On the Topic Of Jersey Sales

The bane of existence for the sports merchandising industry– Fanatics— put out the highest selling jerseys for the 2018-19 season. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise when you look at who’s at the top of the list, but there are a couple of interesting trends when you look deeper into the whole thing.

Compared to last season, there’s some shuffling: Sidney Crosby went from second to first, Alex Ovechkin vaulted from sixth to second, while Auston Matthews fell from first to third. M-A Fleury held steady at fourth, while Henrik Lundqvist left the top-15 altogether. Connor McDavid went from fourth to 10th with playoff darling Jordan Binnington jumping up to the seventh spot on the year.

Now, Fanatics doesn’t break things down– which I’m shocked at since their apparel breaks down very quickly. There’s not a date range for it all if it’s the actual season or if it includes playoffs. One can assume that people rebought jerseys because the Fanatics stitching is horrific at best. Plus, it doesn’t mention if this is just Fanatics brand or if it includes Adidas authentic. Nor does it mention the sale of alternate jerseys at all– just the players.

The alternates are something to really put the Crosby clan over the top with the alternate yellow and Stadium Series black the Pens had this season, on top of the ASG jerseys that probably should have boosted more players on this list.

In any case, it’s always odd to me that the same players keep ending up on the top players list for jerseys. You’d think that it’d be a little more interchangeable with the amount of hot rookies that come through. The hype on them alone should drive sales. But, again, if Fanatics is only going on their personal sales– arena sales won’t count, nor will local shops. We’ll have to see if the Jack Hughes Effect will put a Devils’ jersey on the list next season.

Back to…..the Drawing Board

It was fun at the top while it lasted.

But the Caps didn’t do themselves any favors with their play in the playoffs. There were a lot of things that they could have done better. There’s things that they didn’t do last year that they did this year. There’s things they didn’t adjust to when the Hurricanes looked so much hungrier than the Caps did.

First, the biggest thing is the lack of pressuring when they were ahead. They were up in Game Five and let it slip away. They were up by two twice in Game Seven and it ended in a double-OT loss. Maybe it was just too many games for a lot of these guys and they kind of ran out of gas. Maybe it was not being able to adjust to injuries in their line-up. Maybe it was a lot of things…the Caps just couldn’t put the Canes away.

Second, defensively there were a tire fire. An honest to god tire fire. So many turnovers in their own zone leading to quality chances for the Canes was amazingly frustrating. Whether it be dangerous passes up the middle, whether it dangerous passes in front of Braden Holtby, whether it the forwards lack of breakout support for the the defensive which– hey– caused more turnovers. There so many times the Caps went for a home-run pass the length of the ice that the Canes played perfectly in the neutral zone that I lost count and just had a heavy sigh about it. Yet– there was no adjustment.

Rod Brind’Amour adjusted better than Todd Reirden did and it showed in the result. While they shuffled some lines in Game Seven, the grand scheme of things came down to Brind’Amour getting his team much more into it that Reirden could. To a man, Canes players were behind their coach and always commented about his fiery nature to get the team going. I didn’t hear one Caps say the same about Reirden, at least on the record.

And I won’t blame losing TJ Oshie to injury. That’s a part of the game and you have to adjust– which the Caps didn’t. One of the things it did take away was low-end options on the power play. Oshie’s play in the slot was some of the nice decoys for Ovechkin to get some more space. Without that option and a fill-in to act like that (sorry Tom Wilson), the Canes were able to give the Caps minimal chances to convert.

They did what they could though. The top line was solid with Nicklas Backstrom leading the way in the goal-scoring and Alex Ovechkin being the set-up man, which was an amazing change of pace. Tom Wilson was able to get into some dirty areas at times, but maybe could have done more.

Holtby was not himself, though. Lot of soft goals, lot of saves he could have made last year that snuck by this year. Like I said, his defense didn’t help him out at all. If anything, that’s a key point to look at for next year and how they can build around John Carlson and Nick Jensen. There needs to be some help out there because Dmitri Orlov and Matt Niskanen are hit-and-miss, Brooks Orpik is out of fuel, Jonas Siegenthaler needs more time, Christian Djoos somehow isn’t cutting it. They just need to hope Michal Kempny is ready to tear up the league next year.

