-82 season is still a Caps record.
The Caps would miss the playoffs both of those seasons. Somewhat ironically, it was the 1982-83 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.
His energetic playing style, combined with his great production and numbers, made Maruk a tremendous fan favorite. Many could argue he deserves to be in the top five, and it would be hard to argue otherwise.
Regardless, Maruk remains one of the most popular players in Caps' history.
5. Peter Bondra
One of the all-time greats in Capitals history.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Peter Bondra was one of the greatest snipers to ever play for the Washington Capitals. He is also one of the most popular players in the history of the franchise.
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 1997-98 campaign, a season near and dear to the hearts of Caps fans. It was during that magical year that Bondra's popularity soared, and he became a true fan favorite.
During the 1997-98 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 Final for the only time in their history.
A key moment during that memorable playoff run was watching Bondra outduel Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference Final. 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.
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.
He remains a hero to many Caps' fans and will always be one of the most popular players in franchise history.
4. Dale Hunter
Dale Hunter scores one of the most iconic goals in Caps' history.
Dale Hunter is one of the most popular players in the history of the Washington Capitals. He is also one of its more controversial.
Many people outside of the Caps organization remember Hunter best 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—and the fans loved him for it.
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 in 2012.
It was actually Hunter's first year in Washington—the 1987-88 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 remains one of the most iconic moments in the history of the franchise.
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 remains one of the biggest fan favorites in franchise history.
3. Mike Gartner
Mike Gartner being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Mike Gartner is not just one of the biggest fan favorites 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. He became the focal point of the franchise and one of the most beloved players in Caps' history.
Statistically, Gartner's best season was 1984-85. 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. Performances like that were the sort of thing that made Gartner so popular with Caps fans.
Gartner would play for the Caps up until the 1988-89 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 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). On December 28, 2008, his number was retired by the Capitals.
As one of the most prolific scorers in franchise history—and one of its best snipers to boot—it is easy to see why Gartner is one of the biggest fan favorites in the history of the Washington Capitals.
2. Olaf Kolzig
Simply the greatest goalie in the history of the franchise.
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
It should come as no surprise that the greatest goaltender in the history of the Washington Capitals is also one of the biggest fan favorites in Caps' history.
There has never been a goalie quite like Olaf Kolzig as far as Caps' fans are concerned. "Olie the Goalie" holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of the Caps' faithful. In fact, in 2004 to celebrate the Caps' 30th year in the league, the fans voted on the top 30 players in franchise history.
Olie was No. 1.
What can you say about the amazing career of Kolzig? Although Kolzig played in a backup role for the Caps from 1992-1997, it was the magical season of 1997-98 when Olie solidified himself as the Caps starting goaltender—and created a legend for himself among Caps' fans.
That was the season where Kolzig led the Caps to the Stanley Cup Final, outplaying Dominick Hasek along the way. He compiled a record of 33-18-10 that season with five shutouts, a 2.20 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
During the Caps' memorable playoff run, he went 12-9, with four more shutouts, a minuscule 1.95 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
Kolzig would then go on and remain the Caps' starting netminder through the 2007-08 season. He would compile a record of 301-293-63-23 during his career with the Caps with 36 shutouts, a career goals-against average of 2.71 and a career save percentage of .906.
As for the playoffs, Kolzig posted a record of 20-24 with seven shutouts, a 2.14 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.
Those are all excellent numbers and numbers to which young Braden Holtby should strive to try and match.
With Kolzig acting as a goaltending coach for the Caps, Holtby should get plenty of time to learn from one of the best ever.
Similar to Peter Bondra, it seems to be just a matter of time before Kolzig's number is retired and hung from the rafters.
As one of the biggest fan favorites in Cap's history, it will be a great moment.
1. Alexander Ovechkin
No one gets the crowd going quite like the Great Eight.
It should come as no real surprise that the biggest fan favorite in the history of the Washington Capitals is Alexander Ovechkin. If Rod Langway was the man who saved the franchise, then Ovi is the man who officially turned D.C. into a hockey town.
Ovi has been the face of the franchise since he burst upon the scene in 2005.
Ovi is the most dangerous player on the Caps' roster. 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-reel goal. He has one of the best wrist shots in the NHL and an uncanny slap shot.
The results over the years speak for themselves.
Rookie of the Year in 2006.
Now a three-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy (2008, 2009 and 2013) along with the Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy during the same time frame.
As for Caps' records, Ovi's 65 goals during the 2007-08 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 (735) and goals (371). 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.
The rumors of Ovechkin's decline were pretty well laid to rest this past season when he led the NHL in goals with 32 and beat out Sidney Crosby and John Tavares to capture his third MVP Trophy.
There has never been a player for the Washington Capitals who can excite a crowd quite like the Great Eight and his popularity over the years has been nothing short of remarkable.
Remember, in 2008, when he was given the keys to the city? As ESPN reported at the time, a Russian was given free reign to the nation's capital.
Somewhere Ronald Reagan was rolling in his grave.
All kidding aside, though, that one incident demonstrated just what sort of star power and popularity Ovechkin had, and, to a great extent, still has today.
Ovechkin remains one of the elite players in the NHL, and so long as he calls Verizon Center home, the Caps' faithful can hold out hope that a Stanley Cup championship is still a possibility.
For all of these reasons, Ovechkin is the biggest fan favorite in the history of the Washington Capitals.