An Alternate to the Capitals’ Alternate History: Dafoe over Kolzig

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With due respect to Jason Rogers of Japers’ Rink in his NHL Alternate History on Yahoo’s Puck Daddy; there’s many of ways you could have gone with the Washington Capitals side of things aside from former players becoming coaches. Like what if Michal Pivonka and Peter Bondra’s hold out led to their being traded?? What if the Caps hadn’t traded for Rod Langway?? What if David Poile stayed with the Flames organization and not come to DC?? What if the Caps matched St. Louis’s offer sheet for Scott Stevens?? What if the Caps would have moved in the early-80’s??

However, one stood out to me when we were riffing on this on August 30th’s edition of Face Off Hockey Show. What if the Capitals had picked Byron Dafoe as their future goalie going forward instead of Olaf Kolzig??

They were 16 picks apart in the 1989 draft and both were selected by the Capitals. While they developed a bond in the minors, when push came to shove; the Caps seemingly made the right decision in choosing Olaf Kolzig over Byron Dafoe. Kolzig became the face of the franchise for the Capitals before Alex Ovechkin came along, while Dafoe had a decent career, if not limited by the injuries he had during his prime.

Yet, it could have turned out much different. In fact, before he was traded– then head coach Jim Schoenfeld had Byron Dafoe as his #1 starter over Kolzig and Jim Carey going into the lockout-shortened 1995 season. However, due to a bad showing in the pre-season, Dafoe was relegated to the AHL and then IHL before getting traded with Dmitri Khristich to Los Angeles. Even before then, Dafoe had a great showing during the Capitals European tour in 1989, but was ultimately sent back to Portland in the WHL, allowing Kolzig to be the opening night back-up to Don Beaupre at the start of the 1989-90 season. Granted, Kolzig got shipped back to Tri-City after the start of the season, but with David Poile having that much confidence in him showed how the pecking order was at the time.

However….what if the Caps had moved Dafoe along the quick path?? What if Kolzig had been sent down to Tri-City of the WHL after the training camp??

What if the Caps picked Byron Dafoe over Olaf Kolzig as their young goalie for the future??

Right after getting drafted, Dafoe went with the Caps over to Russia for a tour and only allowed four goals in three games, posting a 2.64 GAA compared to Kolzig’s 5.11 GAA, as Kolzig gave up four goals early in his first appearance. Luckily for Kolzig, David Poile thought Kolzig was more mature, as he was a year older than Dafoe, as well as thinking the bigger netminder would be better off being put on the Caps opening night roster.

In fact, if Dafoe was given the keys to the kingdom, a lot of things could have turned out different in that season along. Growing off his solid European tour, the Caps would have had a longjam in the AHL with the Baltimore Skipjacks having Jim Hrivnak, Bob Mason, and Shawn Simpson in line. With a half-decent team in front of him, Dafoe could have been the back-up to learn the ropes from Beaupre, but would also probably block the trade the Caps made for Mike Liut at the trade deadline.

The talent Dafoe had displayed would have been good enough for many teams. Even if he had been sent back to Juniors after a couple of starts, Dafoe went back to subpar teams in Portland before he was ultimately traded to Prince Albert and actually got support. Kolzig was able to evolve due to the help he got in Tri-City. Sure, there was an incident where Kolzig flipped out during a brawl and went after the fans— but his size helped him. Kolzig then went to struggle a bit in the AHL, rebound a little in the ECHL, then finding success in the AHL, but with the Rochester Americans– not even part of the Caps farm system.

Put Dafoe above Kolzig would have change a lot. Not only because the future franchise goalie could have been elsewhere, but it could have yielded a better return on a trade than what they were able to get with Dafoe (and Khristich)– which was two draft picks in 1996 that turned out to be Alexandre Volchkov and Justin Davis. If the Caps would have dangled Kolzig, who was a part of the new wave of oversized goalies– the return for the Caps could have been much greater and set the team up better off down the line.

Especially when being put on display for the Sabres front office in Rochester, Kolzig could have very easily netted some players from the Sabres to help rebuild the Caps skaters. Which, if it happened, would have put a little curve on them going with guys like Dominik Hasek or Martin Biron down the line.

Had Dafoe stayed with the Caps, the Jim Carey situation may not have happened. And though Dafoe suffered some injuries later on, the fact is that Dafoe could have held the fort down for the Caps while back-ups like Rick Tabaracci and Craig Billington could have gotten new life and maybe taken the starters role due to Dafoe’s injuries.

Had Dafoe been the goalie of record the Caps rode, they would not have had the workhorse that Kolzig became. While Dafoe played well in the Bruins system when he got there, the same probably would not have been said had he been the backstop of the Capitals during that same time span. With the struggles that Kolzig had early in his pro career, if he had been traded away at a younger age, would Kolzig have been mentally prepared for that move or would it have broke him down more and not allow him to focus??

On top of that, depending on when they traded it them, it could have drastically altered what the Portland Pirates were able to do during the 1993-94 season. Dafoe and Kolzig were a solid tandem during the season– despite Dafoe getting the majority of the regular season starts. The playoffs showed the determination of Kolzig, who’s 12-5 record helped the Pirates win the Calder Cup the year they moved to Portland. That run may have been enough to maybe change any doubt the Caps could have had in Kolzig, especially  when it came to clutch moments like playoff time– which helped them during their 1998 Stanley Cup Finals run.

It was a decision that may have looked silly at the start, but not buying into the hype train that Dafoe put out there in the first tour paid off big for the Capitals. They were able to settle down with Kolzig and really have him join the trend of bigger goalies being put between the pipes and being a success thanks to it. With goal shored up, the Caps were able to focus on different priorities and adapt their game around Kolzig being the dominant workhorse he grew into.

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