Lest we forget the Luis Mendoza Line (all speed, questionable hands) of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrana, and Carl Hagelin. When you need a secondary scoring line and it’s more of the third and fourth lines getting it done– there’s an issue. Kuznetsov, aside from the goal, seemed to be more than snakebit this series, Vrana was near invisible for the duration, and Hagelin was good on some penalty kills, but overall not worth retaining– unless they can get a good deal on him.

The Caps had a good season. It’s hard to top what they put forward last year and unless they would have swept everyone or beat everyone in Game Sevens, the dramatics were not there. Personally, this is probably the calmest I’ve been when it comes to losing a series, especially when you see them outworked as they were when you look at the greater picture.

Thank you Capitals for the ride over the past 10 months, it was fun while it lasted. Now, it’s time to reflect, figure out who’s going to be here next year, and find that hunger again.

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom With Another Two-Goal Game

In what could be the most complete Caps game in the series, the defending Stanley Cup champions put a six-spot on the Carolina Hurricanes to go ahead three-games to two in the series with a chance to close it out on Monday. Nicklas Backstrom’s hot hand continued with two goals, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and Nic Dowd put up a penalty shot goal for the Caps.

It was the first game without TJ Oshie, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Devante Smith-Pelly, last year’s breakout playoff star, was called up and was the energy boost the Caps seemed to need for Game 5.

When you talked playoffs heroes in DC, there was always one name that came to mind. And he’s the #19 I picked in the Trail to Dale.

Photo by Bruce Bennett

Up until last season, John Druce was a man of Capitals lore. The run that he had during the 1990 playoffs was one that every role player wants to have. While Alex Ovechkin was able to beat his goal total for a single playoff, the short time that John Druce was in Washington was one thing that most Capitals fans shouldn’t forget.

The former second-round draft pick but the Capitals in 1985, Druce plyed his craft in Peterborough of the OHL where he was a serviceable player, with his stats getting increasingly better over his tenure there. The same goes for his time in the AHL with the Binghamton Whalers and Baltimore Skipjacks, which included a 30-goal season with the Whalers. The consistency would continue onto the Caps, where he would split time between Landover and Baltimore. While he was very unassuming in the 1989-90 season, something went very right in the 1990 playoffs, where he was able to create a lot of much for the Caps.

While the first round was the Dino Ciccarelli show, Druce was able to muster three goals in the six-game series. However, Ciccarelli would be injured in the second round against the Rangers, which allowed John Druce to take over offensively. In the five game series, Druce had nine goals and two assists, including a hat-trick in Game Two and OT series-winner in Game Five. Druce would only put up two more goals and one more assist of that playoffs, as the Caps were outplayed by the Boston Bruins in the Conference Finals.

Druce came back to the Caps for the 1990-91 season and would register his only 20-goal and 50-point season of his career. He couldn’t recreate the same magic in the 1991 playoffs, only putting up a goal and assist in 11 games for the Caps, while in the 1991-92 season, Druce had 19 goals and 18 assist, but only one goal in the playoffs. Druce got moved to Winnipeg in the summer of 1992 and then had stops in Los Angeles and Philadelphia before hanging up the skates.

After playing, Druce spent five years doing junior hockey commentary for Rogers Sportsnet before going into financial advising and then co-founding Unique Vehicle Wraps, a company for advertising on cars, trucks, and buses. While some people may forget his playing career overall, I don’t think many will forget his goal-scoring abilities in the 1990 playoffs for the Caps.

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom’s Two Goals Propel Caps to Start Cup Defense

It was a great start for the Washington Capitals in their first ever Cup defense with three goals in the first period from their top dogs of Nicklas Backstrom (with 2) and Alex Ovechkin– but then almost got people puckered when the Carolina Hurricanes scored two goals in the third period under three minutes apart. Luckily, Lars Eller got that magic going and ended the game to give the Capitals a Game One win by the count of 4-2.

Because of that– they have kicked off the “Trail to Dale” for the Caps by the Numbers Segment. This installment…Mike Ridley.

