In the Ontario Junior Hockey League, Mike Marson was the
perfect combination of scoring toughness and leadership, registering 94 points
as captain of the 1973-74 Sudbury Wolves. The Capitals used the first pick in
the second round of the 1974 amateur draft to select him, but he came into
camp overweight and his first NHL training camp was not going so well. The
Capitals were just about ready to send him down to their AHL team, the Richmond
Robins on Oct. 3, when they moved him from his usual left wing to the right side
to play with Tommy Williams and Mike Bloom in an exhibition game against the Detroit
Red Wings. He scored three goals in that game and would go on to play the whole
year in Washington.
By his own account, he was not ready for the NHL, but the Capitals could not afford to have him playing in the minors. They just didn't have the talent on the rest of the team to give him the training in the minors that he needed. Not only did Mike have to deal with the pressure of being a 19-year old playing against the best players in the world, he was also the first black NHL player in almost 14 years, playing in a city with a long history of racial unrest. As a junior in Ontario, he had never faced the hatred that he would have to deal with on a daily basis in the NHL. He didn't just face it at the rink, but in restaurants, hotels, and everywhere he went.
He finished third on the team in scoring in 1974-75, but never really developed into the player he could have been. "There was just so much garbage I had to deal with that I just wasn't used to. The accumulation of all that garbage just made me uneasy - uncomfortable all the time. How can you perform at your best as a professional athlete if you're uncomfortable all the time? You can't. It's impossible" - Breaking The Ice by Cecil Harris
The Plumbers Line
The Washington Capitals of the 1980s were known around the league as one of the hardest working teams and one of the toughest to play against because of their work ethic and committment to team defense. The line that best sums up these Capitals teams is the "plumbers line" of Greg Adams, Alan Haworth and Craig Laughlin. They played together from 1984-1987 and had their greatest success (and earned their nickname) during the 1985-86 season. In training camp, Haworth, who was a speedy winger with a hard shot was asked to play center with a couple of muckers and grinders in Adams and Laughlin. They instantly clicked and had success not only as a hard-working line that dug in the corners and worked in front of the "pipes", but also as a scoring line. Both Laughlin (30) and Haworth (34) had 30-goal seasons and all three had career highs in points - Laughlin (75), Haworth (73), Adams (56).
The jersey pictured above was worn by Craig Laughlin during the 1982-83 season while earning his reputation as a "plumber". It definitely shows the effects of mucking in the corners and taking the abuse of NHL defensemen while standing in front of the net. The jersey has over 90 team repairs with 5 of them being large material patches.
Just like the plumbers' line of the mid-1980s, the line of Ulf Dahlen, Jeff Halpern, and Steve Konowalchuk were greater than the sum of their parts. They may not have put up the same amount of offense as the plumbers, but they were certainly just as effective at wearing down opposing defenses. From 1999-2001, this was one of the best defensive lines in all of hockey. They played as a checking line against the other teams top two lines, but would often spend their entire shift in the offensive zone.
All three were tremendous in the corners not only recovering pucks but also tying up the opposition and running time off the clock. Dahlen's ability to skate sideways for long stretches allowed him to control the puck along the wall or behind the net while being able to see the entire ice sheet. This was the perfect compliment to Konowalchuk's willingness to outwork opponents and crash the net and Halpern's all-around game. Both Halpern and Konowalchuk had career years in goals in 2000-01 and all three had the best plus-minus of their careers while playing together.
Enforcers, Fighters and Tough Guys
The Capitals have only had one player lead the league in penalty minutes - Randy Holt during the 1982-83 season. When Holt was acquired midway through the 1981-82 season, the Washington Post wrote that he was the "Capitals' first big-time goon". With 250 penalty minutes in just 50 games that season, he lived up to the reputation. He would then lead the league with 275 the next season. In those two seasons, Holt piled up 19 major penalties and 24 misconducts.
Several others have finished in the top 5, such as Alan May (1989-90), Craig Berube (1993-94, 1994-95), Brendan Witt (2005-06) and Tom Wilson (2014-15 through 2017-18). Alan May's 339 penalty minutes in 1989-90 are the most in a single season by a Capital.
Craig Berube was already an elite-level enforcer when he was acquired by the Caps in 1993. During his six seasons in Washington, he had 1220 penalty minutes and over 100 fighting majors. His leadership, grit and toughness on the ice led by example and the rest of the Capitals followed. He was a big part of the Capitals run to the 1998 Stanley Cup finals, playing in all of the Capitals' 21 playoff games.
Chris Simon was added to the Capitals at the beginning of the 1996-97 season, making the Caps a team that no one wanted to mess with. The combination of Simon and Berube was arguably one of the best enforcer combos in the league. But it wouldn't last as Simon would miss 153 games over the next three seasons due to injury. When he was finally healthy for the start of the 1999-2000 season, he changed his game and stayed out of the penalty box. This resulted in career highs in goals, assists, and points. He remained a valuable role player for the next few seasons, and although he didn't fight as much as he once did, he was still a very effective enforcer.
Donald Brashear was already a fighting legend by the time he came to the Capitals in 2006. He had amassed over 2000 minutes in penalties with over 200 fighting majors and by all accounts was one of the best enforcers in the game. The Caps signed him during the summer of 2006 to give their young superstar, Alex Ovechkin, some protection on the ice. The signing proved effective, as Ovechkin continued to improve his game and collected two Hart trophies in the three years Brashear was on the team. Donald was made an alternate captain by the end of the 2006/07 season and continued in that role through the middle of the 2008/09 season. In his three seasons with Washington, he had 396 penalty minutes and 41 fighting majors.
Tom Wilson was selected in the first round of the 2012 draft for his rare combination of skill and toughness. He made an immediate impact during the 2013-14 season with 14 fighting majors and 151 penalty minutes. He was in the top 10 in penalty minutes in each of his first six seasons in the league. He eventually developed into a very well rounded player, breaking the 20-goal plateau for the first time in 2018-19 and also being one of the Capitals top penalty killers.