The Tenure Trials: Capitals

By: Joe Pohoryles

As I continue to come up with content ideas amidst the sports-less COVID-19 pandemic, a question appeared in my mind:

For each Washington team, who has played the most games/minutes/innings for the team?

With just a handful of guesses, I figured I could name the correct player for all four major DC sports team. These are the players we celebrate most; the more years they play for the franchise, the more recognizable they become.

Then a follow-up question came to mind:

Which players have played the fewest games/minutes/innings for these teams?

This question is harder to guess the correct answer to. Sure, there have been countless players that spent the majority of their career in the minor leagues or the practice squad, and the only time they were on the main roster was to provide depth of some kind. The team is ravaged by injuries, so the player is sent up just to be a body on the bench, getting zero action, and then is sent back down to where they came from. You hardly notice they were ever there.

They may spend one game sitting on the bench, or maybe they stay there for a full season, and while every player in the locker room brings at least some level of importance to the team, from a fan’s perspective these players did not make any tangible impact when looking back at team history.

That’s not to shame these players. Only the best of the best crack into the highest level of sports, and to even get close is a testament to the player’s talent and hard work, but for the purposes of answering the two questions that came to my mind, they mean nothing.

I wanted to find out the players who had the shortest active playing time in franchise history. For example, JamesOn Curry is notorious for having the shortest career in NBA history, appearing for just 3.9 seconds on Jan. 25, 2010 with the Los Angeles Clippers. Who holds that record for the Wizards? Who has the fewest plate appearances/innings pitched in Nationals history? Who played the fewest snaps for the Redskins? Who skated the fewest minutes for the Capitals?

All these questions will be answered in the coming days, continuing with the Capitals in The Wildcard’s newest series: The Tenure Trials.

The longest-tenured skater in Capitals history is…

Alex Ovechkin (24,132 minutes in 1,152 games from 2005-2020)

Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Ovechkin was a star from the moment he joined the Caps, and the electric goal-scorer has his trophy case loaded with all kinds of hardware. After 15 seasons in Washington, Ovi joins Calle Johansson (15) and Olaf Kolzig (16) as the only players in franchise history to have spent at least 15 seasons with the team. (And even Kolzig had just 24 appearances across his first four seasons, not becoming the starter until his seventh year).

Ovi has long been the face of the franchise, and will remain one beyond his retirement, so it’s only fitting that he has played the most minutes of any skater and the most games of any player in franchise history.

The longest-tenured goaltender in Capitals history is…

Olaf Kolzig (41,260 minutes in 711 games from 1989-2008)

Photo Credit: Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

I pretty much alluded to this answer in the previous paragraph, but any casual Caps fan would’ve known the answer anyway. Kolzig was a significant piece of the franchise in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Despite debuting in 1989, he did not really become the starter until 1997-98, then went on to spend close to a full decade dominating for the Caps in net.

Nobody has been on the ice for the Capitals as much as Kolzig, and it’s not even close either. The player with the second-most minutes in franchise history is fellow goaltender Braden Holtby (26,828 minutes), and he is still over 14,000 minutes behind Kolzig.

The shortest-tenured skater in Capitals history is…

Jonas Johansson (4 minutes and 14 seconds in one game in 2006)

Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Johansson was the 28th overall pick in 2002 to the Colorado Avalanche. He arrived to the Caps in 2003 in a deal that included longtime Cap Steve Konowalchuk. Johansson bounced around the lower ranks of North American hockey for a few years, with stints in the WHL, ECHL and AHL, before getting his call-up in the 2005-06 regular season finale.

The last-place Caps were facing the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Lightning, and called up Johansson to replace Brian Sutherby in the lineup for no apparent reason. (Sutherby was not listed on the injury report.) Sutherby had notched 30 points (14g, 16a) on the season, so perhaps it was a team with nothing to lose (or gain) trying to give their minor league prospects some NHL reps.

