When goaltender Olie Kolzig joined the Washington Capitals organization via the NHL Entry Draft (Washington’s first choice, 19th overall) in 1989, Bryan Murray was the team’s head coach. Rod Langway was the Capitals’ captain, the team had not yet drafted Peter Bondra and it played its home games at USAir Arena in Landover, Md. Kolzig has been with the organization longer than any player in franchise history and his tenure with Washington covers more than half of the franchise’s entire existence.
On Feb. 11, Kolzig signed a two-year contract extension with the Capitals, ensuring that his tenure in the District would be extended, hopefully long enough for he and the team to win a Stanley Cup.
“I’m very excited,” said Kolzig on the day the deal was announced. “This is the only team I’ve known, and I’m very optimistic about where the organization is going. If we could ever win a Stanley Cup here during my time [here], it would be the ultimate dream.”
Prior to the Capitals’ Feb. 11 game against Pittsburgh at MCI Center, the team paid tribute to its three 2006 Olympians, Kolzig, left wing Alex Ovechkin
and defenseman Ivan Majesky. Kolzig was introduced last, and the news of his extension was announced to the sellout crowd. The fans responded with a second wave of applause for the man who holds most of the franchise’s goaltending records. He went into the NHL’s Olympic break needing just one win to become the 36th goaltender in league history to breach the 250-win plateau for his career.
Kolzig’s assent to an extension and his stated desire to finish his career in Washington and to compete for a Stanley Cup is also an endorsement of the Capitals’ ongoing rebuilding program.
“That was a big question mark going into the season,” Kolzig admitted. “I was kind of torn. I wanted to stay with one team for my whole career, but at the same time, I’m 35. I’m going to be 36 in April, so I’ve only got a few years left in my career, and I want to have that opportunity to raise the Cup. I didn’t know what kind of team we were going to have this year. I was very pleasantly surprised. We’ve got a great chemistry in the room. We obviously need to add a few players for depth and maybe a little skill, but I don’t see us changing too much.
“It’s very delicate when you’re messing with chemistry, and we’ve got a great balance of guys right now. So, for me the decision was made probably before Christmas that I wanted to stay, and I’m glad we got the contract worked out before the Olympics. I didn’t want to go over there having to think about this contract, but I’m glad we got it worked out. Now I can concentrate on the Olympics and the remainder of this year and try to put a good run together the last third of the season to kind of carry us over into next year.”
Once Kolzig determined that we wanted to stay in Washington, it was relatively easy to get the extension done.
“Right out of the gate, I think everybody was in the ballpark,” said the Caps’ netminder. “I think the team was kind of waiting to see what the marketplace would be as far as the other goalies signing and where they fit in, and where revenue is headed the next few years. I think the big issue was a no-trade clause. It was something that was bantered about here and there, but that was our concession. I really have no issues with it. [Capitals general manager] George [McPhee] is the type of GM that you’ve seen over the years where if there is a time when he does feel like a trade would help the team and maybe it’s time to move on then he would call you in the office and give you your choice of where to go. I respect George for that. But there really wasn’t a whole lot of negative negotiating.”
Kolzig realizes that he may need to sign another extension at the conclusion of the new one if he is to realize his dream of hoisting the Cup with the Caps. The term of the current deal was limited to two seasons primarily because of the new collective bargaining agreement. Under the terms of the new CBA, players over the age of 35 who are unable to finish out their contracts for any reason, including injury, ineffectiveness and retirement, still have their entire salaries count against their team’s salary cap for the duration of the pact.
Statistics may not support the premise that Kolzig is in the midst of one of his best seasons, but his teammates, his coaches and players around the league know better. Kolzig is a finely conditioned athlete who could probably play until he is 40 if he wants to. When the new extension nears completion, Kolzig will evaluate where he is in terms of his career and his effectiveness and where the caps are in terms of competing for a Stanley Cup title.
“It all depends on where we are,” he said when asked if another extension might be in the offing after this one. “Two years from now if we are very close, then yeah, it would be tough retiring unsatisfied and knowing that you could be so close. But if it doesn’t go the way that we all think it will, then this will probably be my last one.
“Like I said, we’re all very optimistic. The two-year term just indicates where the new CBA is at; it really punishes the over-35 guys. So the team was just protecting itself in limiting it to two years. But George and I talked and he believes that I can play until I am 40. We’ll see where we’re at in two years.”
Not many NHL players spend their entire careers with the same organization, and the number figures to dwindle in this era of greater mobility for free agents at an earlier age. Kolzig is excited about finishing his career where he started it, and he cites the team’s loyalty to him early in his career as one of the factors in his decision.
“I’m optimistic with where this team is going,” he said. “To maybe have the opportunity to try to win here with the only team I’ve ever known and to retire as a Cap hopefully, that means a lot. The organization has been very good to me over the years. They stuck by me in my earlier years when I was trying to find my way as a professional hockey player so I think they respect what I’ve done over the years. It’s been a pretty good relationship.”