Author Archives: Pat Holden

Caps vs. Red Wings #fancystats recap

The Caps fell to the Red Wings by a score of 4-2. The Caps now have a record of 4-3-2.

5-on-5 shot attempt chart

wings

-Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 36-27 Caps. Close game shot attempts were 30-21 Caps.

-W-L on faceoffs, 20-20: Backstrom 5-6, Burakovsky 5-1, Kuznetsov 3-3, Beagle 3-3, Brouwer 2-2, Ward 1-0, Chimera 1-0, Latta 0-4, Ovechkin 0-1.

-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Troy Brouwer at +20.45%

-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Liam O’Brien at -25.1%

- Joel Ward and John Carlson were on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (15).

-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (13).

-The toughest ZS% went to Wilson, Kuznetsov, and O’Brien at 33%

-6 Caps had 100% ZS%: Brouwer, Burakovsky, Backstrom, Ward, Johansson, Ovechkin

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: 50% ZS, -3.99 CorsiRel

Shift chart:

wingsshift

Thoughts on Caps-related thoughts

Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” column is arguably the best hockey column to read on the internet. If you don’t reguarly read Friedman and his 30 thoughts, you’ve been officially notified to start. Friedman’s 30 thoughts from October 28th featured a lot of Caps content. You’ll find them below, as well as some brief thoughts on those thoughts.

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Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography

22. Before the season, a few Eastern teams thought the combination of Barry Trotz, Todd Reirden, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik would have the biggest influence of any off-season moves in that conference. Can’t argue that so far. It took eight games before Washington allowed 30 shots, and it’s no coincidence the Capitals’ worst game was a 6-1 preseason loss in Buffalo. Niskanen and Orpik didn’t dress for that one.

Adding those two coaches as well the two defenders undoubtedly has had a big influence on the Caps. How could it not? I think the example of what happened in a preseason game without Niskanen and Orpik may be a bit exaggerated, but point taken.

Really, how could the Caps be worse by adding any 2 NHL caliber defenders, given the inexperienced and over-matched players they ran out there last season? On top of that, Mike Green has been healthy so far and Nate Schmidt is getting the playing time he deserves.

Oh, and Adam Oates isn’t the coach anymore, that’s a pretty big deal.

23. From one-to-five on the blueline, their minutes are very even, running from 23:14 (Niskanen) to 19:42 (Karl Alzner). Among returnees, Nate Schmidt (number six) is down 4:15 per game, John Carlson is down 1:21 and Alzner 0:50. Also down significantly: Mike Green (2:53). Green, who is unrestricted after this season, is being watched by other teams, as they wait to see how Brian MacLellan handles things.

It’s not a surprise that the ice time among Caps defenders is more even spread this season. The blue line is much deeper, therefore the Caps don’t need to rely on their top pair(s) as much. Schmidt is the team’s 6th defender, so his ice time decreasing isn’t much of a story. The fact that he’s in Washington and playing regularly is the much more important story.

Mike Green is still seeing 19:50 per game, so it’s not as if he’s getting buried on the depth chart. This is simply a case of the Caps having a much deeper blue line. Less ice time makes it more likely Green will be fresher and healthier come April, which is a good thing.

24. The early reviews are positive. One scout: “Green is trying. He (used to be) sloppy in coverage, bad stick, not finishing checks. Now, he’s staying on the right side of the puck.” MacLellan sees a difference, too. “When other teams played us, the plan was to hit him— finish your checks. It took its toll. Now, we have other options. It eases the pressure on him.”

This scout is obviously much more qualified than me to speak on Green’s coverage, positioning, checking, etc. than I am. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean the scout is right.

Regardless of Green’s gaffes, lapses and so on, since 2007 the Caps have seen 54.5% of all shot attempts while he’s on the ice, which is 21st best of the 366 defensemen who have played 500+ minutes since then. That’s superb. Mike Green is really good. Leave him alone.

25. The Capitals have yet to discuss an extension with Green. “We’ll leave that for later in the season,” the GM said. “Let’s see how this shakes out.”