When it comes to constant scorers for the Capitals in the late-80s, Ridley was one of those guys who brought SEVEN 20-plus goal seasons to the Capitals from his tenure from his trade from the Rangers to the Caps January 1st of 1987. Even in that 40 games of the 1986-87 season, he put up 15 goals in those 40 games he was with the Caps in his early going. On top of that he had 329 assists for the Caps in 588 games, putting to a total of 547 in his seven-and-a-half years.

One of the big years for Ridley was heading into the 1989-90 season when Ridley, along with Dino Ciccarelli and Geoff Courtnall were dubbed the “Goalbusters” by the marketing staff thanks to Ridley’s 41 goals, Courtnall’s 42 goals, and Ciccarelli’s 44 (11 goals in 12 games with the Caps) in the 1988-89 season. The poster was a joy to have in my room because it was cool when I was six.

After his fifth 70-point season in 1993-94, the Caps traded Ridley and a pick to Toronto for Rob Pearson and a draft pick. Ridley found a bit of a scoring touch with the Leafs in his first season (the shortened one) with the Leafs, but was traded to Vancouver in the offseason. An injury shortened season in 1995-96 hampered his production, but he got one final 20-goal season before he went off into the sunset.

Ridley never got as much credit as a star for the Caps that someone like Peter Bondra or Ciccarelli got. He wasn’t that flashy, wasn’t that vocal, didn’t cause a stir– he just went out there and did work, but never got the folk hero status he justly deserves for his tenure with the Caps during one of the peak times for possible Caps success.

While I haven’t been able to find where he’s at, his legacy lives on as an honoured member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and has the top scorer trophy of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League named after him, as well as having an endowment award at his alma mater– the University of Manitoba– for the men’s and women’s hockey team. His number is retired by the Bison, as well. Here’s to you, Ridley– maybe the team can honor you like you deserve one day.

Caps By The Numbers: STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS

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It wasn’t easy….but why would it be for the Capitals?? After exchanging leads thanks to Caps goals by Jakub Vrana and Alex Ovechkin, the Caps were down to start the 3rd 3-2 thanks to goals from Vegas’ Reilly Smith, David Perron, and former Capital Nate Schmidt– the Caps got their puck luck back. Brooks Orpik kept a puck in the zone, threw it at the net where it was deflected to Devante Smith-Pelly, who dove and scored the tying goal. Minutes later, Lars Eller picked up the rebound that squeaked through Marc-Andre Fleury’s legs to get the eventual game-winner as the Caps took Game 5 and the Stanley Cup.

Alex Ovechkin was the Conn Smythe trophy winner as Playoff MVP with 15 goals and 27 points.

The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup Champions….which is still great, but odd to say. And because of it….the Road to Gus is over.

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Bengt Gustafsson will forever be my all-time favorite player. It wasn’t because he was one of the first European players to have an edge to him. It wasn’t because of the five-goals he scored on the Flyers in a game in 1984. It wasn’t because of his six 20+ goal seasons. It was because of my first game and the impact he had on me in that moment.

It was February 3rd, 1989– my first live Caps game. My dad had gotten tickets for the game in order for me to see it live because he always encouraged me when I got into new things. Working where he did– he was able to get some tickets from the people around the Capital Centre and got us in. It was a giveaway night to boot– player shirt night. It was the precursor to the overpriced shirseys we see today– but they were just giving them away.

The Caps played the Hartford Whalers in their majestic all kelly green uniforms. They had Mike Liut in net, while Pete Peeters was in the Caps net. It wasn’t the most exciting of games, but it was a live game I never thought I’d be able to see in my little five-year-old life. During the first intermission, I asked my dad to look at the giveaway shirt and it had the #16 on it with Gustafsson above it. It was almost like the player’s jersey with red shoulders, the logo with the stars across, but the jerseys didn’t have a car dealership below the number. I didn’t want to put it on just yet– for some reason.

However, once the second period started, I wanted to put it on about 90 seconds into the period. That’s because the guy who had his name on the shirt given away had scored it. Bengt Gustafsson got the goal on a pass from Mike Gartner and I felt a kinship with this player who I’ve never met (then or even now) nor was it due to his past accomplishments– it was because he scored the first– and only goal– of my first live game. He was my guy. Of course, that would be his last season before he returned to Sweden and finished his career in Europe before taking over as coach for the Swedish national team. But even then– he was my guy.

