Boston has played two fewer games than the Capitals this season and could tie the mark as soon as Friday, but it’s still a remarkable nugget, given Washington’s struggles during the team’s miserable beginning in the league.
From their inaugural 1974-75 season through the 1981-82 campaign, the Capitals’ 163 regular season wins were the fewest among the 15 teams that were in the league for all of those eight seasons.
In July 1982, the Capitals were coming off their sixth last-place finish in the five-team Patrick Division in their first eight years. With attendance lagging and financial losses topping $20 million, owner Abe Pollin announced that he would sell or disband the Caps if the team didn’t gain tax relief from Prince George’s County, sell 7,500 season tickets and sell out the first 10 games of the season. Washington had 19 sellouts during its first eight seasons combined.
In the wake of Pollin’s announcement, about 100 fans gathered at Capitals center Dennis Maruk’s restaurant in Alexandria and organized a “Save the Caps” campaign.
“We want to set an example of what a community can do for a sports franchise," committee organizer Terry Coffman told The Washington Post. “This effort is for the town. We lost the Senators and the [Diplomats]. We do not want to be labeled as a bad sports town.”
The group distributed “Save the Caps” fliers, contacted businesses and held a fundraising drive to purchase a few thousand season tickets that were pledged to charities. They manned the phones at Capital Centre and hosted a radiothon.
In late August, Pollin announced at a meeting of the Prince George’s County Council that the Capitals would continue operations at Capital Centre for the 1982-83 season. At the same time, Dick Patrick, Jim Lewis and Marty Irving, partners in a Virginia real estate company, were announced as limited partners in the team.
The following week, Pollin followed Patrick’s advice and hired David Poile, who previously was the assistant general manager for the Calgary Flames, to replace Roger Crozier as the GM in Washington. Poile accepted the job under the condition that Bryan Murray remain the coach. The Capitals made the playoffs for the first time in 1983 — and in 14 of Poile’s 15 seasons in charge.
Patrick, who remains the Capitals’ team president, has presided over the NHL’s winningest franchise over the past 36-plus seasons, and his name was engraved on the Stanley Cup after the team’s first title in 2018. Washington has recorded the NHL’s third-most points (3,303) since 1982, 45 fewer than the Bruins. The Capitals’ 135 playoff wins during that time are the 10th most, and their 282 playoff games rank seventh.
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