Does the Caps depth make Green expendable? Well, I think he’s their best defender, so I hope not. But it is hard to see the Caps investing as much, or more, in their defense next season as this one.

26. Another Eastern Conference coach on the Nicklas Backstrom/Eric Fehr/Alexander Ovechkin line: “They still cheat, but not as much. I suspect that’s by design they’re allowed to…you still want opponents to be scared of them. The (Jason) Chimera/(Joel) Ward line, for example, plays differently.”

To me, this basically says that Trotz expect his first line to be responsible, but he’s still going to let Ovi be Ovi. And Nicky be Nicky. These guys should be allowed to “cheat” more than other lines. They are supremely talented offensive players and should be encouraged to put themselves on positions to use those talents.

27. Finally on Washington: MacLellan said new goalie boss Mitch Korn worked with Braden Holtby “to get his arms and legs more aligned with his body.” Sounds important for everyday life, not just hockey.

Mitch Korn is the goalie whisperer. Braden Holtby is an underrated goalie who got way too much flack last season for the Caps struggles. As I’ve said before, I expect Holtby to be considered an elite goalie by the end of this season.


 

Like I said above, if you don’t read “30 Thoughts” regularly, start doing so. While there’s not always this much Caps-related content, it’s always a great read.

 

 

Caps vs. Panthers #fancystats recap

The Caps prevailed over the Panthers 2-1 in a shootout. The Caps are now 3-0-2 on the year. Here’s a look at some stats from the game, particularly the #fancystats.

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-Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 49-35 Caps. Close-game shot attempts were also in favor of the Caps, 48-32.

-W-L on faceoffs, 41-22 Caps. In no particular order: Burakovsky 2-3, Backstrom 15-6, Laich 3-1, Brouwer 4-0, Kuznetsox 6-4, Chimera 1-1, Fehr 10-7.

-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Andre Burakovsky at +28.44%

-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Chris Brown at -29.17%

-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts for with 29.

-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Panthers shot attempts with 20.

-The toughest ZS% went to Matt Niskanen at 50%

-6 Caps had a 100% ZS%: Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Liam O’brien, and Chris Brown

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: 80% ZS, +18.26 CorsiRel

Shift Chart:

panthersshift

All data pulled from War on Ice.

Celebrating Alex Semin, one of the 40 greatest players in Caps history

New York Rangers v Washington Capitals - Game Three

Getty Images

In case you haven’t heard, the Caps recently released a fan-voted list of the top 40 Caps in franchise history. On this list was Alex Semin, who I’d consider the most divisive player in franchise history. Yes, he’s even more divisive than Mike Green or Brooks Orpik’s contract. No doubt, Semin was frustrating at times. He took penalties in areas of the ice that seemed unnecessary. But Semin was often given an unfair amount of grief in his time here. He’s an under appreciated player, so I’m glad to see him being recognized as one of the better players in the history of the Caps.

Semin was one of my favorite players during his time here. I spent far more time than I ever hoped to defending him. Maybe I’m just a paranoid Sasha lover, but I’d imagine some people will bemoan Semin’s inclusion when he is celebrated as making the top 40. When they do, my fellow Sasha lovers, here is a list of rebuttals when they start to talk about him being lazy, enigmatic, and undisciplined.

-Semin scored 198 goals for the Caps, good for 5th all-time. At 469 games played, he is the only player in the top-7 to be under 500 GP.

-Semin’s 211 assist places him 19th on the Caps all-time list.

-Semin is the franchise’s 16th leading scorer in terms of points.

-During his time with the Caps (2003-2012), Semin’s 1.45 Goals per 60 minutes of play were second to only Alex Ovechkin. His 1.56 Assists per 60 were 5th among all players who played 82 total games or more for the Caps between 2003-12. His 3.01 points per 60 rank second, again only trailing Ovechkin.

