The Washington Capitals were thought of as a regular season force through the 2010s, but they could never get it done in the playoffs. Finally, in the 2017–18 season, their fortunes changed, and Alex Ovechkin finally raised the Stanley Cup (and the Summer of Ovi after that). How did the Capitals develop their cup winning roster? Well, unfortunately for the Calgary Flames and their fans, they actually helped play a major role.
But how could the Flames have helped the Capitals so much?
Flames versus Capitals draft picks
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Calgary’s drafting was underwhelming. There were a ton of misses in both the first round and later rounds. Oddly enough, in many of those years the Washington Capitals seemed to pick either right behind the Flames or a few spots later. Since the Flames did not draft well, the Capitals would capitalize on the Flames drafting mistakes.
Our first occurrence of the Flames and Capitals drafting close to one another is in 2005. Calgary selected Matt Pelech at 26th overall, while the Capitals selected Joe Finley 27th overall. Both players busted, so no harm here. But I do have to warn you, it gets much worse.
Our first major fumble comes in 2008, where the Flames selected Greg Nemisz 25th overall. Nemisz played 15 games with the Flames, scoring one assist. He never played in the NHL after that. This is where the pain starts. In the 2008 NHL Draft, the Washington Capitals selected John Carlson 27th overall, just two spots after the Flames selection of Nemisz. Carlson has turned into a fantastic defenceman for the Capitals, with 622 points in his 927-game career so far. On the Capitals cup run, Carlson had five goals and 20 points in 24 games. The 33 year-old defenceman still has three more seasons under contract with the Capitals at an AAV of $8M.
In the 2009 NHL Draft, the Calgary Flames selected Tim Erixon at 23rd overall. The Capitals, selecting at 24th overall, selected Marcus Johansson. Erixon refused to sign with the Flames, so they dealt him for Roman Horak and a pair of second-rounders (which turned into Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon. Wotherspoon was picked one selection before Nikita Kucherov, but that’s a conversation for another time). Not much value on the Flames side from this selection.
Johansson played seven seasons with the Capitals before being traded to the New Jersey Devils in the summer of 2017. Johansson wasn’t part of the Capitals Cup-winning roster, but he did contribute. Let me explain.
The trade return the Capitals received for Johansson consisted of 2018 second- and third-round picks. The Capitals selected Martin Fehevary with the 2018 second-rounder, but they used that 2018 third-rounder to acquire a rental player. At the trade deadline, Washington sent the 2018 third-rounder they acquired in the Johansson trade to the Chicago Blackhawks, in exchange for defenceman Michal Kempny.
At this time, Kempny was a relatively unknown defenceman who had come overseas and played parts of two seasons with the Blackhawks. However, Kempny took off with the Capitals, and played all 24 games on their playoff run, notching five points. Kempny played an average of 17:42 in the 2017–18 playoffs, helping provide defensive stability to the Capitals on their run.
This one is a fourth-round blunder, so really the Flames shouldn’t be punished much. But, they selected Bill Arnold at 108th overall. Four picks later, the Capitals selected Philipp Grubauer at 112th overall. Grubauer helped to split the load with Braden Holtby during the regular season, and kept him fresh for the playoff run.
In the 2012 NHL Draft, the Calgary Flames famously traded down from the 14th overall selection to the 21st selection. With that 21st selection, the Flames selected Mark Jankowski, who then GM Jay Feaster said would be the steal of the draft (spoiler alert: he wasn’t). Buffalo, who received the 14th overall selection from Calgary, used the pick to select Zemgus Girgensons, who has played 625 games with the Sabres franchise to this date.
The Washington Capitals were selecting at 16th overall, and welcomed Tom Wilson to the organization. Wilson is known league-wide as a pest/power forward, and has 295 points in 680 games with the Capitals so far. During the Cup run, Wilson had 15 points in 21 games. Imagine if the Flames stayed at 14th overall and selected Wilson?
In this same draft, the Flames selected Jon Gillies at 75th overall. Two picks later, the Capitals selected Chandler Stephenson at 77th overall. Gillies was seen as the goalie of the future for the Flames for many years, but never panned out. They can’t be faulted for that pick at the time. Stephenson helped the Capitals on their Cup run, scoring seven points in 24 games.
The Capitals also made a shrewd selection in the seventh round, selecting Christian Djoos at 195th overall. Djoos only played 110 regular season games in the NHL, but played in 22 games on the Capitals blueline during their Cup run. How did the Capitals get the 195th overall pick? Well, they received this pick from the Calgary Flames, in exchange for defenceman Keith Seabrook. Seabrook never played a game with the Flames.
The Flames had three first-rounders in 2013. They hit on the first one with the selection of Sean Monahan at 6th overall, but missed at 22nd and 28th overall. The Flames used the 22nd selection on Emile Poirier, who only played eight games with the Flames and had one assist. The Capitals just happened to be selecting 23rd overall that year, and took Andre Burakovsky with that pick. Burakovsky played five seasons with the Capitals, and contributed six points in 13 games during the Capitals’ Cup run.
Poor Flames drafting helped the Capitals win the cup
Looking back, the Flames made a ton of misses in these draft years. The Capitals took advantage, and selected John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Philipp Grubauer, Tom Wilson, Chandler Stephenson, and Andre Burakovsky just a few selections behind where the Flames drafted.
Maybe the tables will turn, with Washington selecting Connor McMichael 25th overall in 2019, while the Flames selected Jakob Pelletier 26th overall. How about 2020, where Washington traded up with the Flames to select Hendrix Lapierre 22nd overall? Calgary selected Connor Zary at 24th overall, and used the extra pick gained by trading down to take Jake Boltmann 80th overall.
That 2018 Stanley Cup is iconic. Washington, on behalf of the Calgary Flames, you’re welcome.