Thursday, May 15, 2008

Farewell to Kolzig

It's been almost a week now since Olie Kolzig, to the surprise of no one, announced that he does not plan on returning to the Capitals next season. He's closes the book on a 17 year career with the team that drafted him and held onto him through thick and thin. In the process, he's established just about every Caps Goaltending Record that a goaltender who appeared in 711 games for the team, 442 more than the nearest competitor, should hold.

His famous temper prevented him for many years from reaching his potential. This is why in the early parts of his career many thought that the Kolzig would be nothing more than a backup goaltender in the NHL. He was loaned out during his AHL days to make room for other goaltenders in the Caps system and when he did make it to the NHL full time as a backup; the Boston Bruins selected Jim Carey over Kolzig in the Adam Oates trade because of the belief that Kolzig would be nothing more than a backup goaltender.

Of course, we all know that exactly seven months after that trade was made; Bill Ranford took a puck to the man region in Toronto and Kolzig was pressed into action. Kolzig took the #1 goaltender spot that night it was almost 10 and half years before somebody would seriously challenge Kolzig for the #1 goaltender spot in Washington, D.C. (Ironically, Ranford left Washington in a huff after that season ended) But in that time, Kolzig took the Caps to their first and, to date, only Stanley Cup Finals appearance. He won the second Vezina Trophy in Franchise history and is second to none in not only appearances, minutes played, wins, shots faced, saves made, shutouts, and save percentage in Caps history. Kolzig became the face of the franchise and was the last of the players from that 1998 squad still on the team. Kolzig also became a large part of the community as well with his Olie and Idiot's Great Saves Program raising $$$$$ year after year for Children's Hospital in addition to his work with Athletes Against Autism (as opposed to Athletes For Autism...)

However, we can't say we're too surprised at the way Kolzig broke the news because this isn't the first time he's aired his dirty laundry in the media this season. To his credit, Kolzig waited until after the second round of the playoffs were over before he aired this dirty laundry, but what can you say about a player who tells a reporter his intentions for next season before he tells his bosses? Kolzig's biggest complaint is the lack of communication from General George McPhee about his future in Washington after the acquisition of Cristobal "WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE" Huet at the trade deadline. (A trade that NOBODY was expecting to happen including McPhee himself who had told Kolzig prior to the deadline that he would be the guy to carry the team the rest of the way.) Because Kolzig's bosses found out about his intentions through media reports; Kolzig himself loses some of the moral highground he's been busy trying to claim in our book.

We understand that Kolzig remains an emotional guy. There's nothing wrong with that and there's really nothing wrong with an athlete who thinks they're still capable of competing at a high level when the stats along with their performance say otherwise. It was clear that Kolzig could no longer handle the load that he had been accustomed to in his 10 year run as a starter. Kolzig was no longer taking the morning skates on the days he was starting and before the trade was giving up more starts to Brent Johnson in an attempt to improve is performance.

Kolzig's better days are clearly behind him and it is our hope that he decides in the coming days and weeks to retire. We do not see a situation where he could go to another franchise, take over as the #1 goaltender, and seriously compete for the Stanley Cup. The only team even remotely close is Ottawa but they're a franchise in disarray right now and we cannot imagine a worse move for a player like Kolzig. Furthermore, should Kolzig go to another franchise, he'll betray his often stated goal of playing with one team for his entire career and could only win the Cup as a backup goaltender.

Should Kolzig play for another team though, he'll make himself into another Peter Bondra in our minds. Bondra hung on too long in the NHL and in the end tarnished his legacy in Washington with his antics after the lockout. While Kolzig is making it clear he isn't looking to return unlike Bondra, Kolzig has caused plenty of problems for the franchise during his career like Bondra did. While Kolzig never held out or publicly demanded a trade like Bondra did on more than one occasion, but Kolzig did phone in the remainder of the 2003-2004 season after being one of only two veterans to survive the firesale. (Why do you think Matthew Yeates made five starts at the end of that season?) Kolzig's play was completely uninspired once the firesale began. Unlike Brendan Witt, Kolzig did not demand a trade after the lockout but did insist upon "competitive improvements" with his soon to expire contract extension. Some could say that it is wrong that now that those improvements are in place, that Kolzig is being moved out, we prefer to look at it as ironic. There's no way that the Caps would have made the playoffs this season had the Caps not had UA fall into their lap. Kolzig was standing in the way of this team reaching its goal of making the playoffs this season and had to be replaced in order for this team to continue its improvement.

There is of course always the possibility of Kolzig returning to the Caps next season. Stranger things have happened and should the Caps fail to come to an agreement with UA, Kolzig may be the only viable option out there. But we don't think that's very likely. The best thing for not only Kolzig but for the fans and the Caps franchise is for Kolzig to retire. For Kolzig to sign with another team and come back into the Phone Booth and play against the Caps is something that nobody but hardest of hardcore Kolzig backers want to see. We would bet on Kolzig playing the game of his life should that happen and he'll have to with the lineup he'd be facing. A player like A.O. would chew up that notorious short side hole over his blocker.

What we would like to see though is for Kolzig to announce his retirement and join the Caps broadcast crew. Kolzig is a natural in front of the camera and with a microphone. While we're in no rush to dump Craig Laughlin or create a three man TV booth, we think he would be the perfect compliment to Steve Kolbe in the radio booth. Ken Sabourin can only do home games and Kolzig could be there to shut Kolbe up for all 82 games. This isn't likely either with Kolzig's roots back west but we can always dream right?

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