The Caps lost one of the earliest links to their past on Sunday when Jimmy Anderson passed away in western Massachusetts. He was 82.
Born on Dec. 1, 1930 in Pembroke, Ont., Anderson had a tremendous playing career in the minor leagues, totaling 550 goals in minor pro hockey, two more than ex-Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. Anderson spent most of his career playing in the AHL with the Springfield Indians, and he settled into that area after his playing career.
Anderson spent nearly two decades as a scout with the Los Angeles Kings and was tireless in helping to teach youngsters how to skate in his later years.
Anderson was a key cog on the dynamic Springfield team that won three straight Calder Cup titles from 1960-62. Anderson led the AHL with 43 goals in 1960-61, one of seven seasons in which he scored 30 or more goals during his lengthy career in that league.
In 2009, Anderson was inducted into the AHL’s Hall of Fame.
The NHL’s expansion boom in the late 1960s enabled Anderson to get a cup of coffee in the league with the inaugural edition of the Los Angeles Kings in 1967-68. At the age of 37, Anderson made his NHL debut with the Kings and totaled a goal and three points in seven games.
During his brief tenure as coach here in Washington, Anderson was a man in an impossible situation.
Original Caps general manager Milt Schmidt hired Anderson as the team’s first coach on May 31, 1974, signing him to a two-year deal. History has proven the 1974-75 Caps team to be the worst expansion franchise in NHL history, but that wasn’t Anderson’s fault, or even Schmidt’s, for that matter. In its fervor to keep up with the upstart World Hockey Association, the NHL was adding franchises at a blinding speed.
From 1942-67, the NHL had six teams, the Original Six. The league doubled that number to 12 in 1967, then it added two more teams in 1970, two in 1972 and two – the Capitals and the Kansas City Scouts – in 1974.
The NHL had gone from six to 18 teams in less than a decade; the WHA operated with 14 teams in 1974-75. So, where there were just six major league hockey franchises less than a decade earlier, there were 32 major league hockey franchises in 1974-75. The talent available to Washington and Kansas City in the 1974 expansion draft was laughable.
"It was a great experience," Anderson told The Baltimore Sun in 1993, speaking of his days coaching the Caps. "It was my one NHL head coaching job, and, sure, the record was a disaster, but it wasn't anybody's fault. I gave them my best. It wasn't the players' fault. There just wasn't anything there. That [expansion] draft should never have taken place, and what we wound up with, really, was a lot of third-rate hockey players."
Existing NHL clubs – many of them still struggling expansion franchises themselves – were allowed to protect 16 skaters and two goaltenders. That meant the best the Caps could hope to do was land the 17th best skater or third best goaltender on an existing team, and once an existing team lost a player to the draft, it was permitted to protect two more players from the Capitals and Scouts.
The Caps had 56 players in training camp in the fall of 1974, and they played their first game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 9, 1974.
“We won’t embarrass ourselves,” declared Anderson to the Washington Star-News on the eve of the team’s first game in New York. “The guys gave us everything in training camp. I expect them to give that and more this season. We don’t have individual stars. We do have some individuals who will be part of a team.”
The Caps had no hope for any sort of consistent success. Anderson ended up being the first of three coaches for Washington that first season. He coached the Caps into February before being relieved of his duties; the team had a 4-45-5 mark at the time.
At season’s end, the Caps were the league’s worst team at 8-67-5. The distance between the top and the bottom of the NHL standings that season was an almost unfathomable 92 points. In the final season of the Original Six era, 50 points separated the top from the bottom of the NHL.
“Usually your first years, you can’t ever win anything,” Anderson told me in 2009 upon the occasion of his induction into the AHL Hall of Fame. “Then you’ve got to organize your draft system and scouts, and pick out players. It took them quite a while. But they’re playing good now. I’ve been watching them quite a bit. I’ll never forget those years at all. It was part of my life.”Posted in: Sports