-His G/60 ranked 4th among the 852 NHL players who played 900+ minutes between 2003-12. His P/60 ranked 29th

-Semin’s 53.25 close-game CF% ranked 82nd among the same group.

Semin also made the players around him better. WOWY stats are only available back to 2007, but here’s Semin’s teammates fared playing with him vs. playing without him. These are the 10 players who spent the most TOI with Semin from 2007-12.

 sasha

Every one of these players, the 10 who skated the most amount of minutes with Semin from 2007-12, saw an improvement in their possession numbers when playing with him as opposed to without him. In fact, the top 26 skaters, in terms of TOI together, to skate with Semin during this time period saw an improvement in their possession numbers.

Alex Semin was excellent during his time here in Washington, despite what some fans’ frustration level with him might have led you to believe. His place among the top 40 Caps ever is well deserved. While I’d argue he’d be pretty high up on the list if the 40 players happened to be ranked, I’m satisfied just knowing that the lazy narratives on Semin didn’t win out when it came to voting for the 40 greatest Caps in franchise history.

Caps vs. Devils #fancystats recap

The Caps beat the Devils 6-2 to move to 2-0-2. Here’s a look at some of the #fancystats from the game.

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-Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 45-35 in favor of the Devils. Close-game shot attempt totals were 34-25, Devils.

-W-L on faceoffs, 37-32 for the Devils. In no particular order: Ward 2-1, Fehr 6-10, Brakovsky 4-4, Backstrom 5-5, Burakovsky 4-6, Brouwer 5-6, O-Brien 0-1, Brown 1-1, Laich 3-3.

-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Eric Fehr at 39.61%

-The Caps worst Corsi Rel player was Chris Brown at -22.73%

-Mike Green and Karl Alzner were on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts with 13.

-Nate Schmidt was on the ice for the most shot attempts against with 19.

-The toughest ZS% went to Andre Burakovsky at 33.33%

-The easiest ZS% went to Troy Brouwer at 77.78%

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: 50% ZS, -8.23 CF%

devils2

All data pulled from War on Ice

Caps vs. Sharks #fancystats recap

The Caps fell to the Sharks in a shootout, 6-5. The Caps are now 1-0-2 on the season. Here’s a look at some stats from the game, particularly the #fancystats.

sharkscaps

-The Caps had a 5-on-5 shot attempt advantage of 55-37. In “close” score situations, the advantage was 6-3, Sharks.

-Caps W-L on faceoffs. Backstrom 8-11, Burakovsky 3-6, Kuznetsov 3-5, Johansson 1-0, Latta 3-1, Ward 4-2, Laich 4-2.

-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Green at +27.01%

-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Laich at -21.93%

-Nick Backstrom was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts with 25.

-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Sharks shot attempts against with 20 (But 24 for the Caps)

-The toughest ZS% went to Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson, who didn’t start any shifts in the offensive zone.

-Liam O’Brien and Evgeny Kuznetsov saw the highest ZS% at 83.3%.

-Only 3 Caps were below 50% CF: Laich, Chimera, and Ward.

-Nate Schmidt (possession monster) update: Nate was on the ice for 13 shot attempts for and 7 against for a CF% of 64% and a CorsiRel % of +5.79

Shift chart:

sharksshiftchart

All stats pulled from War on Ice

Caps vs Bruins #fancystats recap

The Caps beat the Bruins 4-0 to move to 1-0-1 on the season. Alex Ovechkin had 2 goals while Mike Green and John Carlson added 1 a piece. Here are some stats from the game.

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-The Bruins had a 5-on-5 shot attempt advantage of 42-25. The close-game 5-on-5 shot attempt totals were 8-7 in favor of the Bruins.

-Caps on faceoffs: Backstrom 3 for 10, Burakovsky 1 for 5, Laich 2 for 8, Kuznetsov 2 for 4, Ward 1 for 2, O’Brien 1 for 1, Brouwer 1 for 1. Ouch.

