By Corey Parkinson
During a pregame ceremony before their season opener against the Boston Bruins on Oct.3, the Washington Capitals will raise their 2018 Stanley Cup Championship banner high in the rafters at Capital One Arena. Their first Stanley Cup banner will be surrounded by Division Championship banners of old from the Southeast, Metropolitan, and Patrick Divisions. It’ll hang with the Presidents’ Trophy banners and the retired numbers belonging to Rod Langway (#5), Yvon Labre (#7), Mike Gartner (#11), and Dale Hunter (#32). While superstar captain Alex Ovechkin’s famous #8 will undoubtedly soon hang there along with Braden Holtby’s #70 and the iconic #77 worn by both Adam Oates and TJ Oshie one day, one number in particular is conspicuously missing: Peter Bondra’s number 12.
Before Ovechkin, Bondra Was The Caps’ Leader
Before Ovechkin rejuvenated hockey in Washington with his highlight-reel goals, unmatched stick-handling and electric energy, Bondra was a significant leader for the Capitals. Drafted by Washington in 1990, Bondra immediately became one of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL. Over the course of his 14 seasons with the Capitals, he amassed 472 goals – which is second-most in franchise history – only surpassed by Ovechkin. On the way to the Capitals’ first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998, Bondra led the charge with 52 goals and 26 assists during the regular season. He didn’t disappoint in the playoffs either, adding 7 goals and 5 assists that term.
However, his spectacular season saw the Caps fall short as they were swept aside by the Detroit Red Wings in a four-game Stanley Cup Final. That loss was tough on the whole franchise, and although Bondra would go on to score 31 goals the next season, his team would fail to reach the playoffs and – ultimately – he would never reach the 50 goal mark again in his career. For a player of his caliber, one would think his jersey would already be retired. In fact since he was traded in 2004, only Jeff Friesen in 2006 has worn the number 12.
Bondra featured prominently in the Capitals’ first run to the Stanley Cup Final:
Beloved by Capitals fans on a team that has seen such greats as Oates, Hunter, Sergei Gonchar, and Olaf Kolzig, it’s hard to understand why this honor eludes Bondra. The fans loved him so much that in 2004 when The Capitals asked to vote their 30 favorite players for the franchise’s 30th anniversary season, Bondra finished 2nd only to Kolzig. So, why than has his number not been ceremonially retired? The answer could lie in his final season with Washington. During that 2003-04 season, the Capitals began trading players in order to free up cap space. This began by trading Jaromir Jagr to the New York Rangers.
Then, in a move that rocked the team and the fan base the Capitals, the team traded Bondra to Ottawa. For the first time in 14 years, the Capitals were without their fan favorite. In his farewell conference, an emotional Bondra stated that when he had learned of his trade from then Caps GM George McPhee he had an emotional breakdown. The move shocked the fans, the front office and even his teammates. Kolzig said at the time: “When you say Washington Capitals, the first thing you think is Peter Bondra.”
It’s long been implied (by some) that the trade caused Bondra to distance himself from the franchise he loved so much due to anger and feeling betrayed. Time may have healed the wounds; last October, the franchise hired him as Director of Alumni Affairs and Business Development. Bondra even basked in the glory of the Capitals Stanley Cup Championship; he was spotted at the Championship parade and other events featuring the Stanley Cup.
Put Bondra’s Number 12 Up Soon
Another reason that has long been rumored since Gartner had his number retired in 2008, was that Capitals’ majority owner, Ted Leonsis, did not want to retire any more numbers until the franchise had a Stanley Cup Champions banner hanging from the rafters. Whether this is an urban legend or not, a Stanley Cup Champions Banner will be raised at Capital One Arena on Oct. 3rd.
It’s time to put Peter Bondra’s number 12 where it rightfully belongs: right between Mike Gartner and Dale Hunter.