There’s something to be said about going to a live hockey game, there’s even more to be said about a connection fans have to players because of something that happened at that live hockey game. Because a player who was on the giveaway shirt scored the goal– he instantly became my favorite player. It wasn’t until I was older when I was able to appreciate his feats before I was a fan.

With that– this rounds out the Caps by the Numbers series for 2018.

Caps By The Numbers: Game-Time Decision Nets Game Winner

After leaving the game early in Game 2, Evgeny Kuznetsov was a game-time decision for Game 3. That decision wasn’t one, as he was probably going to play all along. It’s a good thing he did, as he netted the game-winner for the Caps in Game 3 under the blocker of Marc-Andre Fleury to help give the Caps a 3-1 win and a 2-1 series lead. Alex Ovechkin started the scoring for the Caps off a frantic series of events in front, going back-hand on Fleury’s blocker side. Kuznetsov scored in the second, but a botched clearing attempt by Braden Holtby allowed Vegas to cut the lead to 2-1 after Tomas Nosek made Holtby pay for his blunder. The Caps were undeterred, as a wonderful forecheck by Jay Beagle allowed him to strip Shea Theodore of the puck, pass it right on the tape of Devante Smith-Pelly, who then roofed it over Fleury’s glove for the 3-1 marker. Game 4 goes Monday, still in Washington.

Win number fourteen means it’s time to profile a #14 in Caps history.

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When it comes to #14s there has been a lot– some of which have been marred by allegation that were proven false, some have been there for a cup of coffee, while others just used it as a number. For this player, he could have been something that Alex Ovechkin is now, as he was a highly touted player coming out of juniors. However, a rash if injuries, including a devastating ankle injury– he could never get his career off the ground. Now, a look at Pat Peake.

Peake was a career Capital, albeit for all of 134 games over five seasons, but before that– he was a major junior superstar, collecting 138 goals and 319 points in three seasons (162 games) with Detroit Compuware/Jr. Red Wings; exploding for 58 goals and 136 points in 46 games in 1992-93.

Peake finally got to the NHL in 1993-94, where he played 49 games for the Caps, registering 11 goals and 29 points on the year. However, that’s when the injuries started to pile up. Shoulder injuries, kidney issues, torn cartilage in his thyroid, and then the injury that would eventually retire him.

Coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals in 62 games, Peake was playing against the Penguins in the playoffs and was skating to cancel out an icing call, he got tripped up, landed feet first into the boards, and shattered his heel, which the doctors said was equal to a construction worker falling off a building feet first. Peake would rehab and need numerous surgeries to try and get his life back together, but it would end his playing career.

Peake stayed in hockey, going from assistant coach, to agent, to head coach of a AAA team in Michigan. While he will go under as one of the biggest 1st round busts, it was a series of unfortunate events that kept him from reaching his full sucess.

Caps By The Numbers: The Save Gives Caps a Split in Vegas

For the first time in franchise history– the Washington Capitals won a game in the Stanley Cup Final. In what could be the best save in his career, Braden Holtby stopped Alex Tuch late in the third period to preserve the Capitals 3-2 lead, which ended up being the final as the teams go back to Washington tied up at one game a piece. Caps goals came from Lars Eller, Alex Ovechkin, but the game-winner came from Brooks Orpik– his first goal in 220 games.

The game didn’t come without a price, as Evgeny Kuznetsov took a hit from Brayden McNab in the first, looking like he jammed his wrist and didn’t return. Late in the game, Jay Beagle took a shot off the inside of his foot. He did play the rest of the game, but had a noticeable hobble when he was on the ice. Luckily, the teams have space between games, as they don’t play until Saturday night.

With the 13th win, we have a former Caps #13.

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Since it’s the first time that the Caps have won their 13 games in the playoffs, why not go with the first guy who wore the #13?? That feat didn’t happen until 1997 when it was the man they call Niko, who first donned the superstitious number after coming over from the Hartford Whalers. It’s time for Andrei Nikolishin.

