Who is the greatest player in the history of the Washington Capitals?
As always there will be much controversy with such a question, followed by what is hopefully healthy debate. One could argue Rod Langway, the classic defenseman who was the team's heart and soul. One could argue Mike Gartner, the team's consistent offensive threat for so many years. Goalie Olaf Kolzig is a popular choice. Some may even prematurely argue Alexander Ovechkin, who after only a couple of seasons is quickly zeroing in on such destiny.
Right now though I'm going to have to pick Peter Bondra as the greatest Washington Capitals player of all time. The Slovakian bullet rewrote much of the Capitals record book.
Bondra was spotted by long time Caps scout Jack Button, who convinced GM David Poile to take use the 156th overall draft selection of the 1990 draft on the 22 year old late bloomer who somehow slipped through previous drafts.
Bondra joined the team immediately, playing in 54 games in the 1990-91 season. It was a tough year of transition for Bondra, who was actually born in Ukraine. Fortunately he had fellow Slovak Michal Pivonka to help him adjust both on and off the ice.
Bondra showed glimpses of greatness that season, but only had 12 goals to show for it. But over 14 seasons fans knew him as one of the NHL's greatest goal scorers.
The key to Bondra's game was always his skating and shooting.
Bondra was an explosive skater with a wide skating stance that gave him impenetrable balance. With a loose puck up for grabs he was like a sprinter out of the starting blocks. He could handle the puck too at top speed, often cutting in on his off wing and shooting in stride. Though his season totals were consistently high, he was a bit of a streaky player, scoring goals in bunches.
Bondra always had a goal scorer's mentality, firing shots on net whenever and from wherever possible. He had a lethal arsenal of shots, notably his wrist and backhand shots. Twice he led the league in goal scoring, 1994-95 and 1997-98. He finished his career in Washington holding Capitals team records in goals (472), points (825), power-play goals (137), game-winning goals (73), short-handed goals (32) and hat tricks (19).
Despite his offensive wizardry, "Bonzai" was a pretty anonymous player all things considered. Playing in Washington did not help him get into the spotlight, but Bondra also shunned the spotlight as well. He was simply not interested in such media and fanfare.
On his best days Peter Bondra was comparable to Pavel Bure or Alexander Ovechkin. He was that good, and scored goals with the same infectious exuberance. Though he was not a noted playmaker, Bondra was a very committed team player. He did not neglect his defensive duties, and was a regular on the PK unit. Though he was 6'1" and over 200lbs, he was not an overly strong player in terms of muscling out players along the boards. But he would get his nose dirty.
For all his efforts, team success was tough to come by in Washington during the 1990s. Only twice did the team make it past the first round of the playoffs. In 1998 the Capitals made a surprise visit to the Stanley Cup finals, though the team fell just short to the Detroit Red Wings.
Washington has traditionally been a very loyal organization, keeping players in town for long periods of time. If there was ever a player who deserved to finish his career as a Washington Capital, it was Bondra who truly loved being a Cap, even though there was a couple of public rough spots.
Unfortunately it was not meant to be. The struggling Caps moved Bondra to Ottawa, starting a rebuilding phase and allowing the tearful Bondra to play with a contender. Unfortunately Ottawa didn't make it past the first round.
Bondra bounced around after that, playing with Atlanta and Chicago and with HK SKP Poprad during the lost lockout season. The aging veteran was never the same goal scorer once he left Washington.
He would finish out his career with a quiet 503 goals, 892 points in 1071 career games
In the fall of 2007, Bondra announced his retirement from playing hockey. He had been hoping for a one year contract offer from the Capitals so that he could finish out his career where his heart had always been. But the offer never came.
A different offer did come, and it was close to Bondra's heart too. The powers that be in Slovakia offered Bondra the job as the national team's general manager. The proud Slovak was eager to accept the challenge.
Bondra represented in seven international competitions during his playing career, including the 1994 Winter Olympics qualifying tournament, the 1998 Winter Olympics, the 2006 Winter Olympics, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the Ice Hockey World Championships in 2002 and 2003. Perhaps his greatest career highlight was in 2002 when he led the Worlds with 7 goals en route to a Slovakian gold medal. He scored the tournament clinching goal with just 100 seconds left in the game Overall, he played 47 games and scored 35 goals on international level for Slovakia.
In both Washington and Slovakia, Bondra truly is Peter The Great. I see no reason why he should not be a Hall of Fame enshrinee