In any case, Johansson appeared for just five shifts in the 4-1 win over Tampa, committing an interference penalty early in the second period to give himself nearly half as many career penalty minutes (2) as he had career time-on-ice (4:14). His NHL debut came and went; the NHL season was over, and Johansson rejoined the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL) for their playoff push, never to be called up to the parent club again. (The Stingrays would go on to lose in the quarterfinals to the Gwinnett Gladiators.)

After spending the 2006-07 season in the AHL with the Hershey Bears and Grand Rapids Griffins, where he totaled 29 points (8g, 21a) in 56 games, Johansson returned to Europe to play in his native Sweden. Johansson was still playing as of 2018-19, where he tallied 18 points (4g, 14a) in 11 games with HA74, a team in the fourth-tier of Swedish hockey.

The shortest-tenured goaltender in Capitals history is…

Robbie Moore (19 minutes and 43 seconds in one game in 1982)

*No available image of Moore with the Capitals (Photo Credit: my.hockeybuzz.com)

Moore, standing at 5’5″ and 155 pounds, was a star college goaltender, spending time at both the University of Western Ontario and the University of Michigan. At Michigan, he was named NCAA West First Team All-American in 1974, and he holds the school record for most career saves with 4,434, which is exactly 900 more than the next closest netminder (Scott Sharples’ 3,534 from 1987-90). Moore has also played the fifth-most games among goaltenders in Michigan history (128), and his 47 wins rank ninth.

Despite his collegiate success, Moore went undrafted in the NHL, but ended up signing with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1978. He spent most of his career in the AHL. With the Maine Mariners, Philadelphia’s AHL affiliate, Moore won the Calder Cup in 1979. He also played in five NHL games in 1979, debuting on Mar. 6 after the Flyers’ starting netminder, Hall of Famer Bernie Parent, suffered a career-ending eye injury when an errant stick struck him through the right eye hole of his mask.

Moore backstopped a 5-0 shutout against the Colorado Rockies in his NHL debut, and finished the regular season with a 3-0-1 record in five games to go with a 1.77 goals against average, .927 save percentage and two shutouts. Moore also appeared in five games for the Flyers in the 1979 playoffs, going 3-2-0 with an abysmal 4.06 GAA and .854 save percentage as the Flyers advanced past the Vancouver Canucks but fell to the New York Rangers in the quarterfinals.

Moore spent the following season in the AHL exclusively, and after signing with the Minnesota North Stars organization, he was later sent to the Caps in 1982. Moore spent most of his time in Hershey, but got one final NHL appearance on Oct. 10, 1982. Moore appeared in the third period of a 6-4 loss to his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Caps’ starter, Pat Riggin, was pulled entering the third period after allowing four goals on 18 shots.

With the team down 4-2, Moore allowed one goal on seven shots, but goals from teammates Chris Valentine and Milan Novy cut the deficit to 5-4. Moore was pulled with 17 seconds left in the game to give the Caps an extra attacker, but instead the Flyers were able to notch an empty net goal to secure a 6-4 win. Moore did not appear with the Caps, or any NHL team, ever again, and he spent the following season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the IHL before retiring from professional hockey in 1984.

Close behind Moore for shortest tenure among goalies in franchise history is Corey Hirsch, who appeared for a full 20 minute period. Hirsch also entered at the beginning of the third period while the team was trailing, but this time there was a happy ending.

On Mar. 11, 2001 against the Ottawa Senators, the Caps were down 5-2 entering the third. Coach Ron Wilson pulled Kolzig and gave Hirsch the nod for the final frame. Hirsch faced eight shots, saving all of them, and earned the win after Andrei Nikolishin, Trent Whitfield, Sergei Gonchar and Konowalchuk all scored in the third to give the team a 6-5 comeback win.

Konowalchuk’s game-winner came with just 1:28 left in the game, making it one of the more exciting wins of the season. Hirsch came in, held down the fort as the rest of the team battled for the win, and never appeared for the Caps again, playing just 17 seconds more than Moore.

(Cover Photo Credit: NBC Sports Washington)

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