Washington center Dennis Maruk on Sunday became the ninth 130-point scorer in National Hockey League history. At the same time, the Capitals became the second team in NHL annals to go eight seasons without appearing in a playoff game.
Sunday's 6-5 loss to Pittsburgh eliminated Washington from playoff contention, and a glance at this morning's standings will reveal the Capitals, with 60 points, as the best of the five nonplayoff teams. Should they finish that way, they will not be eligible to draft Brian Bellows or Gary Nylund or Gord Kluzak or Ken Yaremchuk.
Instead, Washington probably will wind up with one of the Sutter twins, Rich or Ron. That choice figures to be an ulcer inducer, because Ron is a center, the Capitals' richest position, and winger Rich has a history of back problems. Neither ranks with Orr, Esposito or even Maruk.
Whether Roger Crozier, the current acting general manager, will exercise that option in June remains yet another item of conjecture, since owner Abe Pollin has stated that Crozier's future will be determined following a postseason evaluation of the club's prospects.
Rumors continue to abound that Pollin is negotiating to sell the club in the face of more than $2 million in losses this season. However, the Capitals' No. 20 ranking in the gross receipts department, trailed only by the disaster in Denver, makes it highly unlikely that a buyer will step in without some drastic changes.
One of those changes could be a merger of the Colorado and Washington franchises, a possibility dismissed as "far out" by Pollin three months ago. The franchise would remain in Washington.
Some highly influential NHL people reportedly are attempting to get Pollin and Colorado owner Peter Gilbert to work out such a merger, and Pollin's resistance may have been pierced by the awful March crowds, which averaged barely 11,000 despite an abundance of freebies and discount tickets.
Pollin was in New York yesterday and not available for comment.
Certainly, the Rockies could contribute some essential talent to a combined team, with goalie Chico Resch and defenseman Rob Ramage filling two critical holes. It will also be remembered that the 1978 merger of Cleveland and Minnesota, which worked out so well, was the brainchild of the Capitals' legal counsel, Peter O'Malley, and Pollin discussed a Washington-Cleveland merger with the Gund brothers before they took their proposal to Minnesota.
A merger of the Rockies and Capitals reasonably could be combined with new ownership, if Pollin also would provide incentives in the areas of concessions, parking and television rights. It seems inconceivable that any group would buy the team without such incentives, regardless of the competitive strength of the team.
The Edmonton Oilers, despite the NHL's highest attendance--a 17,490-seat sellout every game--are not prospering financially, because the Northlands Coliseum controls the concessions and the Oilers are prohibited from sharing in TV revenues until 1984, under the WHA-NHL merger agreement.
There are people who still believe that Washington can become a great hockey town, but the repeated failures are reducing their numbers.
There is wonder as well how long the mainstays of the current club--Maruk, Rick Green, Ryan Walter, Mike Gartner, Bengt Gustafsson--can continue to withstand the effects of unrelieved adversity.
Green was here in 1976 and 1977, when the Capitals took some great strides forward under Tom McVie, closing out the season with 62 points. All indications pointed toward an excellent future for the franchise. Now, five years later, the Capitals need one victory in their last three games to equal that total of 62 points.