Enforcers, Fighters and Tough Guys
The first Capital to ever lead the league in penalty minutes was 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.
Tom Wilson would lead the league in the shortened season of 2020-21 and several others have finished in the top 5, including 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. In the shortened season for 2020-21, he led the league with 96 penalty minutes and also collected 33 points in 47 games.