The Big Ten
On the anniversary of the best trade in Caps history, here are the top 10 (11)
There is little suspense when it comes to naming the best trade in Caps’ history. Without the deal that brought Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin to town 26 years ago Tuesday, we likely wouldn’t be here trying to compile such lists. It’s not an overstatement to say that trade saved the Caps and kept the team here in the District.
But what about the rest of the top 10 trades in Caps history? On the eve of the anniversary of the biggest deal in Caps history and as we prepare to embark upon another NHL season, we thought it might be fun to reflect upon the best trades in Caps history. They’re not necessarily the biggest trades, but we believe they’re the best.
And finally, in the spirit of the Big 10, we’re going to have 11 members. It was too hard to decide which of the two No. 10s did not belong, so we made the executive decision not to decide.
These are merely our top 10; your mileage can and will vary. Analyzing trades is subjective business, for the most part, and it's even harder in the cases where some of the principals involved are still young and active in the NHL.
We’ve included a few “honorable mentions” at the end to help stir the debate even more. Here they are:
10 (tie). Nov. 25, 1981 – Traded Pat Ribble and a second-round pick (later traded to Montreal; the Habs chose Todd Francis) in the 1983 draft to Calgary for Bobby Gould and Randy Holt.
10 (tie). Jun. 9, 1982 – Traded a second-rounder (Buffalo chose Mike Anderson) and a fourth-rounder (Buffalo chose Timo Jutila) in the 1982 draft to Buffalo for Alan Haworth and a third-rounder (Milan Novy) in 1982.
Two deals that brought 1980s stalwarts into the fold are tied for 10th on the list. The late Roger Crozier, who served as the team’s interim general manager for a period of about 10 months, engineered both of these swaps. Some three weeks after accepting the post, Crozier sent defenseman Pat Ribble and a second-round pick in the 1982 draft to Calgary for Bobby Gould and Randy Holt.
Gould played 600 regular season games for Washington; he ranks 16th on the team’s all-time list in that department. He is remembered as a gritty checking forward who also contributed offensively, and as the guy who (despite giving up four inches and 30 pounds to his opponent) administered a thorough thumping to Penguins’ superstar Mario Lemieux on March 20, 1987.
Holt spent the better part of two seasons with Washington, leading the club in penalty minutes in each of those campaigns. He still holds the club record for most penalty minutes (34 against Philadelphia on March 27, 1982) in a single game and also holds the NHL mark for most PIM in a game and a period (67 PIM while playing for Los Angeles against Philadelphia on March 11, 1979).
Ribble played just 31 games over parts of two seasons with the Flames as his NHL career concluded in Calgary. Francis never played in the NHL.
Several months later, Crozier struck again. On the day of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, he swapped two of Washington’s picks for Haworth and a pick.
Haworth combined with Craig Laughlin and Greg Adams to form the Plumber Line, a noteworthy Caps forward line combo of the mid-1980s. Haworth scored 20 or more goals in each of his five seasons in Washington, and reached the 30-goal plateau in 1985-86.
Haworth ranked ninth on Washington’s all-time scoring list when he was traded to Quebec in the deal that brought Dale Hunter to the Caps in the summer of 1987.
Novy was a Czech star who spent one season (1982-83) with the Caps before returning to Europe. Despite difficulties adjusting to life in North America, he posted 18 goals and 48 points in his only NHL season.
Anderson never played in the NHL and Jutila’s NHL career lasted but 10 games.
9. Nov. 1, 1988 – Traded Claudio Scremin to Minnesota for Don Beaupre.
This trade looked like a very minor swap at the time. Scremin was a 12th round draft choice from 1988 who was in his junior year at the University of Maine. Beaupre was a long-time starter for the North Stars and two-time NHL All-Star who had fallen from the No. 1 job at Minnesota to playing for Kalamazoo of the IHL.
The Caps assigned Beaupre to Baltimore of the AHL soon after the deal was made; he did not make his first start for Washington until nearly four months after the trade. Two seasons after he was acquired, Beaupre led the NHL with five shutouts and established Capitals’ single-season records (since broken) for goals against average (2.64), save pct. (.897) and shutouts. In 1991-92, he established club single-season standards (since broken) for wins (29), games played by a goaltender (54) and minutes played by a goaltender (3,108).
