8 Players Who Loved Being A Capital And 7 Who Hated It

America’s capital, Washington D.C., where so much does and doesn’t get achieved; especially with their sports franchises regarding the latter. Come to think of it, all those politicians don’t seem to have a clue either so the whole area is a mess. At least it’s expensive to live there I guess, and you can stare at cherry blossoms and giant monuments remembering people most of you forgot about after history class. Anything is better than suffering for another long-awaited championship though.

The Senators/Nationals, Bullets/Wizards, and Redskins (don't worry, it's not racist to use the "R" word when talking about football - which is pretty much the only time people use it) have all had some success, winning championships in 1924, 1978, and 1983, 1988, and 1992 respectively. Eesh, that’s pathetic – don’t worry, there was plenty of heartbreak before, between, and since. Want to hear something even more depressing? The Washington Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup in their 42 ½- year existence. In fact, they appeared in just one (1999). Of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins have played a huge role in preventing any more success, ousting Washington from the playoffs a whopping eight out of nine times. Who would have thought that penguins were such an uncooperative species? Don’t let their little painted-on tuxedos fool you, they’re jerks. Disclaimer: Feelings toward penguins, whether the bird or the franchise, may vary.

With all that being said, there are two things to point out. Thing first: D.C. fans need to stop wearing suits to games and stop networking when they could be cheering loudly. Don’t you love America, fans? Thing second: The Capitals actually have had some incredible talent who loved to skate for the franchise over the years. However, as usual, there were players who disliked playing for the Nation’s Capital. Communists. Just kidding, there are too many Russians in the NHL for that to be a joke, but alas, it remains in the text.

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Steve Konowalchuk may not be the most well-known player, but I don’t see why not because of his cool name. Seriously, I had to check the spelling of it like eight times just to make sure it was right – and I still can’t say it correctly. However, that’s the case with most NHL players. Konowalchuk was a co-captain for the Washington Capitals in the ‘90s and eventually became the 10th full-on captain in franchise history. He was a great tough player and a fan favorite in the D.C. area, playing for the Capitals for 11 seasons, including being an important contributor to their 1997-98 Finals run. One of the more interesting facts about Konowalchuk is that he was the first player born and raised in the state of Utah to play in the NHL. See, despite what people think, D.C. does care about all the states out there and creates equal opportunity. There probably still won’t be a player coming from somewhere like New Mexico anytime soon though.


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We’re talking about the whole roster here, except Yvon Labre. Before we dive into this, let’s give the Washington Capitals the benefit of the doubt here: they were an expansion team. With that being said, there’s still no excuse to post the worst record in NHL history (8-67-5) – and still hold on to that record. I guess someone had to do it so it might as well be some newbies. 1974-75 is a season that most players for the franchise would love to forget, but we will remind them of a few other records while we’re at it. They achieved the most road losses (39), most consecutive road losses (37), and with those kind of stats then you can figure out that they also hold the record more most consecutive losses in general (17). Luckily for them, all records have since been overtaken, but I’m pretty sure not by the same team in the same season.


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If you read carefully, then you would notice there was an exception to the 1974-75 Washington Capitals roster. If you didn’t read carefully then I don’t blame you; we live in a busy world. Yvon Labre may have not enjoyed that inaugural season, but he went on to be one of the more successful Capitals in franchise history. He’s actually one of only four players to have their number retired in Washington. It’s not like it’s an exclusive club or anything, there just has been slim-pickings and the team has only been around for a little over four decades. Labre was a solid and physical defenseman who served as the team captain from ’76-’78, and after his retirement he decided to stay in the organization as an assistant coach, commentator, community relations director, and scout – all at different times obviously; no one is that dedicated to losing for a small market team at the time.


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So we went from the bad of the 1974-1975 Washington Capitals inaugural season to the good and now to the absolute worst. How can you dislike playing for a franchise so much that being part of the worst record in NHL history isn’t enough? Try being the worst player on that team. Given Bill Mikkelson still played professional hockey so there are certainly many lesser players in the world, and he did have decent progression in the early ‘70s with the Los Angeles Kings and New York Islanders. However, when he arrived in Washington he posted the worst plus/minus in NHL history at -82 for his first season. That record still stands today. Okay, he did lead the Capitals in ice time that season, so the guy has a passion for the sport, but that also just means there were more minutes available for more mistakes. The Manitoba-native did have some kids who turned out pretty good – even his daughter has a hockey gold medal.