-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Karl Alzner at +33.30%

-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Brooks Orpik at -34.00%

-Matt Niskanen led all Caps in on-ice shot attempts for with 16

-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for most shot attempts against with 21

-Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera saw the toughest zone starts, starting just 25% of their shifts in the offensive zone.

-Liam O’Brien, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johnasson saw 100% ZS%.

-Only 3 Caps had a CF% above 50%. Karl Alzner (57.69%) , Matt Niskanen (57.14%), and Joel Ward (60%).

-Only 4 Bruins had a CF% below 50%, but who cares about their names

-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: -15.35% CorsiRel. Not even Nate is perfect.

Shift Chart:

capsbruinsshiftchart

All numbers courtesy of War on Ice 

 

First impressions of Barry Trotz

Trotz

Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography

When the Caps hired Barry Trotz as their head coach this offseason, he hardly needed an introduction to local hockey fans. Trotz has ties to the area and the organization, having coached the Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland Pirates in the early 90’s. In 1997, Trotz was hired as coach of the Nashville Predators, where he stayed until being let go at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Trotz has coached 1,196 regular season games, good for 14th all-time.

While it’s far too early to start drawing conclusions about Trotz’s job performance here in DC, first impressions have already been made before the season has already started. I, for one, am impressed and encouraged by Trotz’s work so far. Here are 3 things Trotz has done to impress me thus far.

1) Troz has made it clear that Braden Holtby is his #1 goalie.

In our season preview, I talked about why I expect big things from Holtby this year. Last season, Holtby appeared to lose his confidence at times and was benched for lengthy periods of time by former Head Coach Adam Oates. This was despite the fact that Holtby, in a “down” year, still finished 8th in the NHL in 5-on-5 save% among goalies who appeared in at least 41 games. For perspective, 8th place put Holtby just a touch below Henrik Lundqvist. It appears that the ruining of Holtby is over and on its way to being repaired. The new regime instantly named Holtby their #1. They’ve also brought in the greatest goalie coach in the world, Mitch Korn. The signing of Justin Peters makes it even more clear that Trotz and company are full speed ahead with Holtby as their starter. This is such a breath of fresh air after the Oates regime and their treatment of Holtby.

2) Despite a crowded blue line, Nate Schmidt made the Opening Night Roster

The Caps have a logjam on the blue line. When healthy, they have a clearly established top 6  that doesn’t even include veterans John Erskine and Jack Hillen. After this, the Caps have younger players who have seen some playing time over the past two seasons, such as Tomas Kundratek, Steve Oleksy, Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, and Nate Schmidt. With such a crowd, comprised of so many veterans, it would be understandable if these younger players got lost in the bunch in the limited time their new coach had to evaluate them. Schmidt standing out enough in Trotz’s eyes to make the club is a good sign.

For some reason, despite being one of the better possession players on the team last season during his time in Washington, Schmidt did get lost in the crowd and spent far more time in Hershey than he should have.

Puck possession is important. Nate Schmidt was one of only 3 Caps defensemen last year who improved the team’s possession play with him on the ice vs. with him off the ice. He may get sent back down to Hershey once the team begins to get healthy, but the fact that he is on Trotz’s radar and seemingly pretty high up the depth chart is encouraging.

3) Eric Fehr is getting the first crack to play alongside Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin

If you’ve read this blog, or any number of others Caps blogs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re thrilled to see Fehr on the top line to start the season. Simply put, he’s the best option. When healthy, Fehr showcases the hands that one would expect from a first round pick. He’s got size but can still move. Oh, and his possession numbers when playing with Backstrom and Ovechkin make him the best option to play with them, by far.  Fehr thinks it’s wise to bet booze on the fact that he’ll score 15 or more goals this year. I agree.


It’s the start of a new season. While I was highly critical of a certain offseason signing, I’m feeling optimistic about the Caps chances to have a bounce back year. One of the main reasons for this is that my first impression of Barry Trotz is that his reputation as a stellar NHL coach is well deserved.

