Best of the Rest: Washington Capitals – Peter Bondra

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Updated: August 17, 2014
Peter Bondra #12

Welcome to LWOS’ Summer Hockey Series, Best of the Rest.  Plenty of sites do a version of a 30 greats in 30 days series, but this year we are doing something a little bit different.  We want to look at the best player from each team who is not in the Hockey Hall Of Fame.  In order to do this there are some rules.  First the player must have been a significant part of this franchise (franchises include their time in a previous city… see Winnipeg/Atlanta) and must be retired for at least 3 years, making them Hall of Fame eligible.  To see all the articles in the series, check out the homepage here.

Summer of Hockey

The Washington Capitals broke into the National Hockey League during the 1974-75 expansion that added themselves along with the Kansas City Scouts [now the New Jersey Devils]. Their inaugural season took place within the Norris Division of the brand-new Wales [Eastern] Conference.

Due to the fact that there were a combined 30 teams between the NHL and the league’s direct rival, the World Hockey Association, Washington had an extremely minuscule talent pool to pull from while attempting to put together their official roster.

At the conclusion of their 80-game season, the Capitals disappointingly posted the worst record in the entire league finishing 8-67-5. Their dreadful campaign saw them taking ownership of a number of unattractive records at the time including the fewest number of games ever won by a team playing at least 70 games [8], most road losses [39 out of 40], most consecutive road losses [37], and most consecutive losses [17]. The team’s .131 winning percentage still stands as the absolute worst in NHL history to this day.

Over the past four decades following their horrific initial season, the Caps have progressively grown as a franchise both in terms of roster-wide talent and team success. They qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 1983 and managed to do the same for the following 13 seasons in a row. Their only trip to the Stanley Cup final occurred two years after missing the playoffs in 1996, when in 1998 where they were convincingly swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

Throughout Washington’s 39 seasons in the league, the team has played host to a wide variety of notable players. Four names in particular, Rod Langway, Yvon Labre, Mike Gartner, and Dale Hunter, currently hang in the rafters of the Verizon Center. Additionally, six players whose names have graced the Capitals sweater have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame: Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy, Scott Stevens, and most recently, former head coach Adam Oates, in addition to Langway and Gartner as well.

While it’s undeniable that current Caps superstar and team captain Alex Ovechkin will inevitably become a seventh inductee at some point in the future, there’s another recognizable player who deserves to be deemed an eternal legend of the game.

Washington Capitals – Peter Bondra

With the 156th overall pick in the eighth round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, the Washington Capitals selected the 22-year-old European sniper Peter Bondra.

“Bonzai,” born February 7, 1968 [46] in Lutsk, Ukraine, was never one to be thrust into the spotlight during his 17-season NHL career. However, any hockey fan who genuinely watched him on a consistent basis knew him as the offensive wizard he is remembered as today.

As a player, he relied heavily on his two greatest areas of strength – skating and shooting. Bondra was unquestionably one of the fastest skaters in the league. He was both explosive and finessed at the same time. As a result, he regularly competed in the fastest skater competition during various all-star game skills festivities winning the contest in both 1997 and 1999.

In addition to his base speed, he had a drastically wide stance, which gave him incredible balance with the puck on his tape. As a winger, Bondra loved flying up the right boards and cutting hard inside to the middle of the ice just as he passed the opponent’s blue line to wire accurate shots from the top circles. It’s extremely reminiscent of Ovechkin who performed the exact same skill move coming from the opposite left side when he first came into the league.

As far as his shot went, it was among the top releases throughout the NHL. Bondra was well known for having a devastatingly wicked wrist shot that he was not afraid to unleash. He was a pinpoint sniper. He had the ability to shoot from anywhere on the ice and wasn’t shy about doing so. Another aspect of his shooting prowess was that he was able to be accurate while in stride. This lethal combination of pace and precision left many goalies guessing when pucks left Bondra’s stick. He had a pure goal-scoring mentality. While the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy presented to the league’s top goal scorer wasn’t established until the 1999 season, Bondra led the NHL twice in 1995 [34 goals] and 1998 [52 goals]. He would go on to become the 37th player in NHL history to reach the 500-goal plateau and is one of only 44 players to have ever scored five goals in a single game.

Not to be overshadowed by his superior offensive game, Bondra paid much attention to his defensive play as well. During the 90s when the Caps were known for their defense-first style, he was a regular on the team’s superb penalty kill unit.

In an era of relatively low goal scoring, Bondra was a two-time 50-goal scorer and finished off his career “quietly” with 503 goals and 389 assists for a combined total of 892 points in 1,081 games in the league. Over that span, he was selected to five NHL All-Star Games [’93, ’96, ’97, ’98, and ‘99] and won a gold medal with Slovakia at the 2002 World Championships in Sweden. Bondra is currently the franchise scoring leader in both points [825] and goals [472] for the Capitals as well.

Without a doubt, if there is one former Washington Capital who deserves to be recognized on a Hockey Hall of Fame ballot in the future, it’s Peter Bondra. The fact that his number has not yet been retired by the organization is enough of a travesty in itself. He’s a player who has often been compared to the likes of Pavel Bure, a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee, and Alex Ovechkin, a shoe-in for future induction. He didn’t reach 1,000 points, and he never won a Stanley Cup. He was a young European kid who never came up through the North American system yet managed to become one of the most infectious offensive weapons the NHL has ever seen.

 

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