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There’s a pretty good Swedish player on the Washington Capitals right now by the name of Nicklas Backstrom – perhaps you’ve heard of him, he’s probably even given you an assist on something somehow. Before Backstrom skated for Washington, it was the Swedish defenseman Calle Johansson representing the country. There could have been more, but we have deadlines to meet here at The Sportster and time can’t be wasted on rambling like I’m doing right now. Johansson spent 15 years as a Capitals' player, adding to their long history of great defenseman. Like Steven Konowalchuk (had to check the spelling again), he was a key contributor to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but before that he was part of a group of defenseman who set a league record in defensive scoring in the early ‘90s. In 2012 he also joined the Capitals’ bench as an assistant coach to help then head coach and ex-Capital Adam Oates not finish what they started. It will come… you’ll see.


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Then again, some people had the right idea to get out. Scott Stevens was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1982, and he scored for the team on his first ever NHL shot and the Capitals made the playoffs his debut season. Man, things were certainly looking up at that point! However, as he developed into one of the greater players in the league, Washington still couldn’t get over that hump (a story that continues to ring true). He even led the team in five different categories while playing in D.C. – talk about doing everything – but they still couldn’t raise the cup. His frustrations led to penalties and fights with glimpses of tranquility between angry seasons. He left Washington after eight seasons because it didn’t seem like his talent was being utilized for the ultimate accomplishment, which he eventually achieved with the New Jersey Devils in 1995 when he finally raised the Stanley Cup.


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Michal Pivonka was 13 years a Washington Capital and that stint was his entire career. He was from Czechoslovakia – or the Czech Republic as the kids know them as today – and defected to the United States. Cubans do it all the time to play baseball, so it’s cool. What’s also cool is that the risk offered much reward for both Pivonka and the Capitals. Though he suffered through several injuries, he was able to still tally the third most assists in team history (first at the time, but then those Ovechkin and Backstrom guys came along), and most importantly, play during the 1997-98 improbable Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Sure, they lost to the greedy Detroit Red Wings and all their trophies, but Pivonka’s time in Washington was definitely well spent. From the Iron Curtain to Freedom, hockey or not, that’s not a bad decision, and he luckily fell into the welcoming hockey gloves of the Nation’s Capital.


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This isn’t necessarily about hate. Hate is such a strong word. Truth be told, Brooks Laich enjoyed his time with the Washington Capitals immensely. He came to the franchise and developed with Alexander Ovechkin, becoming great friends with the superstar. Two other things to mention about his time in Washington is that he received national attention for fixing a stranded family’s tire after a devastating Game 7 loss in the playoffs, and also his engagement to Julianne Hough. I have a confession: I didn’t know who Julianne Hough was until she became engaged to Brooks Laich. I had to ask my wife, but I guess that just means I’m a hockey fan. With all this being said, Laich was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs last year – he went from the best team in the league that he gave his heart and soul for to the worst team in the league that happened to be his favorite as a boy growing up. It was bittersweet, but I’m sure Laich is a little bitterer about the situation.


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Olaf Kolzig; a.k.a. "Olie the Goalie" and "Godzilla." The goaltender has lived a very all-over­-the-place type of life. He was born in South Africa, lived in Canada, and has German citizenship as well. His upbringing isn’t even the beginning. He was drafted by the Washington Capitals before the 1989-1990 season, played a game, was sent down to the minors for a few seasons, was called up in 1995-1996 as a backup, then was a backup again after a newbie joined the squad, then took over the job when newbie got hurt, led the Capitals to the Finals in 1997-98, won the Vezina in 2000, tore his MCL in 2007, and eventually left the team after the 2007-08 season. Eesh, it’s hard to hold your breath when you type like that. He was a fan-favorite during and after his time spent in Washington, and now serves as the goaltender and player development coach for the franchise he loved so much.


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Jaromir Jagr is arguably one of the greatest players in NHL history, and his career isn’t done, he still has 22 more teams to play for. He had his Stanley Cup Finals glory early in his career, raising the coveted cup in 1991 and 1992 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then he has played for three of their most hated rivals: The New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Washington Capitals, but everyone is the Penguins' rival. He’s obviously had success wherever he’s landed, however, his stint in Washington was probably the least productive. For signing the largest NHL contract in history at the time, he certainly didn’t prove his world-class worth. Jagr didn’t make the playoffs, didn’t finish among the top scorers in the league, and wasn’t an All-Star. It took three years to get him out of Washington, and the Capitals were so desperate that they even paid for nearly half his annual salary and he wasn’t even on the team. That’s not a healthy relationship; it's like only one person had a good lawyer in the divorce.


