Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Top 11 American-Born Capitals Of All-Time

With the Olympics nearly upon us and jingoism at an all-time high, The Rink thought it would be a good time to reflect upon the great American-born hockey players who have donned a Capitals sweater over the franchise's first 30-plus years. Finding only one great American-born hockey player who has donned a Capitals sweater over the franchise's first 30-plus years, we turned our attention to the serviceable-to-pretty good players and came up with our Top 11 American-Born Capitals Of All-Time. Players were judged for their productivity, individual accolades, team achievements and other intangibles, such as what the player meant to the team and to the organization.

Unlike our Top 10 (Plus Two) American-Born Players Of All-Time, in which we considered players' entire careers, these players were considered only for their time spent as Capitals (sorry, Phil Housley).

If you like third-line forwards, moderately-offensive defensemen and flashes in the pan, this list is for you. So, without further ado, the Top 11 American-Born Capitals Of All-Time:

11) Tom Rowe (1976-80, 1981-82; 56 goals, 114 points, -39 in 191 games): With 31 goals (four of which were game winners) in 1978-79, Rowe became the first American-born player to score 30 goals in a season. Currently, Rowe is the head coach of the AHL Lowell Lock Monsters.

10) Ken Klee (1994-2003; 43 goals, 111 points, +13 in 570 games): A member of the 1994 Calder Cup champion Portland Pirates, the rugged blueliner joined the Caps full-time in 1995, and averaged nearly 70 games played over the ensuing eight seasons. Never much of a scorer, Klee posted back-to-back career-best 20 point seasons in 1998-99 and 1999-2000 after playing an important part on the 1997-98 team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals.

9) Jeff Halpern (1999-current; 79 goals, 192 points, +3 in 405 career games): Halpern has been a steady contributor since breaking in with the team at the beginning of the 1999 season. With the exception of a difficult and injury-plagued 2001-02, the Caps' current captain has averaged nearly 18 goals and 38 points per season. But like many of the other players on this list, numbers alone do not accurately tell the story of his game. Halpern is at his best when shutting down opposing centers or mucking in the corners, and those attributes served him well when he joined Steve Konowalchuk and Ulf Dahlen to form one of the most popular lines in recent Caps' history.

8) Al Iafrate (1991-1994; 58 goals, 176 points, +25 in 256 games): In 1992-93, the "Wild Thing" posted career bests in goals (25 - one of three Capital defensemen with 20+ goals that year), points (66 - one of three Capital defensemen with 50+ points that year) and plus/minus (+15), but the rearguard's season might be best remembered for the 105.2 mph slapshot he blasted at the All-Star game skills competition. In his three full seasons with Washington, Iafrate was twice an All-Star, contributed 11 goals in 23 playoff games and, in 1993, was named to the second-team All-NHL squad.

7) Jim Carey (1995-97; 70-48-15, 2.37 goals against average, .904 save percentage, 14 shutouts in 139 games): "Ace" burst on the scene for the Caps in March of 1995, going undefeated in his first seven starts and making the All-Rookie team. Carey parlayed that success into a Vezina Trophy-winning campaign in 1995-96 that also saw him named to the first team All-NHL squad. He was a (non-playing) member of the 1996 Gold Medal-winning team at the World Cup of Hockey the following summer, but just as quickly as Carey had appeared, his skills seemed to diminish (in two playoff series he was 2-5 with a 4.61 goals against average), and he was shipped off to Boston the next spring.

6) Kevin Hatcher (1985-1994; 149 goals, 426 points, -10 in 685 games): Hatcher was a staple on the Capitals blueline for nine seasons, a span over which he scored at least 13 goals and registered 40 points seven times and played fewer than 71 games only once, peaking with a 34 goal, 79 point campaign in 1992-93 (see above for more on the Caps' prolific d-corps that season). Hatcher, a three-time All-Star with the Caps, also totalled 19 goals and 48 points in 83 playoff games and wore the "C" for the team in the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons. When he wasn't scoring, however, Hatcher frequently endured the wrath of Caps fans for his unwillingness to use his size to play a more physical game (in stark contrast to his brother). In all fairness, though, it is difficult to hit people when you're carrying a purse.

5) Dave Christian (1983-1989; 193 goals, 417 points, +20 in 504 games): As a member of the Miracle on Ice team, Christian probably could have made this list just by putting on a Caps sweater for a single game. But he delivered for the red, white and blue, tallying 29, 26, 41, 23, 37 and 34 goals in his six full seasons with the Caps while missing only four games over that stretch and adding another 17 goals and 36 points in 49 playoff games.

4) Steve Konowalchuk (1992-2003; 146 goals, 342 points, +62 in 619 games): The Caps' captain from 2001-03 (shared for 2001-02 with Brendan Witt), Kono was a model of consistency, registering double-digit goal totals in nine different seasons, twice topping the 20-goal mark. But his real strengths as a player - leadership, grit, work ethic, penalty-killing, etc. - didn't show up on the stat sheets. Konowalchuk was a member of the 1996 Gold Medal-winning team at the World Cup of Hockey.

3) Bobby Carpenter (1981-1986, 1992-93; 188 goals, 395 points, -38 in 490 games): Nicknamed "The Can't Miss Kid" and drafted 3rd overall by the Capitals in the 1981 Entry Draft, Carpenter scored 32, 32 and 28 goals in his first three seasons before becoming the first American-born player to score 50 in a season when he potted 53 in an All-Star-worthy 1984-85 campaign (joining "Goal Dust Twin" linemate Mike Gartner with 50+ goals that season). Carpenter had numerous run-ins with the organization throughout those first few years, and he was eventually traded along with a pick for Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley, and Bob Crawford on January 1, 1987 (ed. note: why can't the Caps make trades like this anymore?). Carpenter played one more season, 1992-93, for the Caps, but never came close to regaining the individual glory he had muc earlier in his career.

2) Kelly Miller (1987-99; 162 goals, 408 points, +75 in 940 games): Acquired in the blockbuster deal that sent Bobby Carpenter to the Rangers on New Year's Day in 1987, Miller's work ethic quickly endeared him to Caps fans, and his durability (he only played fewer than 74 games twice in his 12 full seasons as a Cap - when he played 62 in 1998-99 and 48 in 1994-95) and defensive ability kept him a fan favorite up until his retirement. I still can recall Sunday, January 31, 1988 when Miller scored in overtime to beat the Flyers 1-0. Later that day, another Washington team played won big game as well.

1) Rod Langway (1982-92; 25 goals, 202 points, +117 in 726 games): Born to an American serviceman at a U.S. military installation in Taiwan (and thus, technically American-born), the Secretary of Defense was the face of the Capitals for a decade after being acquired in the most important trade in franchise history. The team had never made the playoffs before Langway arrived, but did in all eleven of the two-time Norris Trophy winner's seasons in Washington. Langway wore the captain's "C" for the Capitals from 1982 through 1992 (and for Team USA in two Canada Cups), was a two-time first team All-NHL member and one-time second team All-NHL member, and on November 26, 1997, Langway's number 5 was retired in the last game ever played at the Capital Centre. Inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002, Rod Langway is the greatest American-born Capital of all-time.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I think I'm ripping this idea off for BfloBlog and the Sabres.

JP said...

By all means (though with LaFontaine, Housley, Barasso, Ramsey, etc., the Sabres' list will be immeasurably more impressive).

Anonymous said...

Chris Clark is very close to earning a spot on that list.

JP said...

I couldn't agree more. If I re-did the list (this one is more than a year-and-a-half old), he'd be on there for sure.