Nikolishin came into the league as an offensive forward, but adjusted his game to the North American style, while also keeping his solid hands, impressive strength of skating, and one of the most balance players in the league, though the numbers never translated that. Coming to the Caps in the middle of the 1996-97 season, Niko was put into a checking role– which is something he happily went into. While he only peaked at 38 points for the Caps in his six years in DC, Nikolishin’s backchecking, forechecking, and ability to give up the body for the play was one of the big reasons why the Caps wanted him in the trade.

Of course, the relationship wasn’t without its drama with contract disputes. Nikolishin sat out most of the 1997-98 season due to trying to get a better contract, which limited him to only 38 games. However, once the playoffs came– Niko was a big reason why the Capitals were able to get into the Stanley Cup Final, putting up 13 assists in 21 games, while also providing the stingy defense that tends to win you championships.

Nikolishin would improve his offensive output after that season, peaking at 13 goals and 25 assists in 2000-01, complimenting that with a 13-goal, 36-point output for the Caps in 2001-02 before leaving the team to test the waters. With two failed attempts in Chicago and Colorado, Nikolishin went to Russia to end out his career.

My Life As a Caps Fan

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Photo via CapsJerseys.com

This story is unique, but not. Many Caps fans have a similar tale– one of hope, heartbreak, despair, and faith. This is just mine.

My first Caps game I remember seeing on TV was on WDCA Channel 20 when the Caps played the New York Rangers in 1987 or 88. I knew the game of hockey because I had saw two wooden souvenir sticks in my bedroom, I believe a gift from my Godfather. They were red with blue lettering “Washington Capitals” with the Caps logo on it. I also had Fisher-Price roller skates with bells on it– so when I saw the game and wanted to imitate that– my mom and dad were reluctant about it. Not because of the game itself, it was mostly because of the ringing.

The first Caps game I attended was in February of 1989 (a story that I’ll hopefully get to tell at the end of the playoffs). I was instantly hooked, not with hockey– but with the Capitals. They were my local(ish) team, even though the Baltimore Skipjacks were a few miles from me– my dad had some connections at the Capital Centre that allowed us to see many games together until they left for the then MCI Center.

Through it all, this is the team I hung my hat on. From the days of never getting out of the Patrick Division until 1990 or the times going up three games to one in a series, only to lose. From the miraculous run in 1998 until the Cup Final to the Jaromir Jagr trade, which always left a bad taste in my mouth. From all the rebuild, which included Matt Yeats as a goalie to now in this era of Caps hockey that’s great and scary all in one. This is a team that always gave me the highest of highs and lowest of lows in sports fandom.

It also provided a community. Because of the Caps, I got into local hockey– first at Benfield Pines and then Piney Orchard– which happened to be the Caps practice facility. Through youth hockey, I have some of my closest friends, who have all come together through the wonders of social media to enjoy this series, as well as relive moments from our own glory days of travel hockey.

For many, the Caps are more than just a team (not to be confused with the 1989-90 team video), but it’s something that bound us together through our formidable years. We won’t be watching the Cup Final from our assistant coach’s sun room (shoutout Coach Gary), but we’re all in-tune with this. Especially since this is not something that’s supposed to happen. The window for this team was closed after they went all-in with Kevin Shattenkirk. But they kept it open enough to have the breeze roll in and keep the hope alive. Keep this whole thing going, as improbable as it has been.

And I won’t kid anyone in saying that this all seems like a fever dream. The Caps have had the odds against them and it seems like it’s all going to come to an end in typical Caps fashion so many times….but it hasn’t. We’ve prepared for the worst, but the best has been happening. It’s atypical in so many ways– especially with who they’re playing in this Cup Final.

Seemingly, all the playoff ghosts have been vanquished– beating the Penguins, winning a Game 7– save for three: Marc-Andre Fleury (22-12-2 regular season, 8-6 postseason vs. Caps), George McPhee (former Caps GM, now Vegas GM), and Lord Stanley (The Cup). If there was a time to flip the script and eliminate them all– it’s now.

