The Caps found a way to lose, despite a late lead and...
Caps Branches: Dennis Maruk
To chart the journey of the Fu Man Chu mustache to the District, it will take us from the beaches of San Francisco, to Cleveland, to that awkward time when two NHL teams became one. Along the way, we chart the career of an ECHL playoff MVP who nearly made it as a backup to Olaf Kolzig.
Today, let’s explore the path Dennis Maruk took to get to, then away from, the Washington Capitals. His connection to another Caps star with great hair, one of the mullet-sporting variety, comes many years later.
Following three seasons of 1.92 points-per-game production with the London Knights, the California Golden Seals drafted Maruk with the 21st overall pick in the second round of the 1975 draft. The World Hockey Association’s Cleveland Crusaders also picked Maruk, with a fifth round selection, but the Toronto native opted for the NHL.
In his rookie season, Maruk scored 62 points to come within one of the team lead, held by three-year veteran Al McAdam. That would be all for the Seals’ time in California.
The team’s minority owner George Gund III persuaded majority owner Melvin Swig to relocate the team to his hometown of Cleveland, the same city the Crusaders fled for Minnesota. The newly-minted Barons had a, shall we say, turbulent two years.
Details for the move were not finalized until August of 1976, right before the season was set to start. The team never recovered from the lack of initial visibility.
Fewer than 9,000 fans came to the Barons’ home opener against the Los Angeles Kings, players once went a month without paychecks, and, one time, the team could not play a game because insurance was not paid for the players.
Maruk made the most of his time in the Ohio Valley, leading the Barons in scoring with 78 and then 71 points in the two seasons.
The time in Cleveland would be short-lived. The Barons averaged 6,194 fans in the 1976-77 season, last in the NHL. They pulled up the rear again the next year with 5,676 fans per game. In both years, the New York Rangers led the NHL with over 11,000 people attending games in Madison Square Garden.
NHL President John A. Zeigler Jr., successor to Clarence Campbell, approved an unprecedented merger between the Barons and the equally-struggling Minnesota North Stars. So, what to do with the rosters of two NHL teams that now must become one? The inaugural Dispersal Draft.
GMs Lou Nanne (Minnesota) and Harry Howell (Cleveland) protected an equal number of players from their respective teams, including Maruk. Days before the 1978 Amateur Draft, the five poorest teams in the league — Washington, St. Louis, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, and Colorado — got to select an unprotected player.
Washington forfeited their #1 pick in the Dispersal Draft, taking instead an extra pick in the Amateur Draft. Pittsburgh and Colorado both declined to select a player.
The Capitals, coming off a 17-49-14, drafted Ryan Walter with their second overall pick and Tim Coulis with their extra first round pick. Completing an earlier trade with Cleveland (Bob Girard for Walt McKechnie), the Capitals had two picks in round two, drafting left wing Paul Mulvey and defenseman Paul MacKinnon. More on Walter in a later post.
Maruk would suit up for the red, white, and blue of the District, but it would take some early-season maneuvering.
After two games with the North Stars, Nanne traded Maruk to Washington for the team’s first round draft pick in 1979. The North Stars took Tom J. McCarthy with that pick, getting seven seasons and 333 points out of him before a trade sent him to the Boston Bruins for a second (Rob Zettler) and a third round (Scott McCrady) pick in 1987.
Maruk’s presence in the lineup made an immediate impact. On a team that went 24-41-15, Maruk led all scorers in goals (31), assists (59), and points (90).
After he tore a right knee ligament the next season, Maruk finished tenth in team scoring with 27 points in 27 games. The next two seasons, Maruk led all Capitals with 97 and then 136 points (remember the eighties?).
Maruk and the 1982-83 Capitals made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, losing in the first round to the New York Islanders, three games to one. Then came another trade that sent him back to the State of Hockey.
Maruk went back to the North Stars on July 5, 1983 for a second-round pick in 1984, used to draft right wing Stephen Leach.
