Capitals Look Back – Scott Stevens

By Jeff Charlesworth
Watching Scott Stevens raise his second Stanley Cup in five years was extremely painful for long-time Capitals fans. They remember that ten years ago, the Caps let him walk to St. Louis in the first big name – and arguably the largest ever – NHL Free Agent signing. The decision to let Stevens go has been widely criticized, but the Capitals had their reasons at the time. With the power of hindsight, we can look back and try to determine if the Capitals made the right choice.

Scott was the Capitals first round pick in 1982, 5th overall. By that fall, he was already patrolling the blueline in DC and became a force to be reckoned with. In 1990, he was part of a solid Caps defence corps that also featured Rod Langway, Kevin Hatcher and Calle Johansson. Although he was only 26 years old, Scott was an 8-year NHL veteran and 2-time All-Star. The Blues offered to pay him what was considered an obscene amount at that time: $5.1 million over 4 years. In comparison, eight days earlier in Major League Baseball, Jose Canseco and the Oakland Athletics agreed to a 5 year contract worth $23.5 million.

At the time of his departure, Scott had been implicated in a scandal that rocked the Washington locker room. Stevens, along with teammates Dino Ciccarelli, Geoff Courtnall and Neil Sheehy allegedly sexually assaulted a teenager outside a bar after a team party. That off-season, Capitals GM David Poile began to cure himself of the headache by getting rid of everyone involved. Three of the four players were gone by opening night in 1990 (although Sheehy did suit up for two playoff games in the spring of 1991), with Ciccarelli lasting two more years before being dealt to Detroit.

The NHL had newly implemented rules regarding Free Agency, put in place to allow players the freedom to switch teams. However, the player’s original team held all the cards and few big names have ever switched teams using this route. Not only did the Capitals have the right to match St. Louis’ offer – if they decided not to match, they received a large compensation package. The two teams had a set amount of time to agree to a trade involving the player in question. If they could not come to terms, the NHL would give some the Capitals a collection of St. Louis draft picks based on the amount of the contract.

Since the Blues and Capitals had a stand-off regarding player compensation, the NHL awarded the Capitals one of two options, to be decided upon by the Blues. Either a top-seven draft selection in each of the 1991 and 1992 drafts, or five straight first-round picks. The Blues tried to trade up into the top seven during the 1991 draft, but were unable to do so. Therefore, they were forced to give the Capitals first-round picks in 1991 through 1995.

The following is a list of the players the Capitals chose with those five selections, and a small synopsis of their past, present and future:

1991, 21st overall: LW Trevor Halverson – North Bay (OHL)

Halverson was thought to be a second or third-line power forward, who would not back down from a fight. He showed flashes of that talent in the minors – best illustrated in 1995/96, when he scored 40 goals and 79 points with 256 penalty minutes in 76 games. He was selected by Anaheim in the 1993 expansion draft, but never made it to the NHL with the Ducks. After a few years with Anaheim, he re-signed with the Caps as a Free Agent. Trevor had a shot at making the team this season, but suffered a concussion during the pre-season and did not play a single game in 1999/2000.

1992, 14th overall: D Sergei Gonchar – Chelybinsk (CIS)

Gonchar was not a well-known commodity when he was drafted, but has since become a fan favourite in Washington. He came over to North America in 1994 and started the season in the AHL, but was in DC by season’s end. He came into his own during the 1998 Stanley Cup run, and has been one of the Caps’ best players since then. Sergei should be a perennial 20-goal scorer, and will be the Capitals’ number-one defenseman for the next decade.

1993, 11th overall: D Brendan Witt – Seattle (WHL)
Witt is starting to become the dominant force that the Capitals envisioned him to be back in 1993. He earned a spot on the roster in his first training camp, but could not come to a contract agreement and went back to junior. The Caps have allowed Brendan to learn on the job, and in the last couple of seasons has shown the potential to be the Capitals’ number-two defenseman for years to come. Witt is the closest thing the Capitals have as a replacement for Stevens’ toughness and leadership.

1994, 10th overall: D Nolan Baumgartner – Kamloops (WHL)

The Capitals were sure that Baumgartner was going to be a star when they drafted him in 1994. They took the pick they received from the Blues (16th overall), and packaged it with centre Mike Ridley to trade up to the number ten slot. Nolan has been very slow in developing, and has not made it to Washington full-time yet (18 games over 5 years). He still has the potential to be an NHL defenseman, but will probably never be the player the Capitals thought he would be. He has been exposed in the upcoming expansion draft and is a prime candidate to be selected.

1995, 23rd overall: LW Miika Elomo – Kiekko 67 (FIN)

Elomo has been a late starter to his North American career, as this was his first full season away from home. He came to training camp in 1996, 1997 and 1998, but became frustrated with being demoted to the AHL – eventually going home mid-season to play in the Finnish leagues each year. Miika had an incredible start to this season, but an injury slowed him down and he never got back on track. He has been mentioned by Capitals’ GM George McPhee as one of the players capable of making the jump to the NHL next season. Elomo was exposed in the expansion draft as well, and could very well be playing in Columbus or Minnesota next year.

So, here’s your chance to play GM. Would you trade away All-Star and defensive cornerstone Scott Stevens for a package of: Forwards Miika Elomo and Trevor Halverson, as well as Defensemen Nolan Baumgartner, Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt? E-mail me with your vote and thoughts on the subject, and I will publish the results and best comments later on in the off-season.