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A 500-goal club member, Peter Bondra is one of the great Washington Capitals. On a personal note (we don’t care, Carl), I had the privilege to see Bondra play live and his speed shocked me. I also saw Jagr in the same game and the fact that he still had his curly mullet shocked me. Bondra was another early-‘90s draft choice by the Capitals and was one of the stars during their 1998 Stanley Cup Finals appearance. He was such a great scorer that in the 1994-1995 lockout-shortened season, he still tallied 34 goals which led the league, and many players can’t even reach that mark over 82 games – some can’t even do it in 164. I could keep going, but I won’t. He was a fan-favorite in Washington during his 14 years with the team, actually voted by the fans as one of their top-five Capitals’ players in the history of the franchise. He’s got to love that.


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Talk about being overshadowed by someone and making great seasons appear sub-par. Alexander Semin picked the wrong time to be really good: he played with Alexander Ovechkin when the superstar was just becoming dominant and making other goal scorers look like people like me. Semin had issues with communication between he and his team, and apparently with the Russian military as well – it’s a strange rule you can go ahead and research if you would like. The Capitals even took a legal approach against Semin and his agent. See, aren’t you intrigued to research now? After some success once all the hullabaloo was sorted out, his numbers began to dwindle while injuries occurred and Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom flourished. He left the team and joined the Carolina Hurricanes in 2012, but his career didn’t pan out as much as people hoped as he was waived by the Hurricanes in the middle of a contract extension, waived by the Canadians in 2015, and then returned to Russia’s KHL.


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You probably didn’t think I could fit in all three of these guys with only two loved spots remaining and with an obvious star not yet mentioned, did you? No? Okay, well you probably just don’t follow the Washington Capitals or their history then, do you? That makes more sense. Mike Gartner, Dale Hunter, and Rod Langway are all-time greats in Washington. In fact, they are three of the four players who have had their numbers retired by the franchise. If it wasn’t for Yvon Labre’s transitional ranking earlier, all four could have been mentioned here. I guess technically they still were all mentioned. Here’s some quick facts about each. Gartner left his tenure with the Capitals as the all-time leader in assists, games, game-winning goals, goals, points, and power-play goals at the time. Hunter was close to the top or at the top of many Washington records as well, but his 19 years in the league proved his dedication and hard work, claiming that is what the franchise was about. Langway was another great Capitals’ defenseman – perhaps even one of the best to play the game in general – and the team never missed the playoffs in his 11 seasons.


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There is only one reason Esa Tikkanen claims the top hated spot: his missed goal. Sure, he had a great career, winning the Stanley Cup five times, but he could of added a sixth and you think his experience would of helped achieve that accomplishment. Tikkanen was traded by the Florida Panthers to the Washington Capitals during the latter part of the 1998 season to help with the Capitals’ playoff push. As we’ve said too many times, that was the team’s only Stanley Cup Finals appearance. In Game 2 against the Detroit Red Wings, Tikkanen missed a wide-open net that would have put the game out of reach, but instead the Red Wings ended up tying the game late and eventually winning. It was a major turning point in the series! He may have enjoyed his brief stint in Washington, and he certainly contributed during his last full NHL season, but fans can’t get the image of that missed shot out of their heads. Maybe he just didn’t like D.C.?


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Duh. Like this was a hard guess. As we approach the 2017 All-Star Game, another in which Alexander Ovechkin will be participating, and with the Captain and superstar of the Washington Capitals notching his 1,000 career point just a couple nights ago, we must address the elephant in the room: Ovechkin has yet to win a Stanley Cup. With that being said, the guy loves Washington and wants to bring the Capitals their first ever title. He’s been on the team since 2005, and signed a massive 13-year extension in 2008. That’s dedication (knock on wood, Capitals’ fans). We can brag about his records and statistics, reminisce of his amazing scoring feats, and praise his overall athleticism and the greatness he has brought to the NHL, but the fact that he doesn’t have his championship looms over his career. Is this the year? Capitals’ fans hope so because the window may be closing. Either way, the man has earned the key to the city and brought home a league MVP – the last to do so amongst all professional sports team in Washington was Joe Theismann in 1983. The District certainly suffers.

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