In today’s edition of Throwback Thursday, we look at the early going of the expansion Washington Capitals. After a horrendous start, Caps GM Milt Schmidt stood up at the GMs meeting and asked the league, and other teams, for help in the form of better players. No one helped.
Machismo and bravado being what they are, there’s no way you’d see this headline in today’s NHL, no matter how poorly the Buffalo Sabres or Edmonton Oilers started a season.
Washington Begs For Player Help That was the main headline in The Hockey News 40 years ago, early in the 1974-75 season. The expansion Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts were both struggling. With just one win in Washington’s first 18 games, Capitals GM Milt Schmidt went to the league and media with hat in hand.
In this edition of Throwback Thursday, here’s how that Dec. 6, 1974 cover story read:
By Russ White
An SOS has been sounded to the various teams in the NHL. The Washington Capitals need help. GM Milt Schmidt is practically begging.
Schmidt went to the meeting of NHL GMs last Monday in Chicago and when league matters were concluded, he jumped up to conduct some “other business.” His message was brief:
“Look, for the good of the whole league, the Washington franchise could use some help. Many of you have players sitting in the stands who could help in Washington. Our team is willing to deal a first round draft choice in return.”
Schmidt gained four immediate responses.
Buffalo, St. Louis, Atlanta and the New York Islanders submitted a list of players that they might deal for Washington’s first amateur draft pick in 1975.
“At least I have some names,” Schmidt said. “There is no way we can sit tight. If we are unable to motivate the players on our roster, we’ll have to make moves.”
The Capitals completed the first fifth of their schedule with a 1-15-2 record. Projecting the record through the entire 80-game schedule makes for a very long winter and a 5-65-10 record. That’s tough for anyone to stomach, particularly Schmidt, who came to Washington from Boston and the Bruins.
When Schmidt took the Capitals position he doggedly insisted he’d build with youth, that he’d keep all amateur draft choices. Much has happened since Schmidt’s original plan.
First the NHL had its first draft of 18-year-olds last summer and many of the players who might have been available in 1975 were already gobbled up. The Washington scouting staff has not recommended any significant kid that might reshape things in Washington should he go first in 1975.
The Capitals would gamble someone off another roster would be more important – and give some instant relief to a miserable situation.
Washington has yielded more goals than any team in the league, has scored the least. After a 4-3 victory over Chicago, the team has spent five weeks in a winless rut. Goaltenders Ron Low and Michel Belhumeur are shell-shocked. No relief is in sight.
Schmidt has talked with Minnesota’s Jack Gordon about veteran center Fred Stanfield, who was sitting out early games with the North Stars. Gordon listened, but made no deal. Finally Stanfield went into the lineup and enjoyed a hat trick against Detroit. “I was damn happy for Stanfield,” Schmidt said, “but his timing was awful.”
The biggest ears in trade talks about an amateur pick were those of Montreal smoothie Sam Pollock. The Canadiens had several players who were inactive and Schmidt wanted them. Defenseman John Van Boxmeer, wingers Glenn Goldup and Glen Sather were the principals.
Pollock, however, failed to show at the GM meeting in Chicago and Schmidt was left waiting.
Jimmy Anderson, the Washington coach, was kicking himself that the team decided against keeping Peter Sullivan, a small center the Caps had on loan earlier from Montreal. Schmidt preferred bigger centers and returned Sullivan to the Canadiens, who shipped him back to Nova Scotia.
Sullivan’s name popped up in recent talks again.
Meanwhile more bad luck found its way to Capital Centre as vet Jack Egers was hospitalized and faced back surgery. Egers scored the winning goal in the club’s lone victory and had one of the two tying goals in the two draws.
Team owner Abe Pollin showed considerable restraint as did the fans in the nation’s capital.
“Is there anything I can do?” Pollin asked Schmidt.
“Stay with us,” Schmidt answered. – Addendum: Schmidt’s pleas fell on mostly deaf ears. His rivals loved easy victories. In Feburary with the Capitals an abysmal 4-45-5, Schmidt fired coach Anderson and traded Caps leading scorer Dennis Dupere to St. Louis for Garnet ‘Ace’ Bailey and Stan Gilbertson. The team responded with two wins in four games. Red Sullivan, who replaced Anderson behind the bench, lasted just 17 games before the stress caused him to step down for health reasons. Later, the Caps set a modern-day futility record finishing 8-67-5 for just 21 points. In the off-season, the Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers came to the “aid” of Washington and offered Bill Clement, Don McLean and a first round pick in 1976 to the Capitals for the first overall selection in 1975, which the Flyers used to take Mel Bridgman. Clement played just half a season in Washington before going to Atlanta, McLean played just nine NHL games and the 1976 first pick became Greg Carroll, who played just 131 games in the NHL. Bridgman went on to a solid 13-year career in the NHL, scoring at least 50 points nine times. The Capitals improved marginally to 11-59-10 in their second season. Schmidt was replaced by Max McNab partway through that term.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN