Ovechkin and Backstrom were both destined for NHL stardom before they ended up on the same team, but there’s no question that they have benefited from each other’s presence in the more than 900 games they have played together since Ovechkin announced Backstrom as the No. 4 pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft.
“He’s a great player,” Backstrom said of Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in 2004, at the time. “I love this guy. It was amazing. He has good speed and is a goal scorer. Maybe we can do it together. I can be a playmaker to him.”
Oh, they would do it together.
Entering Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils, Backstrom had assisted on 255 of Ovechkin’s 686 goals. Only three players in NHL history have set up a teammate more often. Ovechkin is the Capitals’ all-time leader in goals, while Backstrom is Washington’s all-time leader in assists. The roles were reversed for the greatest assist in team history, when Ovechkin passed the Stanley Cup to Backstrom after the Capitals captured their first title in 2018.
Ovechkin’s 13-year contract is set to expire after next season. It’s hard to imagine him not finishing his career in Washington, playing alongside Backstrom, the other half of perhaps the greatest duo in D.C. sports history. Here’s a look at some of their competition for that title.
Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes
Unseld won rookie of the year and MVP honors after the Baltimore Bullets selected the 6-foot-7 center with the No. 2 pick in the 1968 NBA draft. The Bullets would acquire power forward Elvin Hayes, the only player taken ahead of Unseld, in a lopsided trade with the San Diego Rockets four years later. During their nine seasons together, the Bullets big men led the franchise, which relocated to D.C. in 1973, to three NBA Finals appearances and its only title in 1978.
Hayes averaged 21.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks while making eight all-star teams during his Bullets career, and still ranks first in franchise history in field goals, free throws, blocks and points. Unseld was MVP of the 1978 NBA Finals and ranks first in franchise history in games played, minutes played and total rebounds.
Unseld and Hayes were unstoppable on the court, but Hayes’s abrasive personality and a tendency to criticize his own teammates to reporters prevented the Hall of Famers from becoming friends.
“I do my talking to other players face-to-face, not through the press,” Unseld told Sports Illustrated in October 1978. “I don’t dwell within Elvin. I don’t know what he’s thinking, and I don’t care. The person I know is the basketball player, and right now he is one of the best in the league. What he’s done verifies that. We’ve had more than our share of run-ins off the court. But when he’s on the court he’s a professional, and that’s all that matters.”
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg
They don’t have the longevity of the aforementioned D.C. duos (yet), but they have the championship. Scherzer and Strasburg capped their fifth year as the anchors of the Nationals’ rotation by combining to go 8-0 in the playoffs en route to Washington’s first World Series title. Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, was especially dominant in the postseason and won World Series MVP honors. Two months later, he signed a seven-year, $245 million contract to remain in Washington through 2026, and Scherzer, whose contract expires in 2021, was a major reason.
The Nationals aces have had their disagreements, but elements of Scherzer’s fiery approach have rubbed off on the reserved Strasburg since Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal that MLB executives voted the worst free agent signing of the 2015 offseason.
“Maxie coming in here with all the hardware, it was a little eye-opening for me,” Strasburg said at the news conference to announce his new deal. “Our personalities are very different. I’m very quiet. … He is fearless. There are certain times where I have a tendency, not to shy away from certain hitters, but that [Scherzer] aggressiveness that I’ve watched over these years — hey, I don’t really care what happens, as long as I’m aggressive.”
Early in the 2018 season, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo described Scherzer and Strasburg as the best one-two punch he’d had since he was with Arizona when Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson led the Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001. Scherzer and Strasburg will have at least a couple of chances to win some more hardware together.
Sonny Jurgensen and Charley Taylor
The Redskins drafted Taylor with the third pick of the NFL draft in December 1963. Three months later, they swapped quarterbacks with the Eagles, sending Norm Snead to Philadelphia in exchange for Jurgensen. They never won a Super Bowl together, but Jurgensen and Taylor formed one of the NFL’s best duos over the next 11 seasons of their Hall of Fame careers.
Taylor, who starred at Arizona State, led the Redskins in rushing his first two years in the league. In 1966, the team converted him to a wide receiver. Taylor led the NFL in catches and Jurgensen led the league in passing yards in each of the next two seasons.
“I’m very happy that they did that, because he gave me someone that I could depend on and go to,” said Jurgensen, who threw 53 touchdown passes to Taylor. “You knew that he was going to make the tough catch for you. He had such speed and quickness and strength and size.”
Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry
The Bolivian national team teammates joined forces in Major League Soccer after D.C. United signed Moreno in the middle of the inaugural 1996 season. Four minutes into his MLS debut, Moreno scored on an assist from Etcheverry, which would become a common sight during their seven seasons together in D.C.
“I’ve known Marco since my first cap with the national team in the 1991 Copa América,” Moreno, D.C. United’s all-time leading scorer, said in 2013. “Since then, we have always had an amazing friendship. We then met at D.C. and my arrival to the club was so quick, I don’t think he was even expecting it. Marco means titles, and with him, we had the best years in D.C.”
Etcheverry and Moreno helped D.C. United win three MLS Cup titles in the first four years of the league. Etcheverry retired after the 2003 season. Moreno, who spent the 2003 season with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, was traded back to D.C. United in 2004 and played in Washington until his retirement after the 2010 season.
Honorable mention: Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman; Art Monk and Gary Clark (with apologies to Ricky Sanders); John Wall and Bradley Beal; John Riggins and pick a Hog, any Hog; Steve Blake and Juan Dixon; Patrick Ewing and Michael Graham.
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