Washington Capitals: 25 Best Players in Team History, from Langway to Ovechkin
It’s hard to believe that the Washington Capitals have been around for nearly 40 years. In the 1970s, the Caps were undeniably bad, and the city nearly lost the team. But now Washington enjoys one of the best home ice crowds in the league, and the Caps’ best player, Alex Ovechkin, is likely the greatest player in franchise history.
For the last three decades, the Caps have been largely successful in the regular season, though they have only gone deep in the playoffs twice – reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 1990 and the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. The Caps have had many great players over the years, but they have never quite had enough to win it all.
As the Caps begin playoff action for the 23rd time in the last 29 years, Bleacher Report takes a look at the 25 greatest Capitals of all time. Five former Caps are in the NHL Hall of Fame, but only three made the top ten on this list. Longevity with the franchise was a consideration in addition to effectiveness.
The top players on this list are among the best players in NHL history. If the list shows us anything, it might be that a lack of star goalies has been one of the missing ingredients for a franchise that has yet to win a Stanley Cup.
Jim Carey, G; Bobby Carpenter, F; Sylvain Cote, D; John Druce, F; Gaetan Duchesne, F; Bobby Gould, F; Jeff Halpern, F; Alan Haworth, F; Jaromir Jagr, F; Doug Jarvis, F; Joe Juneau, F; Dmitri Khristich, F; Steve Konowalchuk, F; Brooks Laich, F; Craig Laughlin, F; Clint Malarchuk, G; Larry Murphy, D; Andrei Nikolishin, F; Pete Peeters, G; Robert Picard, D; Alexander Semin, F; Chris Simon, F; Ryan Walter, F; Brendan Witt, D; Richard Zednik, F; Dainius Zubrus, F
25. Al Iafrate, D
The last player on this list may have been the most entertaining. Al “Wild Thing” Iafrate had size, speed, and one of the hardest shots in the league. In 1992-93 the defenseman had 66 points, as the Caps set a record for most points by defensemen on one team. That same season, Iafrate won the fastest shot competition at the All-Star game, clocking in at 105 mph. One of the last of a dying breed, Iafrate sometimes smoked in the locker room between periods.
24. Pat Riggin, G; Al Jensen, G (tie)
Riggin ended his Caps career with a 3.02 goals against average, despite playing in the high-scoring 1980s. Jensen’s 94 wins are third-most in Capitals history. In 1983-84 Riggin and Jensen won the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against.
23. Dave Christian, F
Christian, who won a gold medal as part of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, is sixth in Caps history with 193 goals. Christian holds the NHL mark for the fastest goal by a player in his first game, scoring just 7 seconds into his first shift as a Winnipeg Jet.
22. Adam Oates, F
Oates led the Caps with 17 points during the 1998 playoffs when they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit. More of a setup man than a scorer, Oates played parts of six seasons with the Caps and has over 1,000 career assists.
21. Mike Green, D
Green, a two-time Norris Award runner-up, has been a major part of the Caps' young nucleus the last five seasons. When healthy, he’s one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
20. Dino Ciccarelli, F
The Hall of Famer, who played parts of four seasons for the Caps, scored eight goals in the 1990 playoffs when Washington made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time. The fan favorite scored 41 goals that season.
19. Don Beaupre, G
The goalie with the second-most wins in franchise history (128), Beaupre was 4-3 with a 2.69 GAA in the 1990 playoffs. He led the league with five shutouts in 1990-91.
18. Yvon Labre, D
Labre is one of four Caps to have his jersey retired. The defenseman held down the fort for the Caps in the late 1970s. Fans and reporters marveled at his determination despite playing on terrible teams.
17. Sergei Gonchar, D
Gonchar was one of the Caps’ best offensive defensemen of the 1990s. Four times he tallied more than 50 points. In 1998-99, 13 of his 21 goals came on the power play.
16. Dennis Maruk, F
Maruk still has the second-highest goal total in a single season in Caps history. He scored 60 in 1981-82, third in the NHL behind Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.
15. Mike Ridley, F
Ridley ranks fourth in goals and eighth in assists in Caps history. The reliable Ridley’s best season was 1988-89 when he tallied 89 points.
14. Kelly Miller, F
In 1987 the Caps pulled off a trade that netted them forwards Kelly Miller and Mike Ridley for Bobby Carpenter. Both parts of the duo experienced long-term success with Washington and symbolized the hard-working Caps. Miller ranks third in games played for Washington.
13. Guy Charron, F
Initially considered too small for the NHL, Charron provided scoring punch for the often punchless Caps of the late 1970s. He scored 129 goals during his four best seasons with the Caps and didn’t miss a game during his first three seasons with Washington.
12. Calle Johansson, D
Johansson, a solid as a rock defenseman, is the Caps’ all-time leader in games played with 983. He played with Rod Langway and current Cap Jeff Halpern. Five times Johansson had more than 30 assists for the Caps, but he also was a scrappy stay-at-home defenseman. Johansson scored two goals and had eight assists during the Caps’ 1998 Stanley Cup Finals run.