For now…time to face the next game and hope that these past 30 years as a fan of this team that many love (despite them seemingly not wanting to love us back) continues to be all worth it. I’m not ready to use the “B” word when it comes to this team. Maybe if they get four more wins, I can admit to myself– it’s okay. It’s all okay.

Caps By The Numbers: Burakovsky’s Pair Lifts Caps to Stanley Cup Final

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After Alex Ovechkin scored 1:02 into the game, the Tampa Bay Lightning tried like hell to even up the game and take the lead. However, with the Caps setting up a wall in front of Braden Holtby and two Andre Burakovsky goals– the Washington Capitals will go back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998. Holtby had back-to-back shutouts and Nicklas Backstrom had the empty net goal to finish it.

The Caps have beaten the Penguins, won a big Game 7, won the Eastern Conference, and now will try to slay another demon in beating Marc-Andre Fleury and George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights. Those games start Monday.

Win #12….and there’s only one.

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Before Alex Ovechkin, the Caps’ biggest superstar offensively was Peter Bondra. While he may not have had the national appeal that Ovechkin has, he was a big part of the Capitals offense in the mid-to-late-90s with nine of his 14 seasons being 30-plus goal seasons, including two 50-goal seasons in 1995-96 and 1997-98. Bondra was the new wave of goal-scorer with the exits of Mike Gartner, Dino Ciccarelli,Geoff Courtnall, and really made the team his own.

Once over from what is now Slovakia, Bondra formed a kinship with Michal Pivonka, who helped Bondra and his family get accustom to life in the US and the NHL. While Bondra would also use Dmitri Khristich as a resource, Pivonka and Bondra seemed to be the bosom buddies. With the same agent, both Bondra and Pivonka held out for a period before the 1995-96 season, where they would play in the IHL with the Detroit Vipers. Both would come back and had his top goal scoring season with 52 goals in only 67 games.

As the Caps were sinking, the team felt they owed Bondra the chance to go for a Cup, to which they traded him to Ottawa for Brooks Laich. A chapter of the Caps had closed, but due to that trade and others during the end of 2004, it paved the way for Alex Ovechkin to take the reigns and be the new face of the franchise. Luckily, Bondra is still in this organization, serving as a community ambassador and should be the next in line to get his number retired.

Caps By The Numbers: Five Unanswered Give Caps 2-0 Series Lead

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After a quick start thanks to a Tom Wilson tipped-goal 28 seconds in, the Caps fought through some adversity after the Lightning netted two power play goals from Brayden Point and Steve Stamkos. However, this Caps team didn’t give up and scored the last five goals of the game to notch a 6-2 victory and leave Tampa with a 2-0 series lead. The win was the seventh win on the road for the Caps this playoffs, tying a team record set in 1998. Along with Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Brett Connolly had goals. Eller, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Wilson, and John Carlson had multi-point games.

The Caps are in double-digits for wins this players, so it’s time to look at a former #10 in Caps history.

This entrant was a two-time member with the Capitals, but made his name more known when wearing #10. Bobby Carpenter garnered a lot of attention with his selection in the 1981 NHL Draft, being the first player to go into the NHL right out of high school when he took the ice for the Capitals. While he did have some clashes with his head coach Bryan Murray, the short time in his first stint was something the Caps needed from a young player in their line-up.

Right off the bat, Carpenter was able to get the offense going for the Capitals with two straight 30-goal seasons in 1981-82 and 1982-83. While he had a drop-off in his stats in his third season, the 1984-85 season was the real big break-out for Carpenter, as he led the team in goals with 53 and was only behind Mike Gartner in points (95). It was Carpenter’s highest output in goals and points. Carpenter was the first US-born player to put up 50 goals in a season.

However, the clash between him and coach Murray reached a boiling point during the 1986-87 season. Murray and the Capitals had communication issues, chief among them was Carpenter– who said that Murray panicked too much behind the bench and held him back from being a bigger part of Washington’s offense. Carpenter sat out waiting to be traded as the Caps struggled without him before getting dealt to the Rangers for Mike Ridley and Kelly Miller.

Carpenter re-sign with the Caps ahead of the 1992-93 season, but donned #11 after Miller took over the #10 role. On his second stint, Carpenter was only able to register 11 goals and 28 points over 68 games.