On June 7, 2018, after 44 years of attempting, the Washington Capitals lastly lifted the Stanley Cup. In Oakland, California, 43 years, 2 months, and 10 days earlier, the identical group took turns lifting a trash can across the ice in mock jubilation.
The achievement they had been celebrating? An everyday-season street win. It could transform their just one that 12 months.
In each sport, there may be at all times that group – the one which any fan, whether or not informal or hardcore, can name-drop in informal dialog as a measuring marker for futility. By sheer coincidence, many of those traditionally terrible groups took the sector in the course of the mid-1970s, a time of growth and tumult each in sport and the broader world.
In basketball, the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers completed with a traditionally dreadful 9-73 file. Three years later, the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers misplaced the primary 26 video games of their existence, together with all 14 of their first season.
Two years earlier, the NHL had their equal of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and so they performed within the nation’s capital.
Start of the Capitals
Washington Capitals 1974-75 jerseys (Picture Credit score: 1974-75 Washington Capitals Media Information).
Within the spring of 1972, the NHL ready so as to add two new franchises which might start play within the 1974-75 season. It simply so occurred that Washington contractor and businessman Abe Pollin had constructed a model new area in Landover, Maryland – the Capitol Centre. He’d deliberate to maneuver his Baltimore Bullets NBA franchise inside and was additionally seeking to fill their vacant dates with an NHL franchise.
Positive sufficient, with the assist of 17 U.S. Senators and 42 U.S. Representatives – Pollin and Washington received one of many two slots, the opposite going to the Kansas Metropolis Scouts.
In want of a common supervisor, Pollin employed Milt Schmidt away from the Boston Bruins, the group he led to 2 Stanley Cups within the early 1970s. Going from a championship contender to an growth group is sufficient of a tradition shock at any time, however the circumstances made Schmidt’s job much more daunting.
The mid-1970s was a turbulent period for North American skilled hockey, because the NHL needed to compete for gamers with the upstart World Hockey Affiliation. Mixed, the 2 leagues had a grand whole of 30 groups, diluting the expertise pool in an period when Russian gamers had been off-limits. The 2 growth groups had been caught with the scraps that the remainder of the NHL didn’t need. The one prospect who appeared to have promise was defenseman Greg Joly, the group’s first-ever draft decide.
Milt Schmidt throughout his tenure with the Boston Bruins – happier instances (THW Archives)
As laborious because it was for him, Schmidt didn’t assist his personal case. Inexplicably, the person chosen to educate the Capitals of their inaugural season was Jim Anderson, a buddy of Schmidt who had zero teaching expertise on the NHL stage. He had coached the Bruins’ minor-league affiliate, however that was about it.
In some methods, the Capitals themselves regarded extra just like the Bruins’ farm group, with the entire baggage they’d picked up from Boston. Along with Schmidt and Anderson, their roster contained Bruins Stanley Cup holdovers reminiscent of goaltender John Adams, defenseman Ron Jones, and ahead Garnet “Ace” Bailey.
Hockey pundits – together with these within the native media – anticipated little of the growth Capitals. As Sports activities Illustrated wrote, “The skeptics howled. ‘Gained’t win a half dozen video games,’ one mentioned. ‘A criminal offense,’ mentioned one other. ‘Nixon will definitely desert Washington now. This and Watergate will probably be an excessive amount of.’”
Little did they know that the “half-a-dozen” prediction would come dangerously near true.
BOSTON, MA – 1970’s: Greg Joly #24, from later in his profession. (Picture by Steve Babineau/NHLI through Getty Photographs)
At first, Washington got here out to assist their new hockey group. Over 15,000 packed the Capitol Centre on Oct. 15 for the house opener, a 1-1 tie with the Los Angeles Kings. Two days later got here their first win, a Four-Three victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
The second win wouldn’t come for one more 15 video games.
By the top of 1974, the Capitals had received solely three video games, misplaced 30, and tied 4. Even by growth requirements, this group left loads to be desired. It couldn’t be mentioned that there was nothing left to play for however satisfaction, as even that appeared past attain.
