Fool Me Twice: Kolzig Crushes Capital Legacy With Tampa Bay Lightning

Eli ResnickContributor IJuly 22, 2008

Certainly a hall of fame resume can withstand a brutal campaign where circumstances and salary structure force a rebuilding team to the lowest rungs of the standings, but can it withstand two?

The case has been made many times for Olaf Kolzig's induction into the hall of fame upon his retirement. That case came up a lot last season, as Kolzig helped the Caps to last place in the NHL by Thanksgiving, before picking it up and playing pretty well for a while, but the Hall of Fame case hinged on more than just one up and down season.

Kolzig was one of the last players to spend all of his valuable playing days with one team, the team that drafted him in the first round almost twenty years ago, the team that he led to its only appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, the team with which he won his Vezina trophy as the league's best goaltender almost a decade ago, and the team that repaid him generously with extravagant contracts and unquestioned starter status years after knee injuries took him out of the upper echelon of NHL goaltenders:  the Washington Capitals.

Along the hard road to retirement, Kolzig saw some rough times.  In 2004 the franchise traded away all of its best players and both of its notable defensemen and left him stranded in the net behind a defense whose combined NHL resumes were shorter than his alone.

Kolzig then backstopped the Caps to a record so bad that they drafted Alexander Ovechkin, today's NHL MVP.  Obviously even an above average goaltender could have a terrible record on a team with no experienced defensemen.  It was no knock on Kolzig's skills and in fact he was the only advertisable name left on the roster by the end of the spring of '04. 

As a star who shined bright in the franchise's best times and competed with just as much emotion in its bad times, Kolzig clearly deserved a hall of fame berth on his retirement from the Caps.  It's easy to forgive a goalie who looks bad in helping a team draft the best player available in decades if he comes back and helps the team regain mediocrity afterwards.

Certainly Kolzig helped the Caps play exciting, close games the first year back from the lockout, and he helped them almost make the playoffs the following year, even though it was clear that it hurt him to move at many points throughout the season.  After last year when he split time with Cristobal Huet in helping the Caps get to the playoffs, Kolzig had done everything he needed to do for the hockey faithful to honor his name in Toronto on his retirement.

But he forgot that one last step--his retirement.  Kolzig has left the Capitals in hopes of finding greater ice time with their divisional rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning.  The Washington Post said Kolzig stormed out of the locker room at the end of the playoffs, and took the nameplate from his locker with him.

Sure, he was upset that he didn't get to play much down the stretch or at all during the playoffs, but did he see the way Huet was playing?  Did he remember his own play from most of the season?  The Caps were lucky to have Kolzig as a solid backup if Huet's form suffered, but it didn't.  As close as the series was, no one blames the Caps' loss on goaltending.

No one except Olaf Kolzig.  Kolzig is so upset about being a backup in Washington that this summer, at the end of the contract that he and the team had publicly agreed would take him through his retirement, he didn't even try to negotiate a new contract with Washington.  Instead he's become a backup for a worse team in Tampa Bay.

Worse yet, Tampa Bay followed the signing by trading away both its experienced defensemen to cut costs, so that they can leave Kolzig again exposed behind a defense whose combined NHL resumes are less than half the size of his own.

The Lightning have unquestionably added offensive firepower to try to climb up from the doormat status that just let them pick Steve Stamkos, but with the way they've signed over-the-hill or overrated free agent forwards and gotten rid of capable defensemen, one has to wonder whether Kolzig is there for a reprisal of his heroic triumphs from the spring of 1998, or of his heroic failures from the spring of 2004.