Episode 2 Transcript: The Stanley Can

Transcript of Episode 2, Oct. 2, 2017

Episode 2 show notes

M.C.: Three, two, one. The Vegas Golden Knights!

KING KAUFMAN: The Vegas Golden Knights make their debut this week as the newest team in the National Hockey League. It’s gonna be rough for them. It always is for expansion teams. But one thing’s almost guaranteed. They won’t be as bad as the original Washington Capitals.

JACK LYNCH: It wasn’t whether you were going to win or lose. It was how much you were going to lose by.

KAUFMAN: In 1974 the Caps were one of two new teams in the league, along with the Kansas City Scouts. They began on the road, where they lost twice. Then they came home, to the Capital Center in Landover Maryland, a state of the art building. It had video screens on the overhead scoreboard. That was pretty sexy back then. In their home opener They managed to tie the Los Angeles Kings in their home opener, and then two nights later they beat the Chicago Black Hawks. Their first win!

And then? The good times were over. They started losing. Five-nothing to the Islanders. Three-nothing to the Red Wings. Game after game. Night after night. Black Hawks 3, Capitals 2. Maple Leafs 4, Capitals 3. They were losing like a tremendous machine. Canadians 3, Capitals nothing.

ROBOT VOICE: Scouts 5, Capitals 4. Bruins 10, Capitals 4. Flyers 6, Capitals 2.

RON LOW: I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was.

KAUFMAN: That’s Ron Low, the starting goaltender. He’s talking about what he was thinking when he was the first player taken by the Caps in the expansion draft, when the two new teams got to pick players other clubs didn’t mind losing. Low had been a backup in Toronto.

LOW: But even being a realist, I don’t think anybody really understood how trying the year was going to be. We weren’t very good.

KAUFMAN: No, they weren’t very good. They won 8, tied 5 and lost 67. You get two points in the standings for a win and one for tie, so that record got them 21 points. Four decades later that’s still a record for futility. I’m a little worried you might not get how bad this team was, so how about this. Last year’s Colorado Avalanche won 22 games. They were the worst team of the 21st century so far. And they were almost three times better than the ’75 Capitals. OK? Monumentally bad. Worst team ever. But they did have their moments. Well, that’s going to far. They had their moment. One great moment.

[Theme music: “Big Swing Band” by Audionauti]

I’m King Kaufman and this is Can’t Win For Losing. A podcast about losing. On this episode: The Stanley Can Caps. Plus: The No Whine Timeline. What is it? Are you on it? Sharpen your skates. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. This is Can’t Win For Losing.

The starting goalie for the Washington Capitals in their first year of existence was Ron Low. He was 24 years old in 1974, and he wasn’t naive about what awaited him in Washington.

Like I said. Expansion teams always lose. But he couldn’t have known that the Caps would lose like no team before and no team since. I asked him when it dawned on him just how bad that season was going to be.

LOW: You know what? it never really did dawn on me. We just played. It really didn’t matter how tough it was. It was that we were playing in the NHL was the thing.

KAUFMAN: Ask any Washington Capital, or really any player on any bad team in any major league in any sport, and chances are they’re going to say something like that. The worst year in the NHL is better than the best year in any other hockey league in the world. You played on a team that only won eight games out of 80? That’s eight more games than most of us will ever win in the National Hockey League.

Still. Really bad.

ROBOT VOICE: Penguins 12, Capitals 1. Yes, 12. Did I stutter? Twelve to one.

KAUFMAN: How’d it happen? What went wrong?

LYNCH: If you look at how they were able to draft their team, it was farcical. The setup at the time for the NHL was just a joke in terms of, you know, trying to supply these expansion teams.

KAUFMAN: That’s defenseman jumpin’ Jack Lynch. What he means is that the NHL was expanding like a startup drunk on VC money: Hard to believe but from the 30s to the mid-’60s, there were only six teams in the league. Now, with its fourth expansion in less than a decade, the league had tripled in size to 18 teams. On top of that, a rival league had started, the World Hockey Association, and it was siphoning players from the NHL. And it was expanding too.

In eight years, big-league hockey had gone from six teams to 32. Most players back then were Canadian. The league wasn’t yet drawing from Europe, and even American players were rare. Canada’s population did grow between the Depression and the ’70s, but it’s not like it quintupled. There just weren’t enough good players to go around.

And for the Capitals, that problem got worse in a hurry.

RON LALONDE: We had one injury after another that created a really awkward atmosphere.

Ron Lalonde was a center who came over from Pittsburgh in an early-season trade.

LALONDE: Right beside our dressing room there was a community room that had a pool table and a fridge and sort of a relaxing area. There would be more guys in that community room that were injured, and you could hear them. We’re in the dressing room trying to get ready for the game and all you could hear were these guys laughing, and it became a bit of an issue.