Caps 2014-15 season preview

We didn’t post very much last season. Personally, I didn’t post much the past two seasons as I navigated my way through Grad school while working a full-time job. But we’ve started posting more this summer and plan to be much more active this season. We’ve even added a new writer, Margaret Stuart, who you should follow on Twitter. So thanks for reading. Check back often throughout the season for more frequent posting than last season. 

There is no shortage of season previews available on the Caps. Given that, this preview isn’t meant to be an exhaustive recap of the summer or of story lines certain to arise during the season. Instead, I wanted to give answers and opinions on a few things.

Additionally, some of our recent posts have covered preview-ish type material.

Brooks Orpik and what we know about 34-year-old defensemen

What Todd Reirden could mean for Mike Green

Marcus Johansson: Where he fits and what to expect

First, here’s a question we got on Twitter

Pat Holden: I’d expect a defensemen to get dealt before a forward, but sticking to the subject of the question, my guess would be Marcus Johansson. Johansson has had 4 seasons to find his niche here in Washington and he’s yet to do so. Barry Trotz has already said that Johansson will be used at wing this year, not the greatest vote of confidence for a guy on a team lacking Center depth who was drafted to play Center. If Johansson doesn’t have a coming of age prior to the return of Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson, he’s going to be fighting to get a sweater each night. Johansson is an asset who probably has some value on the trade market. If he can’t realize that value here in Washington and becomes scratched on a regular basis, he will be dealt.

Margaret Stuart: The easy and accurate answer is Marcus Johansson. A quick look at the roster sets him apart from his teammates, and not in a positive way. Who else is a viable trade candidate? The Caps can afford to ship him off–he doesn’t fill a specific, in-demand need. Every other forward on the team has a clearly-defined role, even if his place among the lineup is undefined. Johansson, on the other hand, lacks this clarity.

Is he a center or a left wing? Having scored eight goals last season, where does he fit on a team in need of secondary scoring? His lack of physicality isn’t ideal for a bottom-six player, and his even-strength production doesn’t merit top-six minutes.

With a cap hit of $2 million, Johansson won’t be difficult to take on. A change of scenery might benefit Johansson, although it’s unclear what exactly a team would acquire him for. His all-around play is solid, and his relative Corsi was positive. The latter will help the Caps shop Johansson, given the rise of advanced stats. But Johansson deserves another shot to slot into the lineup, and a handful of new coaches could mold him into the type of player the Caps can’t afford to lose. If this isn’t the case, he’s in the last year of a two-year deal–he’s a natural choice for trade bait.

One optimistic prediction about the season

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Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRBG Photography

Pat Holden: Braden Holtby will be widely considered an elite goalie around the NHL by the end of the season. (Peter from RMNB covered this in his predictions. I pinky swear this was in my draft of this post before reading that. I was going to remove it from my post but decided not to. Because really, Holtby’s play took such an undeserved beating last year that it doesn’t hurt to hammer home the point that he’s quite good).

Last season, Holtby caught a lot of heat for the Capitals problems. Last season, ultra-tinkerer Adam Oates messed with his style and Holtby played in front of a defense often comprised of multiple players who should have been in Hershey or the press box. Yet, Holtby still finished 8th in 5-on-5 save% of all goalies who played in 41 games or more. His 92.89 mark finished just below Henrik Lundqvist, who posted a 93.06%. Was Holtby shaky at times last year? Absolutely. But Holtby wasn’t the problem in Washington. In fact, Holtby has never been the problem.

Holtby is now being coached by Goalie Whisperer Mitch Korn. The defense in front of him is stronger than any other defense during his time here in Washington. This is Holtby’s year.

One less optimistic prediction about the season

Pat Holden: Joel Ward, meet regression to the mean. Regression to the mean, Joel Ward. 

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Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRBG Photography

 

Ward was great last season and figures to play a big role on the Caps 3rd line again this year. However, if you’re expecting Ward to match the 24 goals and 25 assists that he piled up last season, you’re going to be disappointed. Ward shot 18% last year, which is well above his career mark of 11.1%, and about 10% above the league average. Ward’s PDO of 102.66 last year is certain to come back down closer to 100. This is not a knock on Ward or to say that he won’t play well this year. Ward was a good player last year and will almost certainly be a good player again this year. But he was also lucky last year. That luck is likely to regress a bit and it’s not because of a drop in quality of Ward’s play.

