Earlier this month, the Washington Capitals signed a pair of key veteran free agents they believe will improve their team in 2009-10. Right wing Mike Knuble
and center Brendan Morrison come to the District with proven track records and NHL résumés that stretch back more than a decade.
Free agency has been a reality in the NHL for more than three decades and there have been plenty of hits and plenty of misses in free agency throughout the league during that span. One of Washington’s best free agent buys ever is still its first, the signing of Guy Charron on Sept. 1, 1976.
A native of Verdun, Que., Charron broke into the NHL with Montreal in 1969-70. he was later dealt to Detroit in the trade that sent Frank Mahovlich to the Habs, and then he spent the better part of two seasons with the Kansas City Scouts, the only two seasons of the Scouts’ existence in K.C.
The Scouts came into the NHL at the same time as the Caps, in 1974-75. The Scouts struggled miserably on and off the ice, and they moved to Denver to become the Colorado Rockies for the 1976-77 season.
Charron totaled 27 goals and 71 points in 78 games for K.C. in 1975-76 to lead the Scouts in scoring. He became a free agent at season’s end and began fielding offers from a handful of interested clubs, including the Rockies, who were interested in retaining his services. But Charron was warned that the financially strapped franchise would not be able to offer fair market value for the 27-year-old center. Some World Hockey Association clubs also wooed Charron, but he chose Washington.
“I got what I wanted,” said Charron in the Sept. 1, 1976 edition of The Washington Post. “I’m very happy. I wanted a three-year contract. At Denver, they offered me a two-year contact. I got a raise.”
The Caps came to terms with Charron, then agreed to send the rights to their own leading scorer, Nelson Pyatt, to the Rockies as compensation for the loss of Charron, which was how free agency worked in those days. Colorado then came to terms with Pyatt.
“We were so young up front last year,” said Caps general manager Max McNab. “We had three rookies up front at times. Charron is a proven seven-year veteran, a good playmaker. He will help the younger forwards. I knew we would have to pay compensation for him (with Pyatt).”
In the Sept. 1, 1976 edition of The Washington Star, McNab said, “We need Charron to be a take charge guy. He’s experienced in directing traffic. We’ve got a lot of wingers who will thrive on his playmaking and the guy can also score goals.
“In the talks that I have had with Charron, he was impressed by how the Capitals improved their play and their attitude last year. We’ve been trying to bring him in to Washington all summer. Apparently we are now set, although I still have some final arrangements to make with Charron’s agent.
The Caps’ signing of Charron came less than two weeks before the team opened its 1976-77 training camp in Dayton, Ohio.
Charron was terrific throughout the life of that three-year contract. He played in all 80 games in each of those three seasons, totaling 82, 73 and 70 points, respectively. Charron led the Capitals in scoring in each of his first two seasons with the team, and he became the first 30-goal scorer in Washington history when he netted a career high 36 (he scored 38 the following season) in his first season with the club.
After that third season, Charron was playing in the World Championship in Moscow when he suffered a massive tear of the medial meniscus, and injury that locked his knee and required surgery.
Charron was healthy enough to play only 33 games in 1979-80, but he still totaled 31 points. He managed five goals and 18 points in 47 games in 1980-81, but the Caps bought out his contract at season’s end. That turned out to be the end of his NHL career at the age of 32.
He was Washington’s first bona fide star, and Charron was a fan favorite during his tenure here in the District. In 320 games with the Caps, he totaled 118 goals and 274 points. No off-season free agent the Caps have signed in the three-plus decades since has come near those totals. Robert Lang (51 goals and 143 points in 145 games in just under two full seasons) is the only off-season free agent acquisition who produced as consistently and efficiently as did Charron.
As good as Charron was with Washington, the team was not able to make the playoffs during his five seasons with the Caps. The center retired having played 734 NHL games without playing a single Stanley Cup playoff game in the league, a dubious league record that stood until Olli Jokinen recently surpassed it.