KAUFMAN: It makes sense for things to get awkward, or tense, or ugly on a team that’s losing all the time. But down through the decades, the original Capitals have always said things were pretty good in the dressing room, or as hockey players call it, The Room.

LOW: There was a lot of characters in that room.

KAUFMAN: Ron Low, the goalie.

LOW: There was a lot of funny people, and probably that’s a really good thing. It was kept light by almost every player there, and thank God they had senses of humor because the older guys really could have dragged you down, and they didn’t.

KAUFMAN: A losing team is like a laboratory for Murphy’s Law. They find new ways for things to go wrong. One innovation for the Caps was wearing white shorts—the first NHL team ever to do so. And the last. Hockey pucks are made of rubber. They leave skid marks.

LOW: [Laughs] It was awful. Think about being a goaltender and getting hit with 45 pucks a night. Your white pants are ugly.

LYNCH: He saw, well the old line is he saw more rubber than the Michelin Man …

KAUFMAN: Jack Lynch, the defenseman.

LYNCH: … and he was just absolutely amazing considering, we used to spend a lot of time hemming teams into our end of the ice. It was just really a tough go.

KAUFMAN: Seventy-five games into an 80-game season, and the Caps have already built their resume as an all-time loser. Their current losing streak was their best yet, or their worst: 17 in a row, with no ties, and precious few close games mixed in. That was an NHL record. It still is.

Also, they’d played 37 games on the road, all losses. Not so much as a tie. Center Ron Lalonde.

LALONDE: Losing is hard, and you hate it. You never get used to it. No matter how bad we were, we always went into the game thinking we were going to win, even though reality dictated that we didn’t stand a chance.

KAUFMAN: That was the team that dragged into the Oakland Coliseum in late March. You know the place. It’s called Oracle Arena now and it’s jumping when the Golden State Warriors play there. Not so much for the California Golden Seals. They had a couple things in common with the Oakland A’s, the dominant team in baseball who played across the parking lot and were also owned by the eccentric Charlie Finley. They both wore green and gold uniforms with white shoes—skates in the case of the Seals—and neither one drew flies to their games.

Here’s Ron Lalonde.

LALONDE: The atmosphere in Oakland, it wasn’t like going into the Montreal Forum and you step on the ice and you just want to fly. It was a big arena that had maybe three or four thousand fans in it that night.

KAUFMAN: That night. It was March 28, 1975. That was the night the Caps had their moment. That was the night the legend of the Stanley Can was born.

LYNCH: We were zero, 37 and zero with three road games left, and we knew that—I can’t recall, I think one of the teams we played at of the three remaining was going to be Montreal and it was 8-0 going into the third.

KAUFMAN: That’s the defenseman, Jack Lynch. The other team he couldn’t remember was Detroit. As it turned out, the Caps got blown out in that game too, so he was right. This was going to be their last chance to get a road win.

They got it.

The next day in the Washington Post, the game story began this way. Oakland California, March 28. The Washington Capitals won a road hockey game tonight. Honest. There were witnesses, 3,933 of them here in addition to Washingtonians who stayed up until past midnight for the televised treat.

I’ll let the players tell the story.

LALONDE: It wasn’t a great atmosphere, but for whatever reason we got out to an early lead and things just sort of built on that, and we were fortunate enough to end up winning.

LOW: We didn’t very often get a couple of goals early in a game, so yeah, we were fully cognizant of the fact that we didn’t want to blow it. And you know what? In the end, we could have. It would’ve been an awful thing to go through a year and not win one game.

LALONDE: We were thrilled. We came in the dressing room and we really didn’t know how to act.

LOW: Yeah, the elation, the feeling in the dressing room was totally frickin’ crazy. I mean, for winning one game, yeah, it was nuts.

LALONDE: So I don’t know who it was that came up with the idea. I mean, it was a dingy old dressing room in Oakland, and there’s a big green garbage can, and somebody decided to pick it up and go back out onto the ice.

LYNCH: We grabbed the garbage pail, which was like your typical Rubbermaid type garbage pail, and that was our Stanley Cup. And we all signed it.

LALONDE: There was nobody left in the arena. The 3,000 people had long since left.

LOW: I think the lights were off also [laughs]. I mean, the lights didn’t stay on very long in Oakland after the game was over, I remember that!

LALONDE: And we were making a commotion in the hall. I’m sure the other team heard us. But we brought the can back into the room and we all signed it with a Magic Marker. The two or three years after that Oakland was in the league, that garbage can was still in the league with all our signatures on it.

LYNCH: We all signed it. It’s become part of the folklore of the Washington Capitals. It was a very special, special night, and one that, needless to say, we had a good time that night.

