Senators may unCap worst year ever 4-43-3 Ottawa jogs memories of '74-75

January 22, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

Jimmy Anderson wears a Washington Capitals ring on his right hand. Wearing a team ring isn't unusual for coaches and players who have won championships. But the ring Anderson wears is not the ring of a champion.

Anderson's ring came as recognition for being the Capitals' first coach. Jimmy Anderson has the distinction of having coached ** the worst team in modern NHL history, the 1974-75 Capitals.

"It was a great experience," Anderson recalled from his Agawam, Mass., home ,15l this week. "It was my one NHL head coaching job, and, sure, the record was a disaster, but it wasn't anybody's fault. I gave them my best. It wasn't the players' fault. There just wasn't anything there. That [expansion] draft should never have taken place, and what we wound up with, really, was a lot of third-rate hockey players."

Anderson coached 54 games of that 80-game season. Red Sullivan coached 19 and Milt Schmidt seven. Together, they produced an 8-67-5 mark. Anderson got four of those wins, Sullivan two and Schmidt two.

When it was over, nearly everyone who was part of it hoped no other team would have to go through it. But, now, here come the Ottawa Senators, taking dead aim at the record.

"I still don't think they can break it," said Yvon Labre, a defenseman on the original team and now the Capitals' community relations director.

"I don't see a lot of hope for them not breaking it," said Ron Lalonde, Labre's defensive teammate. "We were pretty bad, and Ottawa has a better lineup than we did. But the rest of the league is better, too. At this point, I don't see how they can turn it around."

The Senators are 4-43-3 after last night's 7-2 loss in Minnesota. They get their next opportunity tomorrow at the Capital Centre against Washington. So far this season, Ottawa has given Washington all it can handle. After losing, 5-1, in the first meeting, the Senators forced the Caps to rally twice for 6-5 and 4-3 victories.

"It's encouraging that we play teams tough," said Ottawa coach Rick Bowness. "But it's frustrating, too, because we're unable to put teams away. It's like everything else. Everything has rewards, and in hockey those rewards are winning or tying. We keep losing a lot of close games, and the frustration builds when you're playing as well as you can and losing. We just have to keep plugging away."

Anderson, who has worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings for the past 10 years, can relate to the frustration. He recalls one night on the road in Oakland, Calif.

"We were trying so hard," Anderson said. "It was 3-2, our game to win. We had it, but we made a couple defensive mistakes and lost. I went outside the arena and just screamed into the night.

"I hadn't realized -- I thought I'd be able to coach and teach, but there were too many games, too much traveling to teach and improve."

There are fewer than a handful of players from the Caps' original roster whom Anderson recalls with admiration today. One is the late forward Tommy Williams, the team's leading scorer with 22 goals and 36 assists, who, Anderson said, "was the best player we had, and he was finished."

Labre, who had 182 penalty minutes, was the team's hardest worker and Anderson's enforcer, is another.

And goalkeeper Ron Low, who was 8-36-2, is another.

"Low was excellent," said Anderson. "But we kept losing, and I saw him crying by his locker many nights."

Labre will not talk about his teammates, saying only that sometimes "you wondered if all of them had their hearts in it." Anderson agrees with that assessment, but Lalonde, who was traded to the Capitals in the middle of the season from the Pittsburgh Penguins, sees his former teammates' play differently.

"The objectives of a lot of players were different," said Lalonde, who is a regional manager for a financial planning company in Toronto. "The players there were mostly the 18th or 19th players from the other teams. Everyone was from a different organization and, clearly, the objective for many was more along the lines of looking out for themselves and getting out of Washington. When that happens, it doesn't lead to team unity and teamwork."

Lalonde, who played five seasons with the Caps, remembers early in that season, when he was still with Pittsburgh, sitting on the bench, feeling pity for the Capitals.

"I felt sorry for them," he said. "A week or two later, I was traded there, and it was good for me. I was always the last guy to make an NHL roster until I got to the Caps. There, I was allowed to develop along with the team. I probably played longer for Washington than I would have if I had stayed in Pittsburgh."

Tomorrow, Capitals coach Terry Murray said there will be no sympathy in him for Ottawa.

"When I was a rookie with the Oakland Seals, we were the doormat of the league, and I don't remember anyone feeling sorry for us," he said. "I don't remember anyone not playing their best players or calling up guys from the minor league to give them some NHL experience."

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