For example, last year Ward had 133 SOG and shot 18% for 24 goals If Ward again manages 133 SOG again but shoots at his career mark of 11.1%, he will score 15 goals. Ward will still be a contributor to this team, but his offensive totals are all but certain to drop.

Margaret Stuart: Caps trade Green and get little in return. To state the obvious, defense has long been an Achilles heel for the Caps. MacLellan addressed this weakness by signing Niskanen and Orpik to long-term deals. The moves raised questions about Green’s role with the team, given the capabilities of the former Pittsburgh defensemen.

Green is the epitome of an offensive defenseman, but the past few seasons have signified a drop-off in his scoring abilities. Enter the fancy-stats argument: last season, Green had some of the highest possession numbers on a lousy possession team. If the Caps wanted to trade Green tomorrow, they’d find some takers. His stock has gradually fallen, but he’s still a valuable asset.

What could the Caps get in return for Green?

Worst-case scenario, they receive a meaningless draft pick or two, coupled with a bottom-four NHL defenseman. The Caps have enough budding young blueliners in their system to fill that role. Calling for trades is premature, but the Caps should receive a high-quality offensive talent in return for Green. Parting ways with No. 52 means losing a veteran leader and weakening the defense. But if the Caps are struggling enough to trade him, they probably can’t afford to be choosers.

Where will the Caps finish this year?

Pat Holden: I’m not big on predictions of where a team will finish in the standings, but this is a season preview so I feel some sort of obligation to provide one. The only team in the division that I think will definitely finish above the Caps are the Penguin (sorry!). But the only team in the division I think the Caps are certain to finish above are the Hurricanes. I’d say it’s unlikely that the Caps will finish above the Rangers. In the end, I think the Caps will end up in a tight battle for 3rd in the division/a Wild Card spot with the Islanders, Devils, Blue Jackets and Flyers. How’s that for vague? Fine. In the end, the Caps will grab the 2nd Wild Card spot in the East with 95 points (41-28-13).

Margaret Stuart: The Caps will finish among the top-four Metro teams. The Metropolitan Divison is unique in that it lacks a truly elite team. The Penguins are still in the running for a Cup, but they’re arguably on their way to becoming fringe contenders. Even the Rangers, who made it to the Cup Final, look weaker on paper than they did a year ago. Beyond these “frontrunners,” the rest of the division is up for grabs–only Carolina is poised to be a true basement-dweller.

If the Caps can patch up the 2C situation, their revamped blueline makes them a far greater threat. And the penalty kill and shots-allowed, two areas in need of fixing, are being addressed. The preseason is…well, the preseason, but it’s yielded mostly positive results thus far.

On the offensive front, Burakovsky may be the team’s most pleasant surprise, providing secondary scoring to supplement Ovechkin. If Trotz & Co. can elicit a Young Guns-era performance from Green, that alone is a red flag to other teams.

Given their improved play in both zones, I predict the Caps will finish fourth in the division, and their 96 points will qualify them for the postseason via the first wild-card spot. Their record will be 42-28-12. (Bear in mind predictions are notoriously inaccurate.)


Thanks again for reading and be sure to come back and visit us often this season.

 

What Matt Niskanen brings to the Caps

Niskanen00

Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRBG Photography

The Caps made a few additions to the team this summer via free agency. I’ve already written about Brooks Orpik. And then I wrote about him some more. Oh, and then I wrote about him some more. I also wrote about the Caps new backup goalie, Justin Peters.  But I haven’t written in much detail about Matt Niskanen, who the Caps signed in July to a 7 year, $40.25 million deal.

Niskanen appeared in 81 games last season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, totaling 10 goals and 36 assists for 46 points, all career highs. Niskanen’s previous career-high in goals was in 2007-08, his rookie year, when he had 7. Niskanen’s previous career high in assists (29) and points (35), came in 2008-09. A large part of the career-highs was the fact that Niskanen saw more PP TOI/Game (2.87) than any other time in his career, and was more productive in these minutes (3.87 P/60) than ever before.

A closer look at some other numbers will help give context to Niskanen’s season. Here’s how Niskanen stacks up to the Caps defenders who played the most minutes last season, as well as Brooks Orpik.

Key

FenClose rel%-The percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice vs. when he is off the ice. Think of it like +/- but for shot attempts, and expressed as a percentage. A player with a 0% Fen Close rel means his team does the same with him off the ice as on. A positive FenClose rel% means that the team does that much better, in terms of unblocked shot attempts, with that player on the ice than when he’s off. A negative number means that a team does that much worse with the player on the ice than when he’s not. If you’re skeptical as to how much this stat matters, here is a chart showing the top Fenwick teams of recent years.

ZS%-This is the percentage (ratio) of offensive zone to defensive zone face-offs for a player. A lower percentage indicates a player is assigned “tougher” minutes as he is on the ice for more defensive zone face-offs.

QOC TOI%-This is the quality of competition a player faces as measured by the average time on ice of the opposing players he faced.

“Close” game situations are games within a goal or tied in the 1st or 2nd period, or tied in the 3rd. It is used so score effects don’t inflate or deflate a player’s numbers in blowout situations. All FF% and ZS% below are in close-game 5-on-5 situations only. QOC TOI% is from all situations at 5-on-5. Yes, I realize it’s unconventional to look at ZS% only inc close game situations, but if possession numbers can be skewed because of score effects, deployment can be as well, as coaches are much more likely to just roll lines with a large lead.

Player ZS% QOC TOI% FenClose Rel%
Orlov 50.1% 28.0% +6.72
Green 53.2% 28.5% +6.36
Niskanen 47.5% 28.4% +5.87
Alzner 49.1% 29.4% -0.25
Carlson 51.3% 29.6% -1.75
Orpik 48.2% 29.3% -3.80
Erskine 52.8% 27.7% -6.28%

Zone Starts-Niskanen faced tougher zone starts than any other player in this chart. I’ll be honest, I was really surprised by this when I looked at the stats. I expected him to be a strong possession player, but I thought he’d be deployed more in the offensive zone, since he is thought of as an offensive-minded defenseman, much like Green and Orlov. But really, this makes a lot of sense. Putting a guy with good foot speed and a knack for strong breakout passes is the exact kind of player you’d want to help you get the puck out after a defensive zone draw. I hope this deployment continues in Washington. He can clearly handle it.

Quality of Competition-Niskanen faced the 5th toughest competition out of the 7 players listed here. Niskanen isn’t generally regarded as a “shutdown” D, so this makes some sense. However, one has to wonder, with Niskanen slotted to lineup next to Karl Alzner this season, if he will see an increase in the level of compeition he is deployed against.

Possession-The Penguins saw a 5.87% improvement in possession in close-game situations with Niskanen on the ice vs. with him on the bench. If he can continue this trend, the Caps will be on their way to getting their money’s worth this season. To put this in the context of Caps players fans may be more familiar with, noted possession standout Mike Green saw similar competition as Niskanen, much easier zone starts, and only a slight edge in possession.

Matt Niskanen brings to the Caps a puck-moving defenseman who can handle tough zone starts but still be a driver in terms of possession. He’s also capable of quarterbacking the power play, although it remains to be seen which defenseman Barry Trotz will have quarterback his top PP unit this season. While many may judge this deal by Niskanen’s offensive totals, I’ve already discussed why this may not be an accurate indicator of his play. His PDO, which was north of 103.0 last year, is almost certain to regress towards to the mean, while it remains to be seen if he’ll be given the chance to rack up points on the PP. But I, for one, expect Niskanen to be worth his price tag, both in his offensive totals as well as in other areas of his game.

 

 

 

 

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