Ranking the 5 Best Scoring Defensemen in Washington Capitals History
Defensemen have to be involved in their team's offense, otherwise every offensive shift would be a three-on-five. Try scoring consistently with that disadvantage. So, contrary to the so-called hockey "experts," offensive-minded defensemen are a blessing, not a curse.
The Washington Capitals have had some very good offensive defensemen throughout their history.
But which ones can be considered the best of this group?
Here now are the five best scoring defensemen in Washington Capitals history. Each player will be ranked solely on the basis of his regular-season goals-per-game average (minimum 50 goals scored), with his postseason goals-per-game average included as a reference.
Also included is the percentage of each player's goals that were scored on the power play, to help illustrate the importance of the man advantage to a scoring defenseman.
Note: All statistics updated through Jan. 26 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
5. Larry Murphy: 1983-1989
The man who assisted on the biggest goal in Caps history was a pretty big goal scorer himself.
4. Mike Green: 2005-2014
Mike Green may eventually hold all the major goal-scoring records for Washington Capitals' blueliners when all is said and done. For now, Green must settle for being named the fourth-best scoring defenseman in franchise history.
Green has scored at least 10 goals four times in his eight complete seasons in Washington. In 2009-10, Green became only the second Washington defender to reach the 30-goal plateau when he scored 31 goals.
Perhaps more impressively, the 28-year-old Calgary native is already tied for third in Washington Capitals history with his 50 career power-play goals. He also boasts the highest power-play-goal percentage of any member of this list, for both the regular season and postseason.
3. Kevin Hatcher: 1984-1994
Kevin Hatcher never met a shot he didn't like.
Excluding his first season in Washington, in which he only played two games, Hatcher registered at least 100 shots in each of his nine seasons playing for the Capitals. Hatcher registered at least 200 shots in five straight seasons, from 1989-94.
The most trigger-happy of these seasons occurred in 1992-93, when Hatcher set the Capitals' single-season franchise record for shots by a defenseman with 329. He also holds the franchise career mark for shots by a defenseman with 1,863, and is fourth among all skaters on the team's all-time list for shots.
Don't worry. Hatcher's shots were successful from time to time. Hatcher scored at least 10 goals in seven of his nine full seasons, and at least 20 goals twice. Hatcher hit his offensive peak in that 1992-93 season when he scored 34 goals, still a single-season franchise record for goals by a defenseman.
Not surprisingly, Hatcher ranks at or near the top of several significant offensive categories for defensemen in Washington Capitals history. The first of two Michigan natives on this list is first in goals, tied for third in power-play goals, tied for first in short-handed goals and first in game-winning goals.
Good things happen when you shoot the puck.
2. Sergei Gonchar: 1994-2004
It may be strange to think that Sergei Gonchar was once a Washington Capital. After all, the 39-year-old defenseman played for the arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins for four seasons, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. That means he played against the Capitals in the memorable playoff series that spring. Since then, Gonchar also played for the Ottawa Senators for three seasons and is currently a member of the Dallas Stars.
But Gonchar played the first 10 seasons of his NHL career in Washington, after being selected 14th overall in the first round of the 1992 NHL draft. The Russian native was very productive while with the Capitals.
Gonchar tallied double-digit goals in seven of his nine full seasons in Washington, and was twice a 20-goal scorer. Plus, he was surgical on the power play. Of his 144 regular-season goals with the Capitals, 53 were scored on the man advantage. He still leads the Washington Capitals franchise in power-play goals by a defenseman.
1. Al Iafrate: 1990-1994
Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated may have best encapsulated Iafrate's mentality as an artillery officer with a frightening reputation:
At 6'-3", 240-pounds, Iafrate was one of the biggest, strongest men ever to play the game and could he lay the hammer down. He knew he scared goalies with his shot, so he loved to move down into the circle before letting it fly to really put the fear into them. He was the favorite to win the inaugural Hardest Shot competition and delivered a 96 MPH blast to earn the title, but it was what he did the next year that sealed his rep as one of the all-time bombers: a 105.2 MPH rocket that stood unchallenged for 16 years.
Iafrate used this blue-line bazooka to his advantage. He reached double digits in goals in each of his three full seasons in Washington, maxing out at 25 in 1992-93, a career high. That same season, the Michigander set another career high with 11 power-play goals. For his efforts in 1992-93, Iafrate ranks fourth in goals among the Capitals' single-season leaders for defensemen, and fifth in power-play goals.
Iafrate was no less effective during the postseason. In fact, he more than doubled his goals-per-game average and power-play goals-per-game average in the playoffs. The 1992-93 edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs were again his finest hour, when he scored six goals in the final three games of a six-game series against the New York Islanders. This onslaught included a playoff hat trick in Game 5.
Now, it may be hard to believe that Iafrate is the best scoring defenseman in Capitals history. After all, he only ranks eighth among Washington's regular-season career leaders for defensemen in both goals and power-play goals. And among Capitals postseason defensive leaders, Iafrate only ranks fourth in goals and seventh in power-play goals.
But all that is pretty impressive considering he ranks 22nd among Washington defensemen in career games played. Imagine the number of franchise scoring records Iafrate would own if he played more than three-and-a-half seasons in Washington.
If Iafrate had played longer for the Capitals, we might also have more photographic evidence of that epic comb-over mullet. Savor the little we have.