By the time he departed in a Jan. 18, 1995 trade with Ottawa, Beaupre held almost all the Caps’ single season and career goaltending records.
Scremin never played a game for the Stars. He later signed as a free agent with the expansion era San Jose Sharks in 1991. His NHL career consisted of 17 games over two seasons with the Sharks.
8. Feb. 27, 2004 – Traded Robert Lang to Detroit for Tomas Fleischmann, first-rounder in 2004 (Mike Green) and fourth-rounder in 2006 (Luke Lynes).
Green and Fleischmann are still young and developing players, so this one has the potential to eventually move into the top five.
Lang was in his second season with Washington and was the league’s leading scorer for parts of the 2003-04 season. But with the lockout looming and a bloated payroll, Caps general manager George McPhee spent the latter half of the season turning Washington’s gaggle of high-salaried stars into a flock of young prospects and draft picks.
In exchange for Lang, McPhee was able to get one prospect (Fleischmann) and a pair of picks. The 24-year-old Fleischmann is very much a work in progress. He has put up stellar numbers in the AHL, and was a key cog on the 2006 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears as well as the 2006-07 Bears team that advanced to the Calder Cup finals.
While only one of the two draft choices paid off, it has paid off big. Green led all NHL defensemen with 18 goals as a 22-year-old in 2007-08.
Lang had a couple of so-so seasons in Detroit, where he averaged less than 17 minutes a night after regularly playing more than 20 minutes a game for most of the first half of this decade.
If the Caps are able to develop Fleischmann into a 20-goal scorer and Green is able to sustain his current level of play over the life of his four-year contract extension, this deal could climb the charts over the next few years.
7. March 3, 2004 – Traded Sergei Gonchar to Boston for Shaone Morrisonn and first-round (Jeff Schultz) and second-round (Mikhail Yunkov) picks in the 2004 draft.
It’s getting harder and harder to trade for an NHL defenseman. Morrisonn is almost certainly the best defenseman the Caps have acquired in a trade since Mark Tinordi came from Dallas on Jan. 18, 1995.
Gonchar ranks fourth all-time among Washington defensemen in games played and in scoring. Morrisonn has already climbed to 17th all-time in games played by a Caps defenseman, and only Brendan Witt and Gonchar have played more games on defense than Morrisonn has in the current decade. Morrisonn is the only Caps’ defenseman to average at least 20 minutes per night in each of the last three seasons. That’s a solid achievement for a guy who does not play on the team’s power play.
Last year, Morrisonn settled in as Green’s defense partner, providing the Caps with the best defensive duo they’ve had since Gonchar and Witt were partnered together some five years ago.
Now that Schultz has emerged as a regular on the Washington blueline, this trade becomes No. 7 with a bullet. Yunkov is still playing in Russia; there are currently no plans for the 22-year-old center to come to North America. As it stands now, this deal is responsible for bringing in a third of Washington’s current regular backline corps.
Gonchar’s career with the Bruins consisted of 15 regular season and seven playoff games.
6. August 4, 2005 – Traded a seventh-round pick (Calgary chose Devin Didiomete) in 2006 and a sixth-round pick in 2007 (later traded to Colorado, Avs chose Jens Hellgren) to Calgary for Chris Clark and a seventh-round pick (Andrew Glass) in 2007.
In the days immediately following the end of the 2004-05 lockout, NHL teams and GMs worked frantically and often around the clock to bring in talent from a lengthy and diverse list of free agents. In Washington, the Caps were seeking to flesh out the roster of a young, developing and rebuilding team with a handful of NHL veterans who could provide some leadership and help instill a sense of pride and work ethic.
Out in Calgary, the Flames were adding to a team that came within a whisker of its second Stanley Cup championship just prior to the lockout. They brought in free agent right wings Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty, pushing Clark down on the Calgary depth chart and making him expendable.
The Caps were able to get Clark from Calgary for a bargain basement price. Although he was stung by the process of being traded for the first time in his career, Clark came to D.C. and brought elements of leadership and accountability that were much needed in the culture and environment of a young and developing team. He scored 20 goals in his first season with the Caps, and 30 in his second. He also became an obvious choice for team captain after Jeff Halpern’s departure via free agency.
Amonte and McCarty combined to play 260 games for the Flames, combining for 31 goals and 85 points. Clark has 55 goals and 102 points in his 170 games as a Capital. A few more strong seasons by the Caps’ captain could move this deal up on the list.
