The year before the NHL lockout, the Washington Capitals finished in last place in their division and narrowly escaped being last in the league. The franchise had yet to win a Stanley Cup and had only made a few short lived playoff appearances since their last real chance in 1998 when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. A change was needed, and the Caps saw this change in Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin was drafted first overall by Washington before the beginning of the 2005/06 season. He was going to have a team built around him; he was going to be the savior.
In the early 1980’s the Detroit Red Wings were not playing well—in fact they had not in a very long time. Their last Cup came by way of the Production Line in 1954/55. Under new owners Mike and Miriam Illitch, the Wings were bound to change their losing reputation by drafting Steve Yzerman as their first pick in the 1983/84 draft. He was the first step, and the key to rebuilding a franchise.
Both these players found great success in their NHL debuts. Steve Yzerman tallied for second place as a Calder Trophy nominee given "to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League." Ovechkin would go on to win the trophy just over two decades later.
Despite their personal triumphs as rookies, their teams still suffered. The Wings slid into the playoffs but were knocked out quickly. The Caps yet again finished last in their division. For years to come, both players would lead their teams in points and be granted captaincy very early in their careers. Yet, their team’s win/loss record did not significantly change.
Detroit’s records were improving, but it was simply not enough. In 1993/94 they hired Scotty Bowman who was already considered one of the best coaches in the game. Bowman took immediate action by turning Steve Yzerman from a record breaking point scorer, into a complete two-way player.
Over the next few years Bowman made moves to secure solid goaltending with Chris Osgood backing up Mike Vernon. He also pumped up his offense, adding veteran Brendan Shanahan and creating the Russian 5, which paired veteran Russian players with younger All-Stars such as Sergei Fedorov.
In Bowman’s first season he brought the Wings to the playoffs only to be ousted in the first round. In his second season in Detroit, Bowman aided the Wings to the Stanley Cup finals which ultimately ended in disappointment.
The following 1995/96 season brought the President’s Trophy - given to the team that finishes with the most points at the end of the regular season. The Wings amassed 131 points and set a current NHL record with 62 regular season wins. Bowman would win the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year for the accomplishments of this season.
Finally, in 1996/97 the Detroit Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. They would repeat this task the following year by beating the Capitals.
On Thanksgiving Day of the 2007/08 season, the Washington Capitals replaced their current coach with Bruce Boudreau. His first game as head coach broke a five game losing streak for the Caps. Before the trade deadline, the Caps added Cristobal Huet to secure their net and added a now seasoned Sergei Fedorov to bring a veteran presence to the dominance of rookie Nicklas Backstrom and still young Alexander Ovechkin.
Boudreau was able to finish the season by bringing Washington to the playoffs and winning a Jack Adams Award for himself.
Boudreau brought his team to Game 7 of the quarterfinals in 2008/09 season but fell to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bringing on the 2009/10 season, Ovechkin took on a role change. He became captain and began playing a two way game. This ended up being a President’s Trophy winning season for the Capitals, the first in franchise history.
The Capitals would eventually be knocked out of the playoffs in seven games of the first round. 2010/11 was a conference clinching season however, yet again; all Cup hopes were thwarted when the Caps were swept in the semifinals.
As the 2011/12 season has reached its second half Boudreau may have been replaced however, Alexander Ovechkin is still trying to make a full transition into a complete two way player.
He is a few years into a 13-year contract with the Washington Capitals, which all but ensures he remains the poster boy of the club for the great majority of his career. Not to mention the help he will receive out of the 10-year contract awarded to Backstrom. Holding on to such talent is crucial to a successful team—much like what Detroit did with lifelong Red Wing’s Steve Yzerman and still active Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Caps may feel a bit of a playoff curse however, looking back to the 1990’s Detroit Red Wings; it only seems like a short matter of time before Washington sees its first of many Stanley Cups.