11. Michal Pivonka, F
Consistency and toughness are two words that describe Pivonka, who played all of his 13 NHL seasons with the Caps. Pivonka is the Caps’ all-time leader in assists with 418. In 1986 he defected to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) and became a mainstay of teams that made the playoffs in 11 of his 13 seasons.
10. Nicklas Backstrom, F
Backstrom, the fourth overall choice in the 2006 NHL entry draft, justified his selection right away with 69 points as a rookie in 2007-’08. A superb playmaker, Backstrom topped the 100-point mark two seasons later with 101 but missed half of the 2011-'12 season with a concussion. His value to the team was validated when Washington almost missed the playoffs this year. If they stay healthy, Ovechkin and Backstrom will continue to be one of the league’s best 1-2 punches for years to come.
9. Bengt Gustafsson, F
A natural scorer with elite puck-handling skills, Gustafsson spent all nine of his NHL seasons with the Caps. He had more than 60 points in six seasons. Gustafsson had a five-goal game against Philadelphia in 1984. In 1986, Gustafsson’s leg was broken after a cheap shot by Denis Potvin of the Islanders. After leaving the Caps, Gustafsson played another decade in Europe, then coached Sweden to gold medals at the 2006 Olympics and 2006 World Championships.
8. Kevin Hatcher, D
One of the Caps’ many great offensive defensemen, Hatcher was also an excellent all-around player. He played in D.C. from 1985 to 1994, appearing in three All-Star games as a Capital. The Caps never missed the playoffs while Hatcher was on the team. The lanky Hatcher’s best season for Washington was 1992-93 when he scored 34 goals and had 45 assists. Hatcher was one of the Caps’ leaders on the power play.
7. Scott Stevens, D
Another Hall of Famer, Stevens played his first eight seasons for Washington. Stevens was an excellent defender, fearsome hitter, and skillful set-up man, notching 60 assists twice for the Caps. The team even reportedly considered moving him to forward. When Stevens left via free agency in 1990, the Caps got several players as compensation, including Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt. But Stevens went on to win three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils.
6. Olaf Kolzig, G
Kolzig was the No. 1 goalie for the Caps from 1998 to 2008, leading Washington to the Stanley Cup finals in ’98 with four playoff shutouts. Olie the Goalie, a.k.a. “Godzilla,” won the Vezina Trophy in 2000 as the league’s best goalie. The 6’4” Kolzig won 301 games with the Caps, more than twice as many as the Caps’ second best goalie (Don Beaupre had 128).
5. Mike Gartner, F
The classy Hall of Fame forward played nine of his 20 seasons in Washington, scoring more than 40 goals five times, with a high of 50 in 1984-85. Gartner was the Eddie Murray of hockey. He never had more than 50 goals, but the consistent Gartner never had fewer than 68 points for the Caps. Gartner, one of the fastest players in the NHL, scored 397 goals for the Caps, behind only Peter Bondra.
4. Dale Hunter, F
The current Caps coach was a gritty, intense two-way player who had the second-most penalty minutes in NHL history. Hunter scored one of the most famous goals in franchise history, the overtime game-winner in Game 7 versus the Philadelphia Flyers in a 1988 opening round playoff series. The Caps made the playoffs in 10 of the 12 seasons Hunter played for them. His never-say-die attitude symbolized the Caps of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
3. Peter Bondra, F
The sharpshooting winger with elite straight-ahead speed and spectacular shot-making ability holds the Caps’ record for most career hat tricks with 19. Bonzai played 14 seasons for Washington starting in 1990, twice scoring more than 50 goals and twice leading the NHL in goals. The unassuming sniper made five All-Star teams and scored 503 career goals, 30 in the playoffs. Bondra is the Caps’ all-time leader in goals, power play goals, shorthanded goals, and game-winning goals. Surprisingly, Bondra’s jersey isn’t hanging in the rafters at Verizon Center, but it should be.
2. Rod Langway, D
The trade that brought Langway to the Caps in 1982 was the greatest deal in franchise history and may have saved the franchise. The Caps had never made the playoffs before acquiring Langway. With Langway, they made the playoffs all 11 seasons he was on the team. For nine consecutive seasons, Langway had a positive plus-minus ratio. The two-time Norris Award-winner and Hall of Famer was the ultimate defensive defenseman.
1. Alexander Ovechkin, F
The 26-year-old Russian star has led the Caps to five consecutive playoff appearances, won two MVP trophies, and has four of the top five Caps’ single-season scoring performances. Possessing size, power, and speed, Ovie plays with a physical, sometimes reckless style. After goals, the effusive Ovechkin often jumps into the glass with teammates to celebrate. Ovechkin has more 50-goal seasons than any other Capital (four), and he set a Caps record with 528 shots on goal in 2008-09. Even though his production has dropped the past two seasons, Ovechkin is still among the most feared offensive players in the NHL and one of the biggest stars in the league.