The Washington Capitals (colloquially known as the Caps) are a professional ice hockey team based in Washington, D.C. The team competes in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference, and is owned by Monumental Sports & Entertainment, headed by Ted Leonsis. The Capitals initially played their home games at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, before moving to the arena now known as Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. in 1997.
The Capitals were founded in 1974 as an expansion franchise, alongside the Kansas City Scouts, and struggled throughout its first eight years of existence. In 1982, David Poile was hired as general manager, helping to turn the franchise's fortunes around. With a core of players such as Mike Gartner, Rod Langway, Larry Murphy, and Scott Stevens, the Capitals became a regular playoff contender for the next fourteen seasons. After purchasing the team in 1999, Leonsis revitalized the franchise by drafting star players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby. The 2009–10 Capitals won the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy for being the team with the most points at the end of the regular season.They won it a second time in 2015–16, and for a 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 2018, winning in the latter.
The bleeding era
The Capitals joined the National Hockey League as an expansion team for the 1974-75 NHL season, along with the Kansas City Scouts. Originally, they were owned by Abe Pollin who also owned the Washington Bullets of the NBA. He had a new arena built in Landover, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, in order to house both the Caps and the Bullets. With Milt Schmidt as the franchise's first general manager and Jim Anderson as its first head coach, the Caps made their debuts in 1974.
With the NHL hastily planting new teams in new cities in order to counter the World Hockey Association, who were acting similarly, a shortage of highly skilled players had to be expected. The Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders had previously had to deal with such a shortage two years before; by the time the Caps and Scouts arrived, the situation was even worse. As a result, both teams were filled with players who, for the most part, lacked professional experience; this situation was obviously a disadvantage against the sixteen other teams in the league. As a result, the Capitals' inaugural season was a real nightmare. Dreadful even by expansion standards, the Caps finished the season with a dismal 8–67–5 record, good for 21 points, far and away the worst record in the league. Even their fellow Scouts, who were all but stellar themselves, could still manage twice as many points during that time. The .131 winning percentage still holds as the all-time NHL's worst winning percentage in history. Among the other sad records they established, were the record for the most road losses (39 out of 40), most consecutive road losses (37) and most consecutive losses. If the first two records still last as of today, the latter was tied by the 1992–93 San Jose Sharks. Coach 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." Anderson stepped out before the end of the season; Milt Schmidt found himself replacing him behind the bench late in the season.
1975-76 was barely better than the previous. With 25 straight games without a win and a 394 goals against record, the Capitals were en route to a 11–59–10 record, good for 32 points. Max McNab was hired as GM during the season, and Tom McVie took the coaching job. Greg Joly, the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft's first pick overall, who was expected to become a franchise player, failed to live up to the expectations and was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings after the season. Washington fared little better during the next few seasons; they would alternate between dreadful seasons and promising ones where they'd finish just a few points out of the playoffs. But this era, no matter how futile on the ice, had one bright spot. With all the bad seasons and the early draft picks, McNab selected several excellent players (Rick Green, Ryan Walter, Mike Gartner, Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, Gaetan Duchesne and Bobby Carpenter, to name a few) who would change the face of the team in the 1980's, whether by their performance on the ice or by their involvement in major trades. However, the team's overall horrendous performances made talks of a move away from the US capital very serious by the end of 1982; something had to be done to keep the team home. A "Save the Caps" campaign was underway, and two significant events changed the franchise's destiny.
The first such event was the hiring of David Poile as general manager. The second was the first move he did. Poile managed to pull off one of the biggest trade in the history of the Capitals on September 9th 1982 by trading Rick Green and Ryan Walter, who were both long time regulars in Washington, to the Montreal Canadiens for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin.
This move literally turned the Caps into another team. Langway's reliability on the blue line solved one of the problems of the team: its enormous number of goals against. The arrival of Scott Stevens, drafted in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, also was a key factor. At the other end of the ice, Dennis Maruk, Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter went into a goal-scoring frenzy, solving another of the Caps problems. The result was no less than a 29 points jump, which propelled the Caps to a third place in the powerful Patrick Division - this strong result ensured them a first time playoffs participation in almost a decade of existence. They fell to the three-time-defending Stanley Cup champions, the New York Islanders, but still, that was one giant step in the right direction, a step that was enough to shut all the moving talks.
