Washington Capitals Young Guns, Past and Future

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The original Capitals Young Guns were a special group of players that joined the Capitals in the early 2000s. Typically, when we refer to the Young Guns we mean Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nick Backstrom, and Alex Semin because of a 2008 promotional poster of the four. The name stuck. Ovi, Green, and Semin were all 22 at the time the poster came out. Backstrom was just 20 and playing his first season with the Caps. Additionally, other star players were all 23 or younger, including Jeff Schultz (21), Eric Fehr (22), Tomas Fleishman (23) and Brooks Laich was only 24.

The four players were the high scorers on the team. It was a time when the majority of the players were 25 or younger. Older guys like Sergie Federov , Brett Johnson, and Olie Kolzig were now in their 30s and winding down their time with the Capitals. It was an exciting time for the Capitals and the Washington DC region. We had the flash of Alex Ovechkin who was scoring machine who seemed unstoppable. The players seemed to be everywhere, hanging out in the clubs with fans that were happily Rocking the Red everywhere we went. Ted Leonsis understood what he had and used the youth of the team to light the hockey spark for many of us.

So where are those guys today—the ones who captivated a region and drew many of us into our first hockey games? Ovi and Backstrom remain with the team and only Jay Beagle and John Carlson remain from the era of YGs—Beagle joined the roster in 2010 and Carlson in 2009.

NHL: Preseason-Washington Capitals at Montreal CanadiensAlex (Sasha) Semin was traded by the Caps after the 2011/12 season. His performance, and attitude, began to slip and management finally decided it was time for him to go. He went on to play for the Carolina Hurricanes for three seasons before finding himself in Montreal. Sadly his stats just kept dropping and heads kept shaking about  his game. He signed with the KHL-Magnitogorsk Metallurg in 2016. He was last seen singing at Ovechkin’s wedding.

green_red-wingsMike Green was traded in July 2015 to the Detroit Red Wings. The two-time Norris Trophy winner became too expensive for the Caps. He had suffered through injury and had finally rebound in the inte 2014/15 season. A good thing for everyone, except the accountants.  At 31, he ended the season a -20; however, he led the team’s defensemen in goals. He will be a UFA at the end of this season and could very well be a the end of his career.

Brooks Laich was traded to the Maple Leafs in February 2016, much to the dismay of the fans. He was the longest tenured player in the locker room at the time of his trade and often thought to be the voice of encouragement for the team. Truthfully, his game had declined. Like Mike Green, he suffered some injuries from which he never seemed to rebound. His run in Toronto didn’t go too well. He is without a team right now, but he does have a lovely new wife–Julianne Hough.laich

Goalies Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth would ultimately find themselves playing on other teams as the Caps continued to search for the goalie of their dreams. Varly went to Denver where he has had a reasonably successful career as their starting goalie. Neuvy was traded for Jaraslov Halak in 2014 and is the number two for the Philadelphia Flyers. Both continue to have injury issues which had a lot to do with the Caps helping them move on.

Jeff Schultz asked the Capitals to trade him after the 2012/13 season as his ice time decreased and his performance slowed under Coach Oates. He found himself playing for the LA Kings, and though his time on the ice didn’t improve, he had the last laugh when he hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2014. He was sent down to the AHL and played two more years. He played with the San Diego Gulls last season.

Eric Fehr was one of the most beloved players of the YG-era. He came to the Caps after three seasons with the Hershey Bears. He wasn’t necessarily a stunning player, averaging 28 points a season, but he brought that sense of urgency the team was known for at the time. The Caps traded him to Winnepeg in 2011 and brought him back in 2012 before again trading him to the Pittsburg Pens. He bounced between the Pens and the Maple Leafs—playing a hard game against the Caps during the 2016 playoffs. He too got to hoist the Cup. He has one more year left on his contract with Toronto. He is recovering from a broken hand but is expected to return.

Tomas Fleischmann, aka Flash, brought that spunk to the ice that excited the crowd. The Czech player has had some rough days over the years. Originally drafted by the Red Wings, his rights were transferred to the Caps in 2004 and he joined the team in 2006, splitting his time with the Bears. He was side-lined in 2009 when it was discovered that he had a blood clot. He returned late for the following season and went on to play in the playoffs, although not contributing too much. He was traded to the Panthers in 2011 and in 2014 they traded him to the Ducks. The Canadiens signed him the following season who traded him to the Blackhawks for the 2015/16 season. He failed his physical with the Hawks and is believed to have ended his career due to ongoing health issues.

Karl Alzner was trade to the Maple Leafs this summer. He was the ultimate Iron Man for the Caps, setting the performance and work ethic bar high. Unfortunately, the salary cap made it impossible for the Capitals to sign him to a new contract. We expect to see him make a difference on the blue line for the Leafs. He and John Carlson were late comers to the YGs but were part of the mix that made fans believe a Cup win was possible.

Young Guns 2

We hear a lot about Young Guns2 with the 2017/18 season. While we get that there will be a group of younger men joining the roster to augment the ones who signed this summer, we wonder if they will have the same impact that the original YGs had on the sport. As of now, seven of the 18 players holding spots on the roster are 30 or older, including Ovi and Nicky, the last of the YGs. With the return of Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson along with the potential addition of players like Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, or any number of Bears who will move up; the Capitals should be a sensational team to watch. The next couple of seasons have the potential to be as exciting as those years with the original Young Guns and make their mark in the NHL. We want to see that revived sense of urgency and drive to win that we for a few years starting with the 2007/08 season.

Celebrating Greenie

Mike Green is probably the most controversial Caps player, next to Alexander Semin, in recent history. Greenie played for the Washington Capitals Organization from 2004 until he signed with The Detroit Red Wings following the 2014/15 season. One of the original Young Guns –with Semin, Ovechkin, and Backstrom—Green was known for his highs and lows, his injuries, and his dedication to community. He was the player fans loved to hate and hated to love. And when he left, most felt, as Dan Steinberg wrote, that we were seeing the end of an era.greeny

Green was originally drafted by the Caps in 2004 along with teammate Alex Ovechkin, but his first full season as a Cap came in the 2006-07 season. In his first season Green had just two goals and 10 assists, ending the year with a +/- of -10. Comparing this to his last season with the Caps (2014-15) when he ended the season with 10 goals and 35 assists, Green was always a team player in the right place at the right time. Green has only played 21 games with his new team but already has one Goal and 10 assists. He is currently averaging around 21:00 minutes a game for Detroit. In case you didn’t already know Green now wears #25 just switching the numbers he previously wore (#52).

But Green was not only a great team player on the ice, Mike founded “So Kids Can” with DC 101’s Elliot Segal, a fundraising group that designates funds to youth-focused organizations in the area. Green committed to donating $100 for every goal he scored and $50 for every assist. He received the James Brown Impact Award for his involvement in the community. The award is given to a player who uses his sport to impact the Washington DC area. One of the most memorable charities Greenie supported was the annual Kaboom! playground restoration and build projects in the greater DC area.

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Green and Elliot
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Green and KABOOM!

 

We saw Mike grow up, just as we have watched the other young guns. He inspired many fans into community service by his example. We watched him as he dated and then married his lovely bride Courtney Parrie, a local girl and photographer. And we understand that they are expecting their first child. At the end of the day, Mike Green will always hold a special spot in the hearts of Caps fans for all he inspired us to do and for his great plays on the ice.

We look forward to seeing him, even if it is in something other than a Washington Capitals sweater.

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Detroit Mike, Number 25