The Washington Capitals (colloquially known as the Caps) are an elite ice hockey team that is based in Washington, D.C. The team competes in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference and is owned by Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which is headed by Ted Leonsis. The Capitals initially played matches at home in the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland prior to moving to the arena that is now called Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. in 1997.

The Capitals began in 1974 with the intention of expanding the franchise in conjunction with the Kansas City Scouts, and was not successful for the first eight years of existence. In 1982, David Poile was hired as general manager, helping to turn the team’s fortunes around. With a strong core of players like Mike Gartner, Rod Langway, Larry Murphy, and Scott Stevens, the Capitals started to become a regular playoff contender throughout the following 14 seasons. Following the purchase of the team at the end of 1999 by Leonsis, Leonsis revitalized the franchise by drafting stars such as Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby. The 2009-10 Capitals took home the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy . It was awarded to the team that scored the most points at the end each regular season. They won it again a twice in 2015-16, as well as a third time the following year in 2016-17. Alongside 12 division titles , and three Presidents’ Trophys, the Capitals have reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998 and 2018and won in the final.

The Capitals have retired the use of four numbers, in honor of the players. The team also is affiliated with a variety of players that were inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame. The Capitals are currently affiliated in two leagues of minor leagues, those of Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League and the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.


Early years (1974-1982)

The NHL granted an expanded franchise for the city of Washington the 8th of June, 1972 and the Capitals were added to that NHL as an expansion team for the 1974-75 season alongside the Kansas City Scouts. They were owned by Capitals had been owned by Abe Pollin (also owner of the National Basketball Association’s Washington Bullets/Wizards). Pollin had built his own Capital Centre in suburban Landover, Maryland, to house both the Bullets (who were previously in Baltimore) as well as the Capitals. His first act as owner was to recruit Hall of Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt as his general manager.

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With thirty teams within the NHL as well as the World Hockey Association (WHA) it was clear that the talent pool was stretched thin. The Capitals did not have many players with professional experience and were disadvantaged against teams with a long history that were stocked with veteran players. Similar to the three other teams that were part of the league during the WHA time frame–the Scouts (later they became the Colorado Rockies and now the New Jersey Devils), Atlanta Flames (now playing in Calgary) and the New York Islanders–the Capitals didn’t consider the future of the rival league into their plans.

Two hockey players in full pads and helmets on the frozen ice, all in motion as are two others in the background.

The Capitals’ inaugural season was horrible, even by expanding standards. They had one of the worst record in the league , with 8-67-5; their 21 points were only half of their expansion brethren that are the Scouts. Eight wins are the most for an NHL team that played at least 70 or more games in addition, the .131 winning percentage remains the lowest in NHL history. Also, they set new records for the highest number of defeats on roads (39 for 40) and most repeated road wins (37) and the most losing streaks (17). Head Coach Jim Anderson said, “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.” Schmidt himself was required to take over the coaching duties late in the season.

in 1975-76 Washington played 25 consecutive games without winning and conceded 394 goals in making for a horrible record: 11-59-10 (32 points). The season ended in mid-season, and Schmidt got replaced in the role of general manager Max McNab and as head coach by Tom McVie. The remainder of the 1970s as well as the early 1980s, the Capitals were a mess, alternating between terrible seasons, and only finishing a few points out of their Stanley Cup playoffs; in 1980 and 1981, for instance, they were still in contention for the playoffs until the end to play. The only bright spot during the dark era of futility was that several of McNab’s draft selections (e.g., Rick Green, Ryan Walter, Mike Gartner, Bengt Gustafsson, Gaetan Duchesne, along with Bobby Carpenter) would impact the team for the foreseeable future in a variety of ways, whether as key players of the team or key pieces in trades.

Pollin continued to play through the Capitals for the first decade of their existence even when they not even competitive. It was a stark contrast to the Scouts; they were forced to relocate to Denver after only two years because their original owners didn’t have the funds or endurance to face the challenges of an ever-growing team. By the season of 1982 there was a serious discussion of the team’s relocation out in Denver, the U.S. capital city, and a “Save the Caps” campaign was in the works. After that, two major events took place to revive the franchise.

Gartner-Langway era (1982-1993)

First, the team hired David Poile as general manager. Second, as his first step, Poile pulled off one of the largest trades in the history of the franchise in the 9th of September, 1982 when he sold long-time team members Ryan Walter and Rick Green to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Rod Langway (named captain only just a few weeks after) and Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin. The move turned the franchise around, as Langway’s solid defense allowed the team significantly reduce its goals-against. The prolific goal-scoring of Dennis Maruk, Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter fueled the offensive attack. Another major move was the selection of defenseman Scott Stevens during the 1982 NHL Entry Draft (the pick was taken by interim chief of staff Roger Crozier, prior to Poile’s hiring). The outcome was a 29-point increase and a third-place finish in the formidable Patrick Division, and the team’s very first playoff appearance in 1983. Though they were eliminated by the three-time defending (and the eventual) Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders (three games to one), the Caps’ remarkable turnaround ended any speculation of the team to leave Washington.

Fourteen consecutive appearances in the playoffs (1983-1996)

The Capitals could make the playoffs each of the following 14 seasons in succession, becoming notorious for slow starts before the team caught fire in January and February. However, the team’s success during the regular season was not carried over into the playoffs. Despite the constant march of stars such as Gartner, Carpenter, Langway, Gustafsson, Stevens, Mike Ridley, Dave Christian, Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy, and Kevin Hatcher, Washington was exiled in either second or first round seven times in consecutive years. In 1985-86, , the Caps were 107-107 and were victorious in 50 games for first time in the history of the franchise which was enough to earn them the third-best record in the NHL. They defeated The Islanders in the first round but was eliminated at the end of the round against the New York Rangers.

The 1986-87 season was filled with more heartache, including losing to Islanders Islanders in the Patrick Division Semifinals. The series was concluded with the iconic Easter Epic game, which ended at 1:56 am on Easter Sunday 1987. The Capitals had thoroughly dominated most games, outshooting the Islanders 75-52, but lost in overtime when goaltender Bob Mason was beaten on an Pat LaFontaine shot from the blue line. In 1989, for the playoff push, Gartner and Murphy were swapped with the Minnesota North Stars in exchange for Ciccarelli and defenseman Bob Rouse. However, the goaltending once failed and the team was eliminated in the first round by Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals eventually made it to it to Wales Conference Finals in 1990 however they lost in four games at the hands of the first-place Boston Bruins.

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