Following this era of mediocrity came a new era of regular season abundance, which had them participate in the playoffs for the next fourteen seasons. If the team usually started the season prety slowly, the Capitals usually ignited in January or February. But regular season success is not warrant of playoffs success; the Caps illustrated it well by failing to advance very far in the playoffs. The Capitals did not lack star players, with the likes of Gartner, Carpenter, Langway, Gustafsson, Mike Ridley, Dave Christian, Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy or Kevin Hatcher, but they still were knocked out of the playoffs in the first or second round of the playoffs for eight years in a row. This resulted in some heartbreaking moments, such as 1985-86, where the team, after finishing the season with 50 wins and 107 points, both franchise records, were kicked out of the playoffs by the New York Rangers in the second round.
The next season, another such moment happened, perhaps even a worse one than the previous season, when Washington faced the Islanders in the Patrick Division Semifinal. This series was capped off by a classic, the Easter Epic game, which ended at 1:56 am on Easter Sunday 1987. After a thorough domination by the Capitals, who outshoot New York 75-52, they still lost in overtime after goaltender Bob Mason let a blue line shot by Pat Lafontaine in. With Gartner and Murphy traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse, the Caps underwent the 1989 NHL playoffs with confidence, but again faltered due to poor goaltending, which led to a first round ousting by the Philadelphia Flyers. They finally reached the Wales Conference in 1990, only to be swept in four games by the Boston Bruins.
The 1990's: a continuing story
New stars were on the rise in Washington in the 1990's. Forwards Peter Bondra and Joé Juneau and defenceman Sergei Gonchar joined an aging core of players, hoping to bring the Caps to the ultimate goal. In 1993, Washington was favourite for a win over the Islanders in the first round, yet were upset in six games. The Isles' win was darkened by a gesture from Dale Hunter, who out of frustration checked by behind New York's Pierre Turgeon after he had scored the series-clinching goal. Turgeon awkwardly fell on the ice and suffered a separated shoulder; he had to miss the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This move earned Hunter a 21 games suspension, to be served from the first game of next season. At the time, no suspension for an on-ice incident had ever lasted that long in NHL history.
A first championship: the Eastern Conference's
In 1998, after 24 years of existence, the Capitals, led by a strong 52 goals season by Peter Bondra, by Hunter, Juneau and Adam Oates who retrieved their youth's form and Olaf Kölzig who maintained a solid .920 save percentage, finally managed to achieve an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. The Capitals defeated the Bruins, the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres en route to their first (and to date only) Stanley Cup finals appearance. In order to achieve this, they had to win six overtime goals (three against both Boston and Buffalo). But this proved not enough, and the Detroit Red Wings swept them in four games.
That same season, Oates, Phil Housley, and Dale Hunter all scored their 1,000th career point, the only time in NHL history that one team had 3 different players reach that same milestone in a single season.
In 1999, the very year after participating to the Stanley Cup finals, Washington missed the playoffs. Injuries had plagued the team throughout the season. They bounced back the next season, though; they went to win back-to-back Southeast Division titles in 2000 and 2001. Still, both times they fell in the first round to the Penguins. Following the second such occurence, Adam Oates demanded to be traded. The management refused, however; they went even further and stripped him from his captaincy.
Hoping to put an end to their playoffs problems, the Capitals traded three young prospects (Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jaromír Jágr. The five-time Art Ross Trophy winner signed the most lucrative contract in NHL history: $77 millions over seven years (11 millions per season, or approximately $134,000 per game), with an option on an eighth year. However, Jágr failed to live up to the expectations and the Capitals failed not only to defend their division title but also to make the playoffs, and that, despite a winning record. The presence of the superstar however drew record crowds; an average of 17,341 fans showed up every game, and at the end of the season, it's 710,990 fans who attended to the Caps games.
In the summer of 2002, more roster changes were made in order to make it to the Stanley Cup. They signed highly regarded Czech Robert Lang as a free agent, reuniting him with his Pittsburgh teammante Jágr. At first, it seemed to have worked. Washington was back to the playoffs in 2003. They met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and gave themselves a 2-0 lead in the series after two matches. Still, they managed to lose the series in six games; game six went into triple overtime at the MCI Center; Washington lost on a power play goal, a power play caused by a blunder by Jason Doig who skated on the ice too early, resulting in a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty against the Caps.
