Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals (colloquially known as the Caps) are an official ice hockey team that is based within Washington, D.C. The team is part of the National Hockey League (NHL) as an affiliate of the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference and is owned by Monumental Sports & Entertainment, headed by Ted Leonsis. The Capitals initially played their regular home fixtures at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland prior to their move into the arena now known as Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. in 1997.

The Capitals were established in 1974 as an expansion franchise along with that of Kansas City Scouts, and had a difficult start in its eight years of existence. Then, in 1982 David Poile was hired as general manager, and was able to turn the fortunes of the franchise around. With a core group of players such as Mike Gartner, Rod Langway, Larry Murphy, and Scott Stevens, the Capitals began to be a regular playoff contender over the course of the next 14 seasons. After the team was bought by Leonsis from the 1999 season, Leonsis rejuvenated the organization by drafting stars such as Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby. The 2009-10 Capitals received the franchise’s inaugural Presidents’ Trophy . It was awarded to one of the teams with the most points at the close of the regular season. They were awarded it for the twice in 2015-16, and for the third time the following season in 2016-17. In addition to 12 division titles , and three Presidents’ Trophies, the Capitals have reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998 and again in 2018, winning the second.

The Capitals have ceased using the number of four numbers, in honor to four player. The team also holds an association with a variety of players that were inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame. The Capitals are currently associated with two minor league based teams, the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League and the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.

History

Early years (1974-1982)

The NHL granted the expansion franchise of the city Washington the 8th of June, 1972 and the Capitals joined in the NHL as an expansion team in 1974-75, along together with Kansas City Scouts. They were owned by Capitals were owned by Abe Pollin (also owner of the National Basketball Association’s Washington Bullets/Wizards). Pollin had constructed the Capital Centre in suburban Landover, Maryland, to house both the Bullets (who were previously in Baltimore) as well as the Capitals. His first move as owner was to hire Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt to be the general manager.

With a combined 30 teams between both the NHL in addition to the World Hockey Association (WHA) and the WHA, talent was thin. The Capitals did not have many players with experience in professional sports and were at a disadvantage when compared to teams with long histories that were stocked with veteran players. The Capitals were like the other three teams that joined the league in the WHA era — the Scouts (later then the Colorado Rockies and now the New Jersey Devils), Atlanta Flames (now playing in Calgary) and the New York Islanders–the Capitals did not consider the future for the opposing league when they planned their teams.

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Two hockey players with full helmets and pads on the surface, both moving along with two more behind them.

The Capitals’ first season was terrible, even by the standards of expansion. They ended up with almost the worst overall record in the league, at 8-67-5; their 21 points were just half of their expansion counterparts that are the Scouts. The eight wins were the lowest of an NHL team that played more than 70 games while the .131 winning percentage is still the lowest in NHL history. Also, they set new records for the most loss on the road (39 from 40) and the most straight road loss (37) and the most losing streaks (17). Head coach Jim Anderson said, “I’d rather find out my wife was cheating on me than keep losing like this. At least I could tell my wife to cut it out.” Schmidt himself was required to assume the coaching duties late in the season.

In 1975-76, Washington had a streak of 25 games without a loss and gave up 394 goals en making for a horrible record 11-59-10 (32 points). At the end of the year, Schmidt was replaced as general manager by Max McNab and as head coach by Tom McVie. The remainder of the 1970s and early 1980s, the Capitals went through a series of terrible seasons and finished just a few points out of their Stanley Cup playoffs; in the years 1980 and 1981, for instance they were in playoff contention until the very end that season. The one bright spot throughout those years of insanity was that many of McNab’s draft picks (e.g., Rick Green, Ryan Walter, Mike Gartner, Bengt Gustafsson, Gaetan Duchesne, and Bobby Carpenter) would impact the team for many years to come, either as important members of the team or essential pieces in major trades.

Pollin was a consistent player throughout the Capitals in the first decade of their existence, even when they usually just barely competitive. They were in sharp contrast to the Scouts which were forced to move to Denver after only two years due to the fact that their original owners had no resources or patience to withstand the pressures of an expanding team. By the season of 1982 there was a serious discussion of the team’s relocation out into the U.S. capital and the “Save the Caps” campaign was in the works. Two significant events took place to revive the team.

Gartner-Langway era (1982-1993)

First, the team hired David Poile as general manager. In his first move, Poile pulled off one of the biggest deals in franchise history on September 9, 1982 when he sold long-time team members Ryan Walter and Rick Green to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Rod Langway (named captain only a few weeks later), Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin. This move turned the franchise around, as Langway’s solid defense allowed the team dramatically decrease their goals-against. In addition, the prolific goal-scoring of Dennis Maruk, Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter fueled the offensive attack. Another noteworthy move was drafting of defenseman Scott Stevens during the 1982 NHL Entry Draft (the pick was taken by the interim head of the general management Roger Crozier, prior to Poile’s appointment). The result was a jump of 29 points which led to a third-place finish within the highly competitive Patrick Division, and the team’s first playoff appearance in 1983. While they lost to the three-time-defending (and the eventual) Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders (three games to one), the Caps’ spectacular turnaround put to rest all talk of the club going out of Washington.

Fourteen consecutive playoff appearances (1983-1996)

The Capitals would qualify for playoffs for each of the next 14 years in succession, becoming well-known for their slow start prior to catching fire in January and February. However, the team’s success during the regular season did not carry into the playoffs. Despite a steady stream of superstars like Gartner, Carpenter, Langway, Gustafsson, Stevens, Mike Ridley, Dave Christian, Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy, and Kevin Hatcher, Washington was lost in either the second or first round seven times in seven years in a row. In 1985-86, as an example, the Caps had 107 points and won 50 games for the first time in the history of the franchise making them their third-best record in NHL. They beat the Islanders during the opening round but was eliminated at the end of the round against they were defeated by the New York Rangers.

The 1986-87 season brought even more pain, including losing against Islanders Islanders on the Patrick Division Semifinals. The series was concluded by the legendary Easter Epic game, which concluded at 1:56am on Easter Sunday in 1987. The Capitals have dominated the majority of the game, outshooting the Islanders 75-52. The game was lost in overtime after goalie Bob Mason was beaten on a Pat LaFontaine shot from the blue line. In 1989, for the playoff push, Gartner and Murphy were given for the Minnesota North Stars in exchange for Ciccarelli and defenseman Bob Rouse. But, the goaltending fell short and they were eliminated in the first round by Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals were able to make their way to the Wales Conference Finals in 1990 however they lost in four games at the hands of the first-place Boston Bruins.

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