Some members of the Washington Capitals franchise have been less like hockey players, and more like the weather:
Always present, but good luck trying to predict their behavior.
This can describe a player's performance, if his production is inconsistent. Or it can apply to his attitude, if he arbitrarily wavers between enthusiasm and apathy. Finally, the word unpredictable can describe a player's on-ice actions, especially if he has a short fuse.
Here now is a ranking of the five most unpredictable players in Washington Capitals history.
Note: All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
The last player a hockey coach can afford to be unpredictable is his goaltender. But that's exactly what head coach Bruce Boudreau had to deal with from 2008-10.
Jose Theodore had played 13 seasons in the NHL up to that point in his career for the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche. The native of Laval, Quebec won the 2001-02 Vezina Trophy for his hometown Canadiens, according to Hockey-Reference.com.
Trophies notwithstanding, Theodore still managed to earn the nickname "Jose Three-Or-More", for his proclivity to surrender goals by the bucketful.
Theodore did nothing to shake this moniker in his two seasons in Washington:
|SEASON||GAMES||GA: 2 or Fewer||GA: 3 or More|
Despite being a veteran of 47 playoff games before arriving in DC, Theodore offered the Capitals zero stability in the postseason.
In 2008-09, Theodore started Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers. He let in four goals on only 21 shots, as the Caps lost the series opener. Semyon Varlamov started Game 2, and Theodore was not seen again until he relieved Varlamov in the second period of a Game 7 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Theodore still let in two goals on 12 shots.
In 2009-10, Theodore was again in net for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, this time against his former team. Theodore surrendered three goals on 38 shots by the Canadiens. The third goal was the game-winner, 13:10 into overtime. But in Game 2, Theodore allowed goals on each of the first two shots he faced. He was pulled a mere 7:58 into the game, and never played another minute in a Capitals sweater.
In a sense, Theodore's tenure in Washington was very predictable.
Chris Simon was an enforcer in his six-and-a-half seasons with the Washington Capitals, from 1996-2003.
The 6' 3", 232-pound winger amassed 666 penalty minutes in Washington, and 1,824 total. He ranks 12th in that category in Capitals franchise history, and 66th in NHL history. He has earned himself a nice collection of videos at HockeyFights.com.
Simon took his job as enforcer seriously. He explained his philosophy in a 2011 interview with Sport-Express, while playing in the KHL (transcript via Igor Kleyer of RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com)
...I fight because I do it well. When I see my teammates picked on, I understand that you have to punish those people. And if someone runs into your goalie, a fight is unavoidable. You have to be able to do a lot of things in hockey. When a guy can fight and accepts a tough guy’s challenge, I respect that person. To be a tough guy is a serious and respectable choice. Maybe even as respectable as choosing to become a goalie. When a goalie makes a mistake – it’s a goal. When a fighter makes a mistake – it’s a smashed face and a lot of pain. There is a lot of pressure on a tough guy.
However, Simon did not always make the "respectable choice" while playing in the NHL. Simon earned two suspensions that are now ranked second and tied for third, respectively, on the list of longest suspensions in NHL history, according to ESPN.com.
Both of those incidents occurred while Simon was playing for the New York Islanders. But it was an incident that occurred at the beginning of Simon's second season in Washington that no one could have predicted.
Here is a brief report of the incident in question, and the resulting disciplinary action, as compiled by The Los Angeles Times:
Chris Simon's racial slur will cost the Washington Capital forward $36,585 in salary after he was suspended for three games by the league Tuesday. Simon, an American Indian of the Ojibwa tribe, directed the remark at Mike Grier of the Edmonton Oilers, one of six African American players in the league, at the end of Saturday night's game.
Grier himself, who would eventually become Simon's teammate in Washington for a brief period, summed up the incident best, when speaking to The Edmonton Sun (via Philly.com):
That's what's strange to me. I didn't expect it to come from another minority. It's just a little more shocking.
Who would have ever guessed that Chris Simon's words would cause more harm than his deeds?
Alexander Semin drove opponents mad while playing in Washington from 2003-2012.
Yet he also drove the Capitals mad with his unpredictable nature, and it ultimately led to his departure from the team.
In 469 games with the Capitals, Semin was very productive. He is still fifth in franchise history in goals with 197. Semin ranks ahead of several notable players who required more games with the franchise to set their goal marks, including Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, Bobby Carpenter and Michal Pivonka.
But Semin never attained the goal-scoring heights the Capitals hoped for when they selected him 13th overall in the 2002 NHL Draft. Semin was a 30-goal scorer twice, and a 40-goal scorer once, but he never reached the 50-goal plateau. He certainly had the skills, but not the consistency.
