Who could forget the Washington Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2017-18? The Final started poorly, with the Caps losing Game 1 of the series 6-4 in Las Vegas. However, their fortune quickly turned, as head coach Barry Trotz’s squad won three games on the bounce to set up what became a series-clinching contest in Nevada on June 7.
After 40 minutes of play in Game 5, the Vegas Golden Knights held an all-important 3-2 lead thanks to goals by Nate Schmidt, David Perron, and Reilly Smith. However, the expansion team’s resolve faded. Devante Smith-Pelly scored first in the final frame, allowing Lars Eller to notch the championship-winning goal with 7:37 left on the clock.
It was heartbreak for Vegas and history for the Capitals, who remain a one-time Stanley Cup-winning franchise. But where are Washington’s champions now?
Although the team wasn’t particularly old – the roster’s average age to start the season was 27.4 – two of the Capitals’ Cup-winning stars have already hung up their skates.
Selected 18th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2000 NHL Draft, San Francisco-born Brooks Orpik retired a year after Washington’s Cup victory. In his final NHL season, the 6-foot-2 defenceman played 60 games, registering 11 points.
After 949 NHL games, right-shot defenceman Matt Niskanen called it a career following the 2019-20 campaign. He was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas in June 2019 and retired at the end of the season, citing the uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic as a determining factor.
Just two members of Trotz’s Cup-winning roster are unattached, including a player who came up clutch when it mattered the most.
A second-round pick by the Anaheim Ducks in 2010, Smith-Pelly has bounced around the American Hockey League (AHL) and Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) since he left the Capitals at the end of his contract in 2018-19. Despite scoring the game-tying goal in Game 5 against the Golden Knights, he quickly fell out of favor and cleared waivers in February 2019.
Unable to secure a job in the NHL for the following season, Smith-Pelly penned a one-year deal with Kunlun Red Star for 2019-20, with 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in 36 KHL games. A season with the AHL’s Ontario Reign followed, where he clocked one assist in 14 games.
The Vancouver Canucks are reportedly on the cusp of signing former Capital Alex Chiasson to a PTO. The Montreal-born right winger has spent the last three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers after leaving Washington following the expiration of his one-year contract.
Moved To Europe
As proven by David Krejci’s decision to return to his native Czech Republic, hockey does exist outside of North America, and a pair of former Caps have also made the trip across the pond.
After 155 games in the NHL, Christian Djoos will skate for EV Zug of the Swiss National League through 2022-23. The Swede made 22 playoff appearances en route to Washington’s Cup triumph but was sent to the minors in 2019-20 and subsequently dealt to the Anaheim Ducks for Daniel Sprong at the 2020 trade deadline.
Djoos, who signed a one-year deal with the Ducks in May 2020, was later placed on waivers and claimed by the Detroit Red Wings, for whom he made 36 appearances and registered 11 points (two goals, nine assists).
Jakub Jerabek has built a career in the KHL. After winning the Cup with Washington, the Czech defenceman signed a one-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers, who traded him to the St. Louis Blues for a conditional sixth-round pick.
Jerabek played one game for the Blues before he was re-assigned to the AHL – where he spent the rest of the season. Following two years with Vityaz Podolsk, he signed a one-year deal with Spartak Moscow to continue his stay in the KHL through 2021-22.
Still in the NHL
Despite a high turnover of fringe players in D.C., most of Washington’s 2017-18 roster is still skating in the big show – several in Arizona.
Jay Beagle became the first player to win championships in the ECHL (2007), AHL (2009, 2010), and NHL (2018) when he won the Cup with the Capitals. The Calgary-born forward played 79 regular-season games en route to Washington’s triumph to bookend his 11-year tenure with the organization.
After leaving the Capitals as a free agent, Beagle signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Canucks, who traded him and Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, and several picks to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Connor Garland earlier this summer.
Selected 13th overall by the Capitals in 2014, Jakub Vrana won the Stanley Cup in his first full season in the NHL. However, the Czech winger was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings with Richard Panik and two draft picks for Anthony Mantha last season.
Brett Connolly has played for the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks since he won the Cup in Washington. The former sixth-overall pick left D.C. as a free agent in 2019. Before being traded to Chicago, he was assigned to the Panthers’ taxi squad during the pandemic-hit 2020-21 season.
Picked 77th overall by the Capitals in 2012, Chandler Stephenson was traded to the Golden Knights midway through 2019-20. Since then, the Canadian has signed a four-year, $11 million contract extension in Vegas and has put up 57 points (22 goals, 25 assists) in 92 appearances.
A year after winning the Cup in Washington, Andre Burakovsky was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for Scott Kosmachuk and two picks in the 2020 NHL Draft. After 439 games in the NHL, he has 234 points (101 goals, 133 assists).
Travis Boyd made one post-season appearance en route to the Capitals’ Cup win and has only made five more since. He spent the 2020-21 season in Canada, making 20 appearances for the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was claimed off waivers by the Canucks.
The only Australian to win a Cup, Nathan Walker left Washington as a free agent during the 2019 offseason after six years with the organization. He signed a two-year, two-way deal with the St. Louis Blues and has since played 13 games for the big club.
German netminder Philipp Grubauer was traded out of Washington before the banner-raising ceremony. He (along with Orpik) was sent to the Colorado Avalanche, where he played 142 games before signing as a free agent with the Seattle Kraken.
Braden Holtby played all but two games en route to Washington’s Stanley Cup victory and finished third in voting for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Holtby’s form has since slipped. The former 93rd overall pick failed to live up to the two-year, $8.6-million contract he signed with the Canucks in 2020 and was picked up by the Dallas Stars this offseason.
Still in Washington
Although many of the Capitals’ Cup winners have moved on, the core of Trotz’s 2017-18 roster remains the same. Alexander Ovechkin, of the Conn Smythe Trophy, leads Washington’s pack of returning players along with fellow forwards Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetzov, Tom Wilson, and T.J. Oshie. On the backend, John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov remain.
Now, one question hangs over the Capitals: can the organization’s championship-winning core climb the mountain for a second time? Washington’s window is closing but it hasn’t slammed shut yet.
Luke is an award-winning sports journalist from the UK, who covers the Washington Capitals for THW. He is a recent graduate from the University of Warwick and is currently studying a postgraduate degree in Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London. To stay up-to-date with Luke’s work, you can find his tweets via @LukeJames_32.