Ranking the 5 Most Beloved Figures in Washington Capitals History
Like many other teams around the National Hockey League, the Washington Capitals have had a number of players establish themselves as fan favorites, through both their performances on the ice and their actions off of it.
Things didn't come easily to the Capitals during the franchise's early years, but from those trying times emerged the first generation of Washington hockey heroes, and since then, the team has enjoyed more than a handful of extremely memorable players, each making their respective mark on the D.C. sports scene.
Heading into the 39th year of Capitals hockey, here's a look at the five most beloved figures in franchise history.
5. Peter Bondra
In an ideal world, Peter Bondra would be higher on this list, because few contributed more to the organization over an extended period of time than the Slovakian sniper.
After bursting onto the scene with 37 goals in 1993-94, Bondra exploded to lead the league in goals during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign, as the speedy winger posted 34 goals in just 47 games.
It wouldn't be the last time the eventual 500-goal man would lead the league in goals, as Bondra would duplicate the feat three seasons later, potting 52 goals, and more importantly, he helped the Caps to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final berth that spring.
Overall, Bondra's speed (he won the NHL's fastest skater competition at the NHL All-Star Game twice), skill and flair for the dramatic made him a fan favorite in D.C., and for the better part of the 1990s, he was the team's only marketable star.
He may not hold many Capitals records by the time Alex Ovechkin retires, but someday soon, Bondra's No. 12 will hang from the rafters at the Verizon Center.
4. Rod Langway
Back in the early 1980s, the Caps were a team without a clear sense of direction, and that's a big reason why the club had missed the postseason in each of its first eight seasons of existence.
But that all changed in 1982, when Washington acquired rugged rearguard Rod Langway, who instantly transformed the Capitals into a perennial power. The team didn't miss the postseason once during Langway's 11 years wearing the red, white and blue.
Langway's impact on the Caps was so obvious that he was awarded the Norris Trophy as the game's best defenseman in each of his first two years in D.C., and he earned six total All-Star Game selections along the way.
Most importantly, Langway changed the culture of the entire organization. No longer were the Capitals a doormat for the rest of the league, and in large part, they had their longtime captain and future Hall of Fame inductee Rod Langway to thank for that.
3. Alex Ovechkin
In all likelihood, Alex Ovechkin will end his time in Washington a few spots higher on this list, because it's not hyperbolic to say that he's already had the most decorated career of any player in team history.
He's the only Capital to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP, which he's done three times. He's Washington's only scoring champion and Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner, but most importantly, he's the franchise's first true superstar.
For a time, Ovechkin was arguably the best player in the game, and at least for the time being, he remains the league's most dangerous scorer, which is certainly a quality that earns admiration and support from the fans.
Yes, it's true that Ovechkin's teams have repeatedly fallen short in the postseason, but that's simply not something one can put on the captain's shoulders because the Russian sniper has been almost as good during the playoffs, posting 61 points in 58 career games.
Still just 27, there's plenty of time for Ovechkin to mount a couple of deep postseason runs, possibly picking up another Hart or two along the way.
Regardless of whether he actually brings D.C. the city's first Cup, the excitement and energy he singularly brings out of the Verizon Center faithful is enough of an indication of how much Washington adores its first legitimate NHL legend.
2. Dale Hunter
Though Langway may have been the Capitals' most effective captain in terms of playing ability prior to Ovechkin's arrival in D.C., Dale Hunter has to be considered the most revered leader in team history.
A hard-nosed forward with an underrated amount of offensive skill, Hunter tallied at least 70 points seven times and brought more energy and grit to the table than virtually any other productive center in the game.
Though Islanders fans will undoubtedly remember Hunter for his cheap shot on Pierre Turgeon in 1993, Capitals faithful will always regard the longtime captain as the guy who led Washington on its deepest postseason run in franchise history.
Towards the end of Hunter's career, which spanned nearly two decades, his offensive output slowed considerably, but his mere presence was comforting to fans and teammates, because nobody played harder than No. 32.
Ultimately, Hunter may be best remembered for scoring one of the biggest goals in team history, as the future 1000-point man notched the overtime-winning goal in Game 7 of the 1988 Patrick Division Semifinal to eliminate the hated Philadelphia Flyers.
1. Olaf Kolzig
In the mid-1990s, Jim Carey was widely considered to be the Capitals' goaltender of the future, especially after the young stopper captured the 1996 Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie.
But Carey's play soon went into a rapid decline, and he was dealt to Boston for a package consisting of former Cup-winning goalie Bill Ranford, Rick Tocchet and future captain and current head coach Adam Oates.
Though Ranford would take over the starting role, an injury early in the 1997-98 season provided unproven South African-born Olaf Kolzig a chance to be the No. 1.
From there, all Kolzig did was dominate the rest of the league and lead the Caps to the 1998 Final, announcing his arrival as one of hockey's elite goaltenders.
Two years later, Kolzig would join Carey as the only Capitals goaltenders to capture the Vezina Trophy, but what's most impressive about Kolzig's career is how consistently he was able to provide the Caps with stability in between the pipes.
He posted seven seasons with at least 25 wins, led Washington to three division crowns and finished his 15-year career with the organization as the franchise leader in virtually every meaningful goaltending category.
Off the ice, Kolzig was always a positive influence in the community, serving as a founding member of Athletes Against Autism, and was an outstanding role model in the D.C. area.
Nowadays, the two-time All-Star serves as a goaltending consultant to the Capitals, but fans will not soon forget how much the big netminder did for the franchise and the city as a whole over the course of his illustrious career.
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