Rumors, and for us Caps fans – despair, fill up most of the downtime until we wait for the puck to drop again in October. Some of us speculate on which UFA will be (re)signed, some of us debate hotness of hockey players with or without teeth and some of us debate who’s sweater should hang in the rafters of The Phone Booth.
Olaf Kölzig spent 16 years as a Washington Capital — including six appearances as their goalie in the playoffs. He owns many of the franchise’s meaningful goalie records (GP, W, SO, Pts, SVs and SV%). Should the Caps honor the now-retired Kölzig by hoisting his jersey to the Verizon Center rafters?
As you would expect, Ted Leonis got this question almost immediately after Kölzig announced his retirement, and posted in his blog:
He was an all-time great for our franchise. He is deeply respected and beloved by all of us but I simply request that we all have the luxury of time. We all need to gain perspective.
Let’s take a look at which jerseys are already retired by the Caps and then see if Olie the Goalie deserves his jersey among them.
The current honorees:
#7 Yvon Labre. Labre scored the first-ever home goal for Washington and was the team’s captain from 1976–78. Labre is on the Caps career leaderboard for PIMS (#8).
#5 Rod Langway, captain from 1982–93 and also the “Secretary of Defense.” Langway is a HOFer, won the Norris trophy twice with the Caps and was a 6 time All Star. The Capitals competed in the postseason in every one of the 11 years that Langway was with the team. Some credit him as being the franchise’s savior. A no-brainer.
#32 Dale Hunter. Hunter litters the Caps leaderboard – and not just for PIMs (1st): Games Played (4th), Goals (T-9th), Assists (3rd), Points (4th). He was also the captain from 1994–99.
#11 Mike Gartner, HOFer, seven time All Star and on The Hockey News’ list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players (#89). #2 in Goals, Assists and Points for the Caps franchise. It took Gartner 10 years after his retirement to get his number retired.Now, onto Kölzig.
Clearly, Kölzig is the best goalie ever for the Capitals. His 18,013 saves are about 12,000 more than 2nd place (Don Beaupre) and his 301 wins are the most for any Washington Capital goalie. He also owns many of the franchise’s meaningful goalie records (GP, SO, Pts and SV%).
Kölzig was a fan favorite. In 2004, the Capitals held a vote for fans to determine the top 30 players in the franchise history to celebrate their 30th season in the league. Kölzig’s 2,038 votes led all players.
In the 1997–98 season Kölzig led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the playoffs, he became only the tenth goalie in NHL history to record four shutouts in one postseason. The Caps were swept in four games by the defending champion Detroit Red Wings.
Kölzig also has the distinction of being one of four goaltenders to play a scoreless period during an NHL All-Star Game, having done so at the 2000 All-Star Game. He also played in the 1998 All-Star Game, in which he made 14 saves on 17 shots. His 2000-01 campaign is the only one that would also come close to an “all-star-type season.
In 2000, he won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie after going 41-20-11 with a 2.24 GAA and five shutouts.
So, what do we have?
Out of the four jerseys retired by the Capitals:
Three were captains. The first thing that jumps out at me is that three of the four honorees were team captains. Because Kölzig was a goaltender, he was never allowed to officially hold that title, but there was rarely any doubt who led the team especially in the latter stages of his career. Remember, there was a time when Steve Konowalchuk, Jeff Halpern & Brendan Witt held the distinguished honor.
Two are Hall of Famers, one of which is on the list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players ever. Kölzig played in an era that also had Richter, Brodeur, Hasek, Roy and Belfour, so he was never regarded as one of the best goalies ever in the NHL, and I am not so sure he is even a HOFer.
None were Cap “lifers.” Kölzig spent 16 years with the Caps, and during that time, he was a very good NHL goalie, which is why he holds most of the meaningful franchise records a goalie can have for the Washington Capitals.
It’s a tough call. I think there is pressure from fans, more for sentimental reasons than for Kölzig’s body of work on the ice. Longevity certainly is something to be lauded, but it also provides a longer period of time for people to become endeared to an ideal. Kolzig is a fan favorite for sure, but outside of the Vezina Trophy season of 2000, I think retiring his jersey would be more for a PR move than for his contributions on the ice.
Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth will ultimately provide the “perspective” Leonsis spoke about in his blog post, but either way, I don’t think Kölzig should hang among Labre, Hunter, Langway and Gartner.
Regardless, he sure was one good actor.