The 2010-11 season is an excellent example of Semin's unpredictable nature.
Semin scored 28 goals in 65 games, for an average of 0.43 goals per game, according to Hockey-Reference.com. That was the fourth-best mark of his seven seasons with the Caps.
But a closer inspection of the 2010-11 season reveals just how inconsistent Semin could be.
Semin posted four hat tricks during that season. Therefore, Semin scored 12 of his total goals in only four games, and the remaining 16 of his total goals in 61 games. Excluding the four hat tricks, Semin's goals per game average would have been 0.26 goals per game, the worst in his career other than his rookie season.
The playoffs were even more maddening for Caps fans.
In 51 games over eight playoff series with Washington, Semin scored 15 goals for a respectable 0.29 points per game. However, there were three entire playoff series in which Semin failed to score a single goal. All three of those series went to seven games, and all three resulted in a Capitals' defeat.
Opposing players could predict with certainty how Dale Hunter would play against them. They knew it would be an unpleasant experience.
Hunter amassed 3,565 penalty minutes, the second most in NHL history. He compiled at least 100 penalty minutes in each of his 19 seasons, and at least 200 penalty minutes in 11 of them.
Over the course of 1,407 career games, his 3,565 penalty minutes average out to 2:32 penalty minutes per game.
Put a different way, Hunter averaged one fight for every 10 games he played, according to HockeyFights.com.
But these fights did not occur on a set schedule. Hunter was consistent, not predictable.
The same can be said for Hunter's actions on April 28, 1993, against the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Patrick Division Semifinals. Christine Brennan of The Washington Post aptly described the incident at the time:
With 8 ½ minutes remaining, Dale Hunter, who should have been remembered as the star of this series for Washington, delivered one of the cheapest shots you'll ever see. Angry because New York's Pierre Turgeon scored to put the Islanders ahead 5-1, Hunter plowed him into the boards, leaving him with a separated shoulder. Turgeon left the arena in a sling and will be out up to six weeks, the Islanders said. Apparently, Hunter decided that if he was going to miss the rest of the playoffs, Turgeon should too. An eye for an eye, NHL-style...After the game, the Capitals closed their locker room to the media, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for this organization...For a club that prides itself on public relations, it was a dismal moment...It was ugly and messy and disgusting, all of it. And it was so unlike the Capitals.
The response by the NHL was predictable. Hunter received a 21-game suspension. At the time, it was the longest suspension in league history, according to ESPN.com.
Hunter's response, on the other hand, was both unforeseen and unfortunate, as told to Sandra McKee of The Baltimore Sun:
I didn't see the puck go in the net. I didn't know he scored, and I was just trying to finish my check. It was a clean check, but he put his arms up just before I hit him, and that was unfortunate. I'm sorry he got hurt. I'd take it back if I could.
Pierre Turgeon was not the only person blindsided by Dale Hunter on that fateful night.
When Jaromir Jagr was traded to the Washington Capitals in the summer of 2001, I was living in Pittsburgh, attending college. Upon hearing of the trade, I ran down the street to where my best friend worked to brag about the transaction to one of his co-workers, a die-hard Pittsburgh Penguins' fan. I told him the Capitals were getting Jagr, and he said the following:
"Good. You can have him."
That guy may have killed the moment, but he was dead right.
Up to that point in his career, Jagr had played all 11 seasons in the Steel City. In that time, he amassed 439 goals, 640 assists and 1,019 points, ranking second in Penguins franchise history in all three categories.
But the player the Capitals got from Pittsburgh was nothing like that. And no one in their right mind could have seen it coming.
To illustrate his unpredictability, take a look at a nine-year period in Jagr's career, covering his last four years in Pittsburgh, his two-and-a-half years in Washington, and the first two-and-a-half years he spent with the New York Rangers. This table shows his point production for each full season, and his resulting NHL rank in that category:
|2005-06||New York Rangers||82||123||2nd|
|2006-07||New York Rangers||82||96||8th|
Jamie Fitzpatrick of About.com may have done an even better job of summing up the Jagr era in Washington, as it came to an end with his trade to the Rangers:
...Jagr's reputation has taken a beating during his two-and-a-half seasons in Washington. He failed to transform the team into a contender and was often accused of being moody and unmotivated. This season's results suggest that Jagr is prone to hot and cold streaks, no longer the consistent game-breaker he was during his Pittsburgh years. He completes his tenure as a Capital with 83 goals and 118 assists in 190 games. Very good numbers, but hardly Jagr-like.
I'm just glad I didn't bet that guy in Pittsburgh on how well Jagr would play while in Washington.
Although I may have won the bet if I had said he would go down as the most unpredictable player in Washington Capitals history.