Return to the abysses
In 2003-04, the Caps unloaded a lot of their very costly talent. That was a cost-cutting spree, but also an acknowledgement that they had failed at building a Stanley Cup contender team by signing high-priced veterans. Jágr was a disappointment in Washington, failing to figure among the top scorers of the league or be included in the All-Star Team during his Captials tenure. The Caps did try to trade him, but due to his salary, no team was willing to pay so much for an underperformer, especially since there was only a year left to the current CBA (Collective Bargain Agreement). In 2004, the Capitals could finally get rid of him, sending him to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter and an agreement that Washington would pay approximately four million dollars per year of Jagr's salary, with Jagr himself agreeing to defer (with interest) $1 million per year for the remainder of his contract to allow the trade to go ahead. Soon afterwards, Bondra was dealt to the Senators, Lang left for Detroit and Gonchar to Boston. Lang's trade marked the first time in the history of the National Hockey League that the league's leading scorer was traded in the middle of the season. The Capitals ended the year 23–46–10–6, tied for the second worst record, along with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Luck smiled upon the Capitals in 2004. They won the Draft Lottery allowing them to select first overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. They selected Alexander Ovechkin with this pick. With the 2004-05 NHL season completely lost due to the labor dispute between the league and the players, Ovechkin stayed in Russia with Dynamo Moscow. Several other Caps capitalized on the lost season to go play part or all of the season in Europe; these players include Olaf Kölzig (Eisbären Berlin), Brendan Witt (Bracknell Bees) and Jeff Halpern (EHC Kloten and HC Ajoie). In the 2005 summer, they signed Andrew Cassels, Ben Clymer, Mathieu Biron and Jamie Heward and acquired Chris Clark and Jeff Friesen via trade.
The 2005-06 season was filled with promise. They once again were bottom dwellers as they finished the season dead last in the Southeastern Division once again, finishing the season with an unimpressive 29-41-12 record (a 12 points improvement from 2003-04). The Caps still finished 27th overall in the league. However, there were many bright sides that led to think that Washington's pain was something that would end in the near future. Even though they lost more than half of their games, they always fought bitterly to win and were very rarely outclassed - in fact, 42 of the Caps' games were one-goal games. But the brightest spot on the Caps' roster was Alexander Ovechkin. In his rookie season, he finished third overall in scoring (and in goals scored) in the league, scoring 52 goals and collecting 106 points, the kind of performance that had gotten extremely rare for rookies in the modern NHL. He established an NHL rookie record with 425 shots (he was league leader in that chapter) and finished in the books as having given the Caps' second best ever performance by a rookie and his goal total was tied for third best in the team's history. Such dominance was rightly so crowned by the Calder Memorial Trophy, beating another much-hyped player, Sidney Crosby, and defenceman Dion Phaneuf.
His teammates also enjoyed good moments. Lithuanian Dainius Zubrus earned a career-high 57 points, while Jeff Halpern established a personnal mark for assists (33), Matt Pettinger for goals and points (20 and 38, respectively), while several of the younger players on the roster reached the 20 points mark for the first time in their careers. Veteran Olaf Kölzig earned a 250th win in the Caps' nets, while Andrew Cassels became the 204th player to suit play 1,000 NHL games. To make things better, Jeff Halpern, a native of the Washington area, was named captain during the season, a nice first for the team. A notable departure occured on March 8th, on the trade deadline, when Brendan Witt was traded to the Nashville Predators.
2008: Start of a Dynasty
After a disappointing 6-14-1 start in 2007-08, in which the Capitals saw then-head coach Glen Hanlon be fired, the Capitals made a historic turnaround. Winning 11 of their last 12 games, the Bruce Boudreau-lead Caps came back to win the Southeast Division thanks in part to Alex Ovechkin's 65 goal season, the most ever by a left winger in a single campaign. The year ended with a 4-3 series loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, losing on an OT goal in Game 7.