5. Mar. 7, 1989 – Traded Clint Malarchuk, Grant Ledyard and a sixth-rounder (Brian Holzinger) in the 1989 draft to Buffalo for Calle Johansson and a second-rounder (Byron Dafoe) in 1989.
On the same day that he shipped Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy to Minnesota for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse, Caps general manager David Poile also obtained a smooth-skating 22-year-old defenseman named Calle Johansson from Buffalo.
Almost 20 years later, Johansson’s 983 games played in a Capitals sweater are more than any other player. He is also the all-time leading scorer among Caps’ defensemen. Dafoe went on to become a solid NHL netminder, although he spent the bulk of his career in other NHL cities.
Malarchuk spent three-plus seasons with the Sabres, but never won more than 14 games in any single season. Ledyard had a handful of decent years in Buffalo as did Holzinger, who was a third-line center as an NHLer.
4. Oct. 18, 1978 -- Traded a first-round pick in 1979 draft (previously acquired, Minnesota chose Tom McCarthy) to Minnesota for Dennis Maruk.
Just nine days after the shocking and completely unexpected firing of head coach Tom McVie, Caps general manager Max McNab shipped one of the Caps’ two first-round picks in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft to the North Stars for 23-year-old scoring star Dennis Maruk.
Although he had never been traded before, Maruk started the 1978-79 season – his fourth in the NHL – in his third different NHL city. He began his NHL career with the California Seals in 1975-76 and played the next two seasons with the Cleveland Barons after the Seals folded up their circus tent and moved to Ohio. The Barons proved to be short-lived; they collapsed and merged with the existing North Stars in the summer of 1978.
Maruk had averaged 31 goals and 70 points per season in his first three NHL campaigns. The Caps were desperate for offensive production and a star player. Tom Rowe was a winger with the Caps in those days, and he had played junior hockey in Ontario with Maruk.
“The fans will love Dennis, that I can assure you,” said Rowe in the Oct. 19, 1978 edition of The Washington Star. “Wherever he has played, he has been a favorite player. I’m surprised we were able to get him. He’s worth that draft choice.”
That he was. Maruk spent five seasons with the Capitals, exceeding the 30-goal plateau four times, reaching the half-century mark twice and setting a longtime club standard with 60 goals in 1981-82. Although the ’79 Entry Draft proved to be one of the deepest ever, the Caps would have been hard-pressed to draft a player who would have made the instant impact that Maruk provided.
When he departed the District (and returned to Minnesota) in a July, 1983 trade, Maruk was Washington’s all-time leading goal scorer (182) and scorer (431 points). Only Alex Ovechkin (1.27) has averaged more points per game in a Washington sweater than Maruk (1.26).
Although he was a decent player, McCarthy (chosen 10th overall) had one of the shortest (and most star-crossed) NHL careers (426 games) of the star-studded 1979 first round class, and the shortest career of any of the first 17 players selected that year.
3. Oct. 18, 1983 – Traded Brian Engblom and Ken Houston to Los Angeles for Larry Murphy.
The Caps came into the 1983-84 season on a high, having earned their first-ever playoff berth in 1982-83. But Washington started the season with six straight losses, sending Poile to the phones in search of a trade to shake up his charges. Then a 22-year-old defenseman beginning the fourth season of what would prove to be a Hall of Fame career, Murphy spent the better part of six seasons on the Washington blueline.
When he departed in 1989, Murphy ranked third all-time among Capitals defensemen in games played and was second in both goals and points.
Engblom had a couple decent seasons with the Kings before his career was cut short because of a neck injury. Houston played 33 games for the Kings before his retirement the following summer.
2. Jan. 1, 1987 – Traded Bobby Carpenter and a second-round pick (Jason Prosofsky) in the 1989 draft to New York Rangers for Mike Ridley, Kelly Miller and Bob Crawford.
At the time this trade was made, Carpenter was in limbo. He had been suspended from the team on Nov. 22, 1986, ending a streak of 422 consecutive games played at the start of his NHL career. Tension between Carpenter and coach Bryan Murray had escalated to the point that Carpenter was suspended while Poile sought to trade him.
Although all 20 teams knew that Poile had to deal Carpenter, the cagey GM was patient and played his hand perfectly. He got maximum value from a very difficult situation, as history clearly shows. Miller and Ridley were stalwarts in Washington for years while Carpenter didn’t even last the rest of that season on Broadway.