KAUFMAN: Good times. There weren’t too many special nights for the Washington Capitals that year. Or the next few. Milt Schmidt was the general manager. He’d been a great player in the 40s and 50s, and then he’d built the powerful Boston Bruins teams of the late ’60s. He once said taking the Washington job was the worst decision he ever made. Forty years after it happened, he told a reporter he didn’t want to talk about that first year. It was still too painful. He died in January.

Jack Lynch.

LYNCH ‑ We had a writer contact a bunch of us this year in january out of D.C. who writes for SportsIllustrated.com, and there were some guys on the team that refused to talk to him, which, I find that really hard to believe because the guys that did, we all have fond memories.

KAUFMAN: All the Capitals I talked to say they’ve benefited from the experience. Ron Low, the goalie, said that next summer was pretty dismal, but he got over it, and he thinks that year is why he became a coach. He was behind the bench for the Oilers and the Rangers, and he won two real Stanley Cups—real ones—as an assistant in Edmonton. He says he gives advice all the time to people going through a rough stretch. He’s been there.

LOW: Every goaltender I’ve ever been involved in if I was a goaltender coach or an assistant coach is that it’s not what happened in the past three, if it’s three games you’ve lost, it’s not what happened yesterday, it’s what’s to come ahead of you. What’s done is for sure finished. You aren’t changing it, but you can certainly change what’s going to happen tomorrow.

KAUFMAN: I was hoping for a little more comedy out of these guys. Jack Lynch told me a good story about coach Tom McVie getting stopped by a security guard who didn’t think he was with the team. He said “I’m the coach.”

LYNCH: The security guard says “Well, how do I know that?” He says, “Well, would anybody else admit it?”

KAUFMAN: But that was from year 2. Mostly—and we do have to remember, these are the guys who return phone calls on the subject—they said the experience was tough. They kept using that word. Tough. A tough go. The general feeling seems to be that they wouldn’t wish a year like that on anyone, but they’re glad they went through it.

LOW: You know what, you can feel sorry for yourself all you want, but really, it’s not live and die.

KAUFMAN: Let’s give the last word to the goalie.

LOW: It’s not like being a farmer and not have it rain for five months and you know at the end of it all your crop is not going to be there. This is games. We’re entertainers. We were piss poor entertainers that year. But that’s where it ends.

KAUFMAN: Ron Low, the goalie, retired five years ago after a long career as a coach and scout. The defenseman, Jumping Jack Lynch, spent 32 years in public and media relations with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Recreation. Ron Lalonde, the center, has been a financial planner and investment counselor for 36 years. That can be a tough racket. He told me he’s pretty good at dealing with adversity.

When we come back: Your team wins a championship. When do you get to start complaining about them again? One fan has a mathematical formula. The No Whine Timeline. Next.

* * *

KAUFMAN: Being a fan of the Washington Capitals is a lot better now than it was in the 1970s. They’ve been a consistently good team—over the last 34 seasons, they’ve only missed the playoffs seven times.

But as any hockey fan can tell you, that’s only part of the story. The Capitals are known for playoff collapses and failures. The NHL postseason is four rounds, and the Caps haven’t been past Round 2 since 1998, their only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

They’ve never won the Cup. And that means they get to whine. (:35)

BABIES AND KIDS AND DOGS: {Whining}

STEVE PAULO: Obviously it’s preferable to watch a team that’s like making the playoffs and giving you something to watch to the end of the season and giving you some hope.

KAUFMAN: This is Steve Paulo. He’s not a Capitals fan but he’s kind of an expert on whining. I’ll explain in a second.

PAULO : The fact of the matter is if they don’t bring home the bacon, it doesn’t matter at the end of the season, right. There’s only one happy fanbase at the end of any season.

KAUFMAN: That happy fanbase, and we’re talking about any sport here—that fanbase that got a championship—they don’t get to whine. For five years. That’s the rule. Who made the rule? Steve Paulo. He’s a sports-loving software engineer in the Bay Area, and the founder of the No Whine Timeline, a website that keeps track of which sports fans have no right to bitch and moan, and for how long.

Full disclosure, Steve’s a friend of mine, but I’m not one of the friends he mentions when I ask him how this project got started.

PAULO: Like i think a lot of things in a sports fan’s life it started out of spite and out of jealousy. As an A’s fan working in San Francisco and dealing with the fact that the Giants had recently won a title and looked like they were on their way and of course did win again in 2012, all the while their fans complaining about all the “torture,” I decided that I had had enough and over some beers, some friends of mine and I were talking about, well, what should the rules be for being able to whine about your team?