The following two years saw the Capitals produce franchise records in points. In 2008-09, Washington went 50-24-8 for 108 points and back-to-back Southeast titles. It ended in the semifinals at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, losing the series four games to three. The next season, the Capitals light up the scoreboard game after game, scoring a gaudy 313 goals, the most in the NHL, and accumulate 121 points at 54-15-13. Despite Stanley Cup hopes, the Caps were stunned in the quarterfinals, falling to the Montreal Canadiens four games to three. Jaroslav Halák shined in net the final three games for the Canadiens, holding the Caps to one goal each game.
In 2010-11, Washington claimed their fourth consecutive division title and Eastern Conference regular season champions with 107 points at 48–23–11. After rolling over the New York Rangers four games to one in Round 1, they were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning, still unable to reach the conference finals despite all the Southeast titles.
The following year, the Capitals had a promising 7-0-0 start, but they won only 5 of the next 15 games, leading to the firing of Bruce Boudreau, and the hiring of former Cap Dale Hunter. With a new defensive system in mind, the inconsistent Caps could not keep pace with Florida for the Southeast crown and settled for seventh in the east with 92 points. Joel Ward scored an OT goal in Game 7 of the first round against the Boston Bruins, yet Washington was stymied again, falling to the hands of the New York Rangers 4-3.
Following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup, Hunter announced his resignation from the team, prompting George McPhee to hire another former Capital great, Adam Oates, as the next head coach.
Logos and Jerseys
The Capitals took to the ice in red, white and blue jerseys featuring contrast-colored shoulders and stars on the chest and sleeves. The team originally had red, white, and blue pants options, but quickly retired white pants. The blue pants would eventually become the only option used.
The Capitals unveiled new uniforms on June 22, 2007, which coincided with the NHL Entry Draft and the new League-wide adaptation of the Reebok-designed uniform system for 2007–08. The change marked a return to the red, white and blue color scheme originally used from 1974 to 1995. The new primary logo is reminiscent of the original Capitals' logo, complete with a hockey stick formed by the letter "t"; it also includes a new feature not present in the original logo in the form of three stars representing D.C., Maryland and Virginia.More simply, the stars are a reference to the flag of Washington, D.C., which is in turn based on the shield of George Washington's family coat of arms. The new alternate logo uses an eagle in the shape of a "W" with the silhouette of the United States Capitol building in the negative space below.
For the 2011 NHL Winter Classic, the Capitals wore a white jersey honoring the franchise's past with the original logo. The jersey resembled the one the franchise wore from 1974 to 1995. Instead of wearing the combination of blue pants and white helmets the team used when it played at the Capital Centre, the Capitals chose red pants and helmets for the New Year's Day game. The Capitals wore the same jersey, minus the NHL Winter Classic patch, on February 1, 2011, to honor Hockey Hall of Fame winger Dino Ciccarelli.
The Capitals announced on September 16, 2011, that they would wear a third jersey modeled after the Winter Classic jersey for 16 road games during the 2011–12 season.
For the 2015 Winter Classic, which took place on New Years Day at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., the Capitals wore a newly designed jersey intended to pay homage to hockey's outdoor roots. The primary color of the jersey was a vintage deep red. The addition of stripes on the shoulders, waist and legs brought in elements of Washington's professional hockey jerseys from the 1930s, predating the Capitals franchise's formation in the 1970s. A large "W" on the front of the jersey, topped with the common three stars, offset in blue to contrast the white "Capitals" word-mark.
Starting with the 2015–16 season, the Capitals will wear their throwback red third jerseys, replacing the white Winter Classic thirds.
Prior to the 2017–18 season, the NHL announced a new partnership with Adidas, and the Capitals unveiled new uniforms with minor changes. There were no third jerseys that season, but the return of the program in the 2018–19 season saw the return of the Capitals' red throwback uniforms as their alternates.
For the 2018 Stadium Series, the Capitals used newly-designed navy uniforms, honoring the fact that the game was held at the U.S. Naval Academy. The chest logo was based on the regular stylized “Capitals” logo, but shortened to “Caps”, the nickname commonly used for the team. There were also features honoring various aspects of D.C., as well as the presence of a slightly altered W logo from the 2015 Winter Classic on the pants.
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