Maruk spent his remaining six years with the North Stars, making brief cameos for the International Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Wings and the Western Professional Hockey League’s Lake Charles Ice Pirates as part of their three-game playoff run. His scoring would never rise above the 60 he earned in his first two seasons in Minnesota.
Leach went through 7 seasons with Washington, and scored 97 points in 246 career games. He also spent time with the U.S. National Team in 1988. On June 21, 1991, Randy Burridge came to Washington from the Boston Bruins for Leach.
Burridge spent 150 games with Washington, scoring 109 points despite a four-game season in 1992-93. Then came some craziness.
The Capitals and LA Kings swapped Burridge for Warren Rychel on February 10, 1995, then the Caps flipped Rychel to the Maple Leafs that same day for a fourth round pick in 1995. Who did Washington draft with that selection? Goaltender, Sebastien Charpentier.
Charpentier spent an extra two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before turning pro in 1997-98. He spent most of the season with the Hampton Roads Admirals of the ECHL. Despite a 0.899 save percentage and a 2.86 goals against average, Charpentier played 18 of the 19 games in the playoffs.
Hampton Roads made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, qualifying with the lowest point total of the 16 teams at 74 points. Never mind, because they swept the Eastern Conference’s best team in the Peoria Rivermen. After dropping two games to the intra-state rival Roanoke Express, Hampton Roads took the next three games, winning 3-2 in overtime of game five.
The Admirals met the Wheeling Nailers in the finals, heading to overtime three times in the six-game series. Hampton Roads wiped out Wheeling 5-1 in the series clincher to meet the Pensacola Ice Pilots in the first Kelly Cup Finals (previously, the ECHL trophy was called the Jack Riley Cup).
Of the 45 goals the Admirals allowed, 15 came against the Ice Pilots, and seven of those came in the 7-4 loss in game one. After a 3-1 win in game two and a 1-0 overtime loss in game three, the Admirals claimed the next three games to capture their third league title. Charpentier captured the playoffs MVP title for his performance.
Four more seasons with AHL Portland led to his NHL debut on April 12, 2002 against the Buffalo Sabres. He made 38 saves, with only Miroslav Satan scoring on him in the game. The Caps put up three for the win, with Charpentier earning second star honors.
Charpentier missed most of the 2003-04 season with a leg injury suffered in practice in November. He was scheduled to be the backup to Olaf Kolzig the next season… then the full-season lockout happened.
Charpentier opted to play in the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey, the Russian Elite League, the Austrian league, and DEL-2 (Germany) until he retired in 2013. His NHL line stopped at 24 games, 2.98 GAA, .0897 SV%, and 5-13-1.
Paul Mulvey played 187 games in a Washington sweater before a trade sent him and a conditional draft pick to Pittsburgh for the rights to Orest Kindrachuck, who was signed by the Penguins two days before the September 4, 1981 trade. Kindrachuck scored one goal in his four games with the Capitals during the 1981-82 season before going into retirement.
Tim Coulis played 19 NHL games with Washington before the Capitals traded him, Robert Picard, and a second round pick in 1980 (Bob McGill) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Mike Palamateer and a third (Torrie Robertson). Coulis did not play a game for the blue and white, instead playing two years for the Central Hockey League’s Dallas Black Hawks.
After two seasons with the Caps, Palamateer went back to the Maple Leafs organization in 1982-83, and remained there until his retirement in 1984. Five games into the ’82-83 season, Robertson was shipped off to the Hartford Whalers for Greg Adams, who was part of the deal that saw Mark Howe sent to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Adams spent six seasons in Washington before a trade sent him to Edmonton for Geoff Courtnall in 1988. Courtnall got traded to St. Louis for Mike Lalor and Peter Zezel. Zezel and Bob Rouse got dealt to Toronto on January 16, 1991, to bring Al Iafrate to America’s capital. And to his story, we will turn next time.