After Carpenter had played just 28 games for the Blueshirts, Rangers GM Phil Esposito flipped the former Caps first-rounder to the Kings for Marcel Dionne.
1. Sept. 9, 1982 – Traded Ryan Walter and Rick Green to Montreal for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Craig Laughlin and Doug Jarvis.
This is the one that kept the Caps in town, and helped make hockey viable in the District. Poile was the youngest general manager in the league at the time, and had been on the job for all of 10 days when he pulled the trigger on this pivotal deal in franchise history.
We’ll refer you to this two-year-old blog post for more on the backstory on this swap.
Honorable Mention (in chronological order)
June 8, 1983 – Traded a first-round pick in 1983 (Bobby Dollas) draft to Winnipeg for Dave Christian.
Christian was a consistent scorer for the Caps throughout the 1980s. Dollas played 646 games in the NHL, but only 56 of them were with Winnipeg.
June 13, 1987 – Traded Alan Haworth, Gaetan Duchesne and a first-round pick (Joe Sakic) in the 1987 draft to Quebec for Dale Hunter and Clint Malarchuk.
This trade helped both teams immensely and for many years. It helped the Nords-Avs far more than it helped the Caps; Sakic was the centerpiece of three Stanley Cup championship teams in Colorado.
Jan. 16, 1991 – Traded Peter Zezel and Bob Rouse to Toronto for Al Iafrate.
“The Wild Thing” had some great years in the District, including 1992-93 when he was one of three Caps defensemen to net more than 20 goals in a season, a feat never achieved before and never matched since.
Zezel and Rouse were both serviceable players for a few years in Toronto. This was another deal that helped both teams.
Sept. 8, 1991 – Traded a second-round pick (Andrei Nikolishin) in 1992 to Hartford for Sylvain Cote.
Cote ranks sixth all-time among Caps defenseman in games played and scoring. Nikolishin was later traded to Washington, where he was an effective third-liner for a few seasons.
Mar. 21, 1994 – Traded Enrico Ciccone and a third-rounder (later traded to Anaheim; Ducks selected Craig Reichert) in 1994 to Tampa Bay for Joe Reekie.
Reekie ranks ninth on the Caps’ all-time list of games played by a defenseman, and he had eight straight seasons with a plus defensive rating. His plus-86 career mark in D.C. ranks third on the team’s all-time ledger.
Ciccone was never more than a journeyman, and Reichert’s NHL career lasted three games. This deal was closer than most of the others to cracking the top 10.
Mar. 21, 1994 – Traded Al Iafrate to Boston for Joé Juneau.
The Caps got several good seasons out of Juneau while Iafrate’s body promptly and quickly broke down in Boston.
Mar. 1, 1997 – Traded Jason Allison, Anson Carter and Jim Carey to Boston for Bill Ranford, Rick Tocchet and Adam Oates.
Yet another deal that helped both teams. Harry Sinden’s decision to take Carey instead of Kolzig helped the Caps a lot more than the rest of the trade, but Oates is a future Hall of Famer who ended up playing more games in Washington than he did anywhere else during his NHL career. He also helped the Caps to their lone Stanley Cup finals appearance just over a year after this trade was made.
Mar. 19, 2002 – Traded Adam Oates to Flyers for Maxime Ouellet, and Philly’s first, second (Maxime Daigneault) and third-round (Derek Krestanovich) picks in 2002. (McPhee packaged the first-rounder and a second-rounder in 2002 in a deal with the Stars that brought back Dallas’ first-round pick, the 13th choice overall. The Caps used that choice to select Alexander Semin.)
The 24-year-old Semin is one of the league’s most talented young forwards. He has netted 64 goals in the last two seasons. Oates played 14 regular season and five playoff games with Philadelphia.
Feb. 18, 2004 – Traded Peter Bondra to Ottawa for Brooks Laich and a second-round pick (later used to obtain the pick used to draft Joe Finley) in 2005.
Although it was tough to trade a fan favorite and the team’s all-time leading scorer, this trade was a very efficient use of assets at the time. History shows that Bondra had one 20-goal season after he departed the District. He scored 31 goals altogether after leaving the Caps.
Laich broke out with a 21-goal season with Washington in 2007-08. The future development of he and Finley could push this deal into the top 10 as the years go by.