KAUFMAN: By the way, for non-Bay Area folks: that mention of torture? That was a Giants thing starting in 2010. They played so many close games that broadcaster Duane Kuiper coined the fake marketing slogan, “Giants baseball: Torture,” and fans embraced it. Of course we did, because it let us whine through the winning. SB Nation called it “whiny entitlement at its worst.” They misspelled best but anyway, back to Paulo.

PAULO: We kind of came up with this rule of thumb where it’s like if you win the title, there should be a few years where you can’t, you shouldn’t be able to complain, right? Like no matter how bad things are, if you’ve won a recent championship, you’re better off than such a massive percentage of other sports fans, right?

What I decided to land on was five years. If your team wins a title, then for five years, sort of, shut up about it. Like no complaining, no grousing, no grumbling.

KAUFMAN: I can complain, grouse, grumble about some of my teams. The San Jose Sharks, the Cal Bears, Tottenham Hotspur. But I have to shut up about both the Giants and the Golden State Warriors until 2025. That’s because of the second rule of the No Whine Timeline. If your team wins another championship, five years get tacked on.

Yankees fans don’t get to complain—about anything—until 2058. But there’s a possibility of a get out of whining-jail card for them in 2029. That’s because of the Montreal exception. Steve Paulo explains.

PAULO: The Montreal Canadiens won so many Stanley Cups through the ’50s ’60s and ’70s, their timeline just kept getting extended out and extended out and extended out to the point where now it was 2012, 2013, something in that range, and they hadn’t won a Cup since 1993, and it seemed pretty unfair for an 18-year-old Canadiens fan who had never witnessed a Cup title from his team to not be able to complain.

KAUFMAN: So after 20 years, with no titles, you’re free to start whining. This means you, Chicago Bulls fans. Your timeline extends to 2021, but if the Bulls don’t win this year, that’ll be 20 years and you’ll be off the hook.

I’m partial to whining—I mean when I get to do it of course, not when you do. So I lobbied Paulo for some exceptions. What if your team lapses all the way to last place—like just to pick an example out of thin air, the San Francisco Giants. Or what if a championship was preceeded by, let’s just say, more than a century of being astoundingly pathetic?

PAULO : The reason the Cubs I think is the bad example in all this is because winning cures all ills. We’re told winning solves all problems. Winning cures everything. Even Steve Bartman got a World Series ring, so if you’re a terrible loser, whatever, and then you win, no. You’re subject to the same rules the rest of us are if our teams won. The no whine timeline isn’t really for the people who are fans of teams that win. It’s for everybody else to kind of have something to point to and go “Knock it off.”

KAUFMAN: You can find the No Whine Timeline at nowhinetimeline.com. Find out where your team stands. Florida State football, Louisville basketball, Baltimore Ravens, Bayern Munich. It’s almost safe to start whining again. New Engand Patriots fans? Sit down. It’s gonna be a while.

ONE BABY: Wahhhhh!

[Theme music: “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls]

Can’t Win 4 Losing is written, edited and produced by me, King Kaufman, with mastering and production help from Geoffrey Redick. Artwork by Chris Morris. Visit him at ChrisMorrisIllustration.com. To go behind the scenes on Can’t Win for Losing, see photos and get more information on the stories and music in the podcast, go to our website, CantWinPodcast.com

Special thanks for this episode to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post.

Our opening theme is “Big Swing Band” by Audionautix at Audionautix.com. The closing theme is “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Visit Johnny at Johnny RawlsBlues.com. You can buy his music there and find out when he’s going to be playing near you. You can also buy it at CantWinPodcast.com.

Other music on this episode was “DJ” by Jahzzar, that’s Javier Suarez at BetterWithMusic.com. “Disco High” by UltraCat. And “Hustle” by Kevin McLeod. He’s at Incompetech.com.

Subscribe to the show and write a review. That would help us a lot. Follow us on Facebook at Can’t Win 4 Losing. That’s the number 4, or on Twitter and Instagram at CantWinPodcast. If you’ve got a story about losing in your own life, call us up and tell it. We’ll give you 50 bucks if we use it. The phone number is 510-646-1082.

This episode of Can’t Win 4 Losing is dedicated to Eddie the Eagle Edwards.

* * *

Next time, on Can’t Win 4 Losing.

CASEY STENGEL: …to keep baseball going as the highest baseball sport …

KAUFMAN: You usually couldn’t tell what this guy was talking about but nobody ever had a better run as a manager than he did with the Yankees in the 1950s. In the ’30s, though, and in the ’60s, he skippered some of the worst teams in baseball history. That’s the Casey Stengel we’re going to talk about.

STENGEL: … told ’em all when they was drinkin’ and they invited me in I said “You oughta be home.”

KAUFMAN: Join me Monday for the next Can’t Win 4 Losing.