Extremely, this was not as unhealthy as it will get.
A Awful Season
After that third win of the season, Three-1 over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 15, the Capitals launched into one other collection of extended dropping streaks. 9 and seven-game skids sandwiched a lone tie with the Boston Bruins on Jan. 7.
BOSTON, MA – 1972: John Adams (#1), pictured throughout happier instances. (Picture by Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Photographs)
With a file of Four-45-5, coach Anderson resigned, because the stress of teaching had left him with abdomen ulcers. He reportedly mentioned in the course of the season, “I’d moderately discover out my spouse was dishonest on me than hold dropping like this. Not less than I may inform my spouse to chop it out.”
After the appointment of interim coach Purple Sullivan, two wins in 4 video games in February sparked some hope of a turnaround. That hope evaporated simply as shortly, because the Capitals launched into what remains to be the longest dropping streak in NHL historical past. From February 18th to March 26th, Washington misplaced 17 consecutive video games, a lot of them in fairly embarrassing trend. The low level needed to come on Mar. 15 once they fell 12-1 to the mediocre Pittsburgh Penguins.
Within the midst of the dropping, Sullivan misplaced his job, having by no means achieved win quantity three. Common supervisor Schmidt would play double obligation for the remainder of the season. Since then, solely the growth San Jose Sharks of 1992-93 have matched the Capitals’ file.
Extremely, as they approached the top of their first season, the Capitals nonetheless had not received on the street. By the point they stepped onto the ice for his or her sport in opposition to the Golden Seals, all six of their wins had come within the Capitol Centre. And even there, they might hardly depend on the assist of their followers, as they’d stopped exhibiting up.
Ron Jones retired after the 1975-76 season. (Picture Credit score: 1975-76 Washington Capitals Media Information)
Their fortunes had hit all-time low, and so they confirmed no indicators of enhancing anytime quickly.
However destiny was with the Capitals that day in Oakland, as they scored twice within the opening 5 minutes. Late-season pickup Nelson Pyatt scored twice within the last interval to seal a 5-Three victory, the Capitals’ first-ever street win and their first win of any type in 38 days.
In a season with so little to have a good time, the Capitals discovered their very own particular method. It simply so occurred that there was a steel trash can on the guests’ bench. The accounts of the occasion range relying on the supply, however one participant – presumably Tommy Williams – satisfied his teammates to signal their names on the can with a marker.
The group then took turns lifting the can across the ice floor on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
“That was our Stanley Cup,” mentioned goaltender Ron Low, in keeping with the Bleacher Report’s retrospective on the season.
Finish of a Irritating Season
On the very least, the Capitals managed to finish their inaugural season on a excessive word. Within the last sport on April 6, they obtained revenge on the Penguins for his or her drubbing a month earlier with an Eight-Four win, which boosted their file to Eight-67-5.
The hockey card for defenseman Yvon Labre (Joe Wilson)
By the top of the season, the Capitals had established a number of long-standing league data for futility. To at the present time, no group has received fewer video games (Eight), allowed extra targets (446), or posted a worse aim differential (minus-265). A few of the gamers’ stat strains can be unthinkable in as we speak’s NHL. Invoice Mikkelson’s minus-82 score is a record-low that will by no means be damaged. Joly fared little higher, with a minus-62, however his profession by no means recovered. Two seasons later, he wound up in Detroit, the place he would end an undistinguished and disappointing NHL profession.
Very not often did these Capitals even hold video games shut. Over the course of the 80-game season, they misplaced by a median margin of three.31 targets, and on 4 events they misplaced by greater than 10. The Capitals’ best-performing goaltender, Michel Belhumeur, posted a goals-against common of 5.36 and went winless in 27 begins.
The tough begin had an impression on the expansion of hockey in D.C., however fortunately, Pollin had each the cash and the assets to soak up the blow, whereas their fellow growth group from Kansas Metropolis didn’t. Within the 1982-83 season, by which level the previous Scouts had relocated twice, the Capitals lastly reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the primary time.
No gamers remained from the unique group.