Category Archives: Washington Capitals

Caps advanced stats All-Stars of the Ovechkin Era

As part of their 40th anniversary season, the Caps are asking fans to help them vote on the 40 greatest Caps players in the team’s history. I’m not asking for your vote and I’m not looking at the entire history of the team. Instead, I am looking at the Caps advanced stats All-Stars from the Alex Ovechkin era (2005-06-present). I am not claiming that advanced stats are the end of the discussion when it comes to player evaluation. However, they are for my purposes here. I also didn’t consider forward specific positions. Instead, I picked 3 forwards and 2 defenseman. I set the minimum games played to a completely arbitrary 115 games.

To rank the players, I looked at FenClose, FenClose rel, zone starts, and quality of competition. If a player ranked 1st, he got 5 points, down through 5th place getting 1 point. This was done for each of the 4 categories.

Without further delay, here are the long-awaited Caps advanced stats All-Stars from the Ovechkin era.

Forward #1-Sergei Fedorov (10 points)

Fedorov finished first in FenClose (56.19%) and FenRel (+4.43%). He wasn’t anywhere near the top in zone starts (0.73%% ZS rel), but did finish 8th in quality of competition (28.82).

Forward #2-Nick Backstrom (9 points)

Backstrom’s FenClose was good enough for 5th (53.44) and his FenRel 3rd (+3.28%). Backstrom’s zone starts were not noteworthy (6.08%). Backstrom really shines in quality of competition, where he finished first (29.63%)

Forward #3-Viktor Kozlov (7 points)

Kozlov finished 2nd in FenClose (54.48%), but did not place in the top-5 in FenClose rel (0.34%), a sign that he benefited from playing on very strong possession teams. Kozlov also didn’t find himself in the top-5 in zone starts (5.58% ZS rel). However, he  finished 3rd in quality of competition (29.39), cementing his place on the All-Star team.

Defenseman #1-Mike Green (10 points)

This isn’t surprising to anyone who pays attention to possession numbers. Green finