During their expansion season in the NHL, the Washington Capitals were, well, beyond awful.
The Caps opened the 1974-75 season by losing 17-straight games breaking an NHL record of futility set in 1930-31 by the Philadelphia Quakers. Their first road win came near the conclusion of the season on March 28, 1975. The lowly Capitals beat the California Golden Seals 5-3 in Oakland, snapping a 37-game losing streak on the road. It would be the first and only road victory the Capitals secured that year. Inside the Capitals locker room, Tommy Williams picked up a trash can like it was the Stanley Cup and paraded around the room with it.
“Yep, everybody signed it,” goaltender Ron Low said according to NHL.com. “We made sure we got our names on the Cup and that was the end of our parade. It was bad enough that we only won seven at home. It was a pretty scary hockey club, not a whole lot of things you remember about it as great. You look at a lot of things that took place, 13 goals at Buffalo against and four of them by your own defensemen. You could make a pretty good movie out of it.”
The Capitals finished that season a dreadful 8-67-5, collecting only 21 standing points.
Fast forward seven years later to 1982, the Capitals franchise had barely improved and was without a playoff appearance during their eight seasons in the NHL. The organization was in dire straits, losing tens of millions of dollars a season, and Abe Pollin was considering relocating. A proposed Prince George’s County amusement tax would make things worse.
So a group of fans formed a “Save the Caps” committee. That committee made fliers, raised awareness through interviews with local sports anchors, and held a telethon with NBC4’s George Michael to promote season ticket sales and bring in more fans.
The fans also eventually testified before the Prince George’s County Council, striking down the tax. Local businesses rallied around the team, guaranteeing sellouts for the first ten games.
Before the season, the Capitals made one of the biggest trades in franchise history, acquiring eventual Hall of Fame defenseman Rod Langway as well as Craig Laughlin, Doug Jarvis, and Brian Engblom from the Montreal Canadiens. The Capitals sent 38-goal-scorer
Ryan Walter and 1976 first-overall pick Rick Green back to the Habs in exchange.
33-year-old rookie general manager David Poile, 10 days removed from being hired by owner Abe Polin, completed the blockbuster trade that would shape the franchise for years to come. But there was one problem. Walter was Pollin’s favorite player. “You did what? Well, you better know what you’re doing,” Pollin replied.
Poile did. Combined with the trade and Capitals fans and local businesses coming together to save the team, the franchise turned the corner. And since then, it has been the most winningest franchise in the NHL.
With their hot start to the 2019-20 season, the Capitals now have more wins than any other team in the 37 seasons since.
A successful “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982 ensured struggling #ALLCAPS franchise would survive. Dick Patrick arrived. GM David Poile & blockbuster Rod Langway deal soon followed
— Ben Raby (@BenRaby31) November 14, 2019
They even lifted the Stanley Cup. The for real one this time.
Headline photo: @BenRaby31/Twitter
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