This year marks the 100th anniversary of the NHL and at a recent event in Los Angeles commemorating this occasion, six former and current Capitals received the distinction as the League’s 100 Greatest Players.
These six players were Mike Gartner, Scott Stevens, Adam Oates, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov and Alex Ovechkin. Among this group, Gartner and Ovechkin were the two players who spent the majority of their careers with the Caps.
Ovechkin’s and Gartner’s selections come as little surprise for NHL fans. For Ovechkin — a six-time Richard Trophy winner who has consistently been one of the League’s top scorers since 2005 — it would be absurd if the League hadn’t considered him for selection. Gartner — who played 10 seasons with Washington from 1979 to 1989 — recorded as many as 15 seasons with more than 30 goals. Nine of those seasons were with the Caps.
With such a limited number of spots available and the large pool of outstanding players to choose from, even many the biggest names in the League — both current and former — failed to make the list. For Washington fans, it might have come as somewhat of a disappointment that notable Capitals like Nicklas Backstrom and Peter Bondra didn’t receive the 100 Greatest Players recognition. Still, a more thorough analysis of their careers shows why they wouldn’t have made the grade.
Backstrom is a player who has been big on assists since he started playing for the Caps in 2007. To date, he has the most number of assists of any Capitals player with 511 — even more than Ovechkin’s 463. His 34 assists this season are the second in the NHL.
Backstrom has actually played the same number of seasons as the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews. Moreover, the former’s 689 career points far outnumber the latter’s 592. Still, there is a fairly reasonable answer as to why Toews made the list while Backstrom didn’t — what’s missing from Backstrom is a Stanley Cup appearance. By contrast, in the 11 seasons that Toews has played with the Blackhawks, he has captained the team to two Stanley Cup victories in 2010 and 2013.
Another key reason as to why Backstrom didn’t make the grade has to do with Ovechkin and how his performance easily overshadows that of Backstrom’s. TSN’s BarDown has given a similar explanation for why Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin didn’t make the Top 100 Players either. As they put it, with all the fan attention on Sidney Crosby, Malkin falls out of the spotlight and the same can be said for Backstrom.
Much like Ovechkin is the face of the Capitals, Bondra was one of the team’s biggest names during the 1990s and early 2000s. Thanks to his 52 goals and 26 assists during the 1997-98 season, Bondra was instrumental in propelling the Caps to their first and only Stanley Cup appearance that year. Although the team suffered a four-game sweep by the Detroit Red Wings, Bondra established himself as one of the best scorers in team history.
To date, Bondra ranks only behind Ovechkin as the Capitals’ all-time leader in goals and points, with nine of his 14 seasons ended in 30 or more goals. During the 1994-95 and 1997-98 seasons, Bondra was the League’s leader in goals. If the Rocket Richard Trophy had existed at the time, he would have been the recipient.
Although Bondra might have had many successful seasons during his time with the Capitals, with only 892 career points in the NHL, he doesn’t stack up against those with career points over 1000. Considering that there have been defensemen in the League with over 1000 career points — such as Denis Potvin, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey — a winger who hasn’t hit the 1000 mark would fall out of consideration.
At the end of the day, with the big talent pool in the NHL, it’s difficult to expect even the best Capitals to make it to the League’s Top 100, but with Ovechkin and Gartner on the list, it’s already something for Capitals fans to be proud of.
I am a Vancouver-based sports journalist currently reporting for The Ubyssey, the campus newspaper of the University of British Columbia. Sports I have covered before include hockey, basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, rugby, field hockey, swimming and track and field.