- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

They are heroes from the past, albeit some are from the very recent past and one is from the present.

Most are graying and have slight paunches where six-pack abs were years ago; some will show pictures of grandchildren given the slightest opening.

The Washington Capitals will honor the six members of their all-time team, as well as other invited former players, during ceremonies at MCI Center tomorrow night to celebrate the club’s 30th anniversary.

The principal honorees are familiar to the Caps faithful: forwards Peter Bondra, Dale Hunter and Mike Gartner; defensemen Rod Langway and Calle Johansson, and goalie Olie Kolzig. Gartner and Langway are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and that honor is probably in store for others. Not all will be present due to previous commitments.

Fans chose the team by voting on the Caps’ Web site. A club spokesman said more than 10,000 fans voted on each of the three first three ballots, with more than 2,500 voting for the winners.

There are no arguments with five of the six players chosen, but one name is conspicuously missing. On any all-time all-anything team involving the Caps, defenseman Scott Stevens deserves to be there with Langway. But the fans went instead with Johansson, who retired at the end of last season after a run-in with then-coach Bruce Cassidy but came out of retirement two weeks ago to play with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This is not a slight against Johansson. He is one of the great all-around defensemen to play the game and is a celebrity in his homeland, Sweden. During the World Cup of Hockey in 1994, team coaches named Johansson (and Chris Chelios of the United States) to the all-tournament first team.

That was what made the difference. On the international stage — where the rules are different from the NHL, especially when it comes to the physical aspect — Johansson has few peers. It is where he excelled for his country in international competition.

Fans voting for the Caps’ all-time team were picking players competing under NHL rules, and that is where Stevens, with his take-no-prisoners attitude, excelled. He made opposing forwards dread entering the zone because of the punishment they would face. To have him finish fourth in the voting is a horrible oversight.

There is another category where at least some question arises. Hunter is easily one of the best all-around centers ever to play for Washington, but was he the best ever at that position?

Possibly not. Bengt Gustafsson, who played nine seasons for the Caps during the 1980s, was a remarkably talented Swede who could do things with a puck that few others even dreamed about. Like all European centers, he preferred to set up others rather than score, and he was gifted at that. His passion, however, was defense; he took it as a personal affront when the other team scored.

The problem was, he didn’t come to play with driving intensity every night and when he took nights off, it was very apparent. Hunter, on the other hand, competed harder in every practice than Gustafsson did in a lot of games. Hence, Hunter gets the well-deserved nod, and by a very wide margin.

Kolzig compiled more votes than any individual (2,038) and his selection as the best Caps goalie was a no-brainer. What is gratifying, however, is that the fans did not forget Don Beaupre, who was picked up cheaply as minor league insurance in 1988 and went on to win 128 games for the organization. Beaupre finished second to Kolzig.

With politics perhaps entering the picture, fans did not get to vote for all-time general managers or coaches, but both categories are easy picks. David Poile (1982 to 1997) is the all-time club executive, finding a way to get the Caps into the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons while operating under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Bryan Murray (1981 to 1990) is the all-time coach for turning a laughingstock bunch of castoffs into winners.

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