Sunday, January 9, 2011

Peter Bondra

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. But, of course, Alexander Ovechkin will likely the runaway winner of this poll.

But one player who I think should get more attention as the greatest Washington Capitals player of all time is Peter Bondra. 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


Anonymous said...

I am a long time Caps fan and Bondra has always been my favorite player. Even when the Caps were bad, Bondra was always worth watching. I currently live in NYC and am watching the Rangers retire Brian Leetch's number. The only thing I can think of is, when are the Caps going to show some respect for one of their greatest players and retire his number? Why can they just sign him to a 1 day contract or minor league contract, call him up, and retire him as Capital? We should be embarassed about this.

Anonymous said...

I agree, he was all our hopes and reason to watch hockey on a bad team.

What a great guy and always upbeat even when the chips were down. He is not only my favorite hockey player but athelete. He scored even when all the teams keyed in on him. I remember all the times we relied on him to score that last goal to win it or tie it.

The Caps organization has shown some classless moves by not just giving him a contract to play one game to retire him as a Cap.

I just want to see one game with him and Ovi on the same line for one game when we retire his number.

Anonymous said...

I am glad to see you admire our legend so much, but you have made a mistake there..Pivonka is from Czech republic and Bondra is from Slovakia, he was born in Luck, Ukraine, but his family moved to Slovakia, when he was 2.

SMcK said...

I agree that Bondra is the greatest Capitals player of all time. I also agree that Bonzai should have been allowed to end his career where he loved playing most, and it showed a lack of class by GMGM to not give him that chance. If the Caps don't retire Bondra's number 12, it will be a disgrace to the club and and insult to Bonzai's legacy.

Anonymous said...

How great it is to read your comments about Peter here. He's also a great man and superb husband and father of three. I'm just deeply sorry I've never seen him playing NHL match. But I'm proud to know him for about 20 years. I just hope now I'll see David play in NHL soon. And shame on Caps, if they won't put 12 underneath the roof. Peter would deserve it!!!

Anonymous said...

Great post. Bondra is hands down the greatest Cap of all time. I and I'm sure many of the Caps faithful feel as I do that he was not treated fairly in the later years of his career, especially when they signed Jagr and immediately proclaimed the team "His" (Jagr's) team. I was absolutely destroyed when Bondra was traded and always hoped the Caps would bring him back.

I agree that he should be inducted into the hall of fame. His numbers, though impressive, do not tell the story of his enormous talent. Peter Bondra was one of the best goal scorers of all time, an exceptionally talented skater, and an all time great teammate. The Capitals should make a point of retiring his jersey in a highly publicized ceremony, like Langway's, Gartner's etc, and do it soon. Peter Bondra was all one could want in a hockey player, an ambassador of the game, and a man. Bert H. - Annapolis, MD

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone's posts that Bondra is one of the best hockey players to have ever played the game. I started following the Caps 20 + years ago when I was 16 years old. The game really took on new meaning for me when Bondra started playing - he will always define the game for me. He's a class act and the Caps should bring him back on a one-day contract to retire him as a Cap. He was always so loyal to the Organization, it's the very least he deserves. Maybe we need to sign a petition and send it to Ted.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Totally agreed with all here. All these qualities are the reason I got his name and number on my old blue Capitals jersey. Piotr, if you are reading this, you have always been missed and will always be remembered.

DoraJ said...

I agree that Peter Bondra should be inducted into the HoF and also have his jersey retired by the Caps but if it’s up to GMGM the jersey might not be retired anytime soon. While I have remained a big fan of the NHL I lost all respect for the Crapitals when they traded Bonzai. Some of my fondest hockey memories are of Bonzai & Pivo playing together on the same line and the Caps dumped both players without so much as a word of thanks - what a classless, clueless organization.

Anonymous said...

I was a Bondra fan from the day he put on that uniform. I agree he should be retired as a CAP and his number 12 should hang in the rafters at Verizon Center... "Big time caps fan here"

Sarahlvs12 said...

Bondra was a Washington Capital player thru and thru. He was a team player, loved the game, loved playing for Washington and loved the fans who supported him. Never understood why such a fan favorite and great player was ever traded. It took me a long time to cheer again for the Capitals. WHEN his number is retired and Bondra is honored by the team as he should be, you can bet I will have a ticket to the ceremony. Thank you Peter Bondra for the memories!

Anonymous said...

My uncle was Jack Button at is awesome to see everybody speaking so highly of Bondra. He was my uncle's pride. Trying to get my uncle some conideration for enshrinement into Hockey Hall of Fame in builders category.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Peter Bondra is the greatest cap off all time. He was always my favorite player. I love Ovie now as well. My two favorite hockey players of all time.

Anonymous said...

Bondra was a big time sniper who was one of the first NHL players who was just as exciting to watch after the goals were being scored, I remember some of his pretty big celebrations where he would jump up against the glass causing the fans in the vicinity to go ape-shit wild much in the same way Ovie does these days.

Anonymous said...

As a Caps fan since 1974, in my opinion Peter Bondra was the greatest Washington Capitals. For many years he was the only consistent and credible offensive threat for the team and always gave a maximum effort. His departure was a disgrace in a long line of disgraces by GMGM.

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