Washington Capitals History: Remembering Mike Knuble


Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a relatively short tenure with the Washington Capitals, Mike Knuble had an incredible impact with the team, its fans and ultimately, the entire NHL.

Recently, Stars and Sticks got a bit nostalgic about the presence of a Washington Capitals player that sacrificed everything in order to score rebound goals in the opposing goaltending crease. It’s an often thankless job that demands a great deal to accomplish and is rarely ever highlight worthy. It’s value however, especially for a team like the Washington Capitals, is unquestionable.

Mike Knuble was drafted in the fourth round of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, 76th overall. He played his entire collegiate career for the University of Michigan before playing in the AHL for the Adirondack Red Wings for two seasons between 1995 and 1996.

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Mike made his pro debut with the Detroit Red Wings on March 26th, 1997 against the Colorado Avalanche in what is commonly referred to as “Fight Night at the Joe”. The game featured one of the most prolific bench clearing brawls in hockey history and was the result of a lot of boiling animosity between the clubs that still exists nearly 20 years later. Needless to say, his debut was something of a foot note to that game.

Knuble won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. That winning environment must have made a serious impression on the hard-working forward. He spent the next 11 seasons with the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. He was a perennial 20+ goal scorer for those clubs between 2002 to 2009.

Ironically, he spent arguably his best season with former Avalanche rival and hockey legend Peter Forsberg and very recent NHL retiree Simon Gagne. He tallied his career high in goals (34) and assists (31) when he played alongside them with the Flyers in 2006. The trio would be split up the following season however. On the first day of free agency in 2009, he signed a two-year deal with the Washington Capitals which was extended an extra year in 2011.

Knuble only spent 3 of his 16 seasons in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. It was more than enough to leave a worthwhile impression on the Washington Capitals. Over the course of those 220 games, he posted up 111 regular season points (59 G, 52A) and chipped in another 11 (6G, 5A) in the playoffs. On December 20th, 2011 a 39-year old Knuble played in his 1000th NHL game in the Verizon Center joining an elite club of only 269 others to accomplish the same feat. He would go on to play in 68 more before retiring the following season.

When he left the Washington Capitals to return to the Flyers three seasons ago in 2013, many fans weren’t ready to see him depart. This heartfelt goodbye from RMNB and Knuble’s Knights summarized fans’ tumultuous feelings pretty succinctly. The team hadn’t had a guy to score those “greasy” goals in many seasons and they struggled to find a complimentary wing for their top line since his departure until just this past off-season.

In an alternate universe, I think Mike Knuble would have been a peerless match for the Barry Trotz led Washington Capitals. We’ve all seen and heard about the attributes that Trotz adores from his hockey players and it feels to me like he would have been smitten with the former #22. He was a physical presence, defensively responsible, a special teams contributor, absolutely fearless in crashing the net, a constant battler along the boards and a hound for loose pucks. He was a good fit on just about any hockey team, actually.

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Too bad we couldn’t make the Trotz move sooner or Mike isn’t 10 years younger. Ah well. Four seasons later, his role in the crease on the power play is likely going to be filled by Tom Wilson, who we all hope, will be at least partially as effective as Knuble was around the blue paint. He’s certainly shown a penchant for sacrificing his body for the team which is a good start.

All hockey players are tough, but Mike Knuble seemed to be on another level. I think we all lost count of how many times he had gotten clipped up high by an errant stick or a deflected puck, suffered gruesome looking bloody injuries and shrugged it off to keep playing. As the former Knuble’s Knights put it:

I also remember him nonchalantly recalling the number of facial injuries he had acquired over his NHL career as, “about 150, 200 stitches in my face.” We all saw him spit some teeth out rather unphased on HBO’s 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic program back in 2011. He once told Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post who was writing an article about Brooks Laich (who had taken a direct hit to the face from a puck), “He’s a young buck; he isn’t cut up too much yet,” Mike said. “You don’t have a career in the NHL until you break your face once.”

As someone who had to get facial stitches this summer, I can confirm that they’re pretty crummy. I only had six done, above my eyebrow after walking right into an open door in the middle of the night and it was none too pleasant. Having that type of abuse as a frequent occupational hazard to the point where you lose track of how many you have is simply heroic.

A say heroic because goals like these made Knuble a hero amongst Washington Capitals fans. Goals like these come at a price. Knuble paid that price in every game he played in.

What do you all miss about Mike? Tell us in the comments below.

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