Thursday, June 11, 2009
It was on this day in 1974 that the Washington Capitals were awarded their NHL franchise.
Unfortunately, 1974 was not the best of times to be starting a new team, as between the NHL and World Hockey Association, there were 30 professional teams all competing for players, compared to only 14 teams when the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL just four years earlier. The Capitals finished the 1974-75 season with a dismal 8 wins for the entire campaign, losing an astonishing 67 times, including 39 out of 40 times on the road. Additionally, the Capitals only managed but five ties when all other NHL teams averaged 14 ties, which gave those clubs an average of nine additional points in the standings. The Capitals head coach Jim Anderson was quoted as saying "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."
It would take nine years for the Capitals to qualify for the playoffs with a roster that now included Rod Langway, Denis Maruk, Mike Gartner, Bobby Carpenter and Scott Stevens. Once having achieved a level of respectability, the Capitals would go on to qualify for the playoffs 14 years in a row. However, they would only advance past the first two rounds but once.
More star players would join the Capitals during this period, including Mike Ridley, Dave Christian, Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy, Kevin Hatcher, Dale Hunter, Michal Pivonka, Joe Juneau, Sergei Gonchar, Sylvain Cote, Calle Johansson and Peter Bondra, who would go on to become the career franchise scoring leader with 825 points.
The highlight for the Capitals would come in 1997-98, as the they became the Eastern Conference Champions, earning their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Led by Bondra, Hunter, Juneau, Adam Oates, Olaf Kolzig, Johansson, Steve Konowalchuk, Phil Housley and Gonchar, the Capitals would defeat Boston, Ottawa and Buffalo before being swept 4-0 by the Detroit Red Wings in the finals, a team on a mission playing for their critically injured teammate Valdimir Konstantinov, who suffered brain damage in an automobile crash the year before.
Hunter, Oates and Housley would all record the 1000th point of their careers in 1997-98, the only time in NHL history three teammates have done so in the same season.
In addition to Yvon Labre (#7), Langway (#5), Gartner (#11) and Hunter (#32) would be honored by having their numbers retired by the Capitals, with both Langway and Gartner being elected to the Hall of Fame.
Today's jersey is a 1993-94 Washington Captials Peter Bondra jersey, complete with a fight strap. What really sets the authentic version of the Capitals jersey apart from the replica jerseys is that each letter of the Capitals logo on the front is a separate piece of material, rather than the entire crest being embroidered in a smaller size onto a patch, which would then be sewn onto the jersey.
Each of the 16 stars on the chest and sleeves are also separate pieces of material which are sewn on. If you can get an old authentic Capitals jersey, do so, as it is one of the largest differences in quality between the authentic and the replica of any jersey.
This jersey also features the Washington Capitals 20th Anniversary patch worn during Bondra's fourth season with the team, and it might very well hold the record for Most Compliments We Have Ever Received While Wearing a Jersey.
Bondra would go onto score his 500th career goal in 2006-07 while a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. We hope that the Capitals do the right thing and retire Bondra's number 12 at some point in the near future.