Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt (he’s tall) has lived an eventful hockey life. Originally a producer and videographer for the Capitals’ website — and occasional Verizon Center DJ — he became known throughout the hockey world when he served as an emergency goaltender for a game in December 2008.
After Jose Theodore injured himself during a pregame skate, Stretch signed an amateur tryout agreement before the Caps faced the Ottawa Senators. Leonhardt later left DC for a job in the NHL’s war room in Toronto before coming back as Washington’s video coach in 2012. In 2013, Leonhardt, a former junior hockey and NCAA Division III goaltender, once again served as a backup, preforming his usual video editing duties during the intermissions.
Now, he’s added a notch in his storied career: wearer of absurd Barry Trotz themed socks.
It was more of a coronation than a surprise. At the 2016 NHL Awards here at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, a dapper Braden Holtby strode up on stage to receive the Vezina Trophy as “the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position” in the 2015-16 regular-season by the league’s general managers. He beat out fellow finalists Ben Bishop (35-21-4, 2.06 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) and Jonathan Quick (40-23-5, 2.22 goals-against average, .916 save percentage).
When Barry Trotz took over as the head coach of the Washington Capitals the summer 2014, the team was in disarray, with a myriad of self-inflected wounds from the tenure of Adam Oates, who was soon run out of town.
Just two years later, Trotz led the Caps to a 56 wins, the most in franchise history, as the team captured its second Presidents’ Trophy. Now he’s won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year as voted on the league’s broadcasts, picking up the trophy at the NHL Awards Show at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino here in Las Vegas.
Ovechkin poses with the Rocket Richard Trophy, which he won again this year, at the 2014 NHL Awards. (Photo: Harry How)
The Washington Capitals had a domineering regular season in 2015-16, running away with the Presidents’ Trophy by 11 points. On Wednesday evening in Las Vegas, their personal feats from this past season will be honored. Well… most of them.
One Caps player already has hardware locked up: Alex Ovechkin, who won the Richard Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer. It was his third straight 50-goal season. But there will be no crazy blue suits on the red carpet this year. Ovechkin will not be in Las Vegas to claim his prize.
“Alex will not be attending the Awards this year,” a Capitals spokesperson said in an email to RMNB, declining to elaborate further. A spokesperson for the NHL also confirmed Ovechkin’s absence.
Back in the 2009-2010, the Washington Capitals dominated the NHL’s regular season, capturing the franchise’s first-ever Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular season team. While the Caps lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round that year, their top minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears, had different fortunes in the playoffs, winning their their second consecutive American Hockey League championship. It was the storied team’s 11th Calder Cup.
Six years later, Braden Holtby, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Jay Beagle — all stars from that championship Bears team — guided Washington to another Presidents’ Trophy this season. But once again, the Caps made an early playoff exit. The Bears, however, are still playing hockey in June, competing in their first Calder Cup Finals since their championship in 2010. But after Friday night’s 5-3 loss to the Lake Erie Monsters, Hershey faces a 0-2 series hole, though both games in the series have been relatively tight affairs.
“It’s not over by any means,” said Aaron Ness, who had two points in eight games with the Caps this season. “We’re excited for the challenge, we’re excited for the next game, and we’re ready to go.”
Capitals’ forwards Eric Fehr and Joel Ward watched helplessly as the Rangers’ Derek Stepan sent a puck flying past Braden Holtby in Game Seven of the second round last year. Both wanted to win a Stanley Cup with Washington. But as the Capitals blew a three-games-to-one series lead, Stepan’s overtime tally became their final play with the team.
If the offseason, the Capitals acquired Justin Williams and TJ Oshie, letting Ward and Fehr walk. Ward, going to the Sharks, and Fehr, going to the Penguins, signed three-year deals worth $9,825,000 and $6,000,000 respectively. Now, they will face each other in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Monday night in Pittsburgh.
“Fehrsie and I were good buddies when we played together,” Ward said Sunday. “It just kind of happened and we parted ways. I went left and he went right. And here we are.”
It’s been a couple weeks since Nick Bonino of the Pittsburgh Penguins scored in overtime to eliminate the Washington Capitals from the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The second round series was an epic battle between the hottest team in the league, the Penguins, and the team with the best record in the NHL, the Capitals.
Over the six-game series, the Penguins netted just one more goal than the Caps, outscoring them 16-15. Three of the games went to overtime. If a few more bounces went the Capitals’ way, they could be getting ready to host Game One of the Stanley Cup Final right now.
Every year, Nicklas Backstrom’s facial hair gets a little less terrible and Alex Ovechkin’s hair gets a little more gray. Both players are still at the top of their game — for now. But by the time next season rolls around, Ovechkin will be 31. Backstrom will turn 29 soon after. Each player is getting near the latter half of their career.
“It absolutely crosses your mind,” Backstrom said when asked about him and Ovechkin running out of time to win a Stanley Cup. “We need to get over the hump we can’t get over.”
On Thursday, the Capitals gathered at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to discuss another season that ended prematurely. The players were more visibly emotional than in years past at the annual end-of-season confab with reporters, promising Stanley Cups to the fans and articulating their frustrations with plenty of “failures” and “sucks.”
The news, however, came in the form of injuries revealed publicly for the first time. Karl Alzner’s ailment was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Referred to by Braden Holtby as the team’s most important player, Alzner missed most of the final game with a torn groin. He played just two shifts early in the second period before being pulled from the game.
“I know that the first four games of the series, I was just out there filling a spot, Alzner said. “I was out there and I was not hurting the team I don’t think, but I also wasn’t helping in winning in the game. That’s when you know you can still do things, but once I’m getting beat up the ice trying to chase a guy and not able to at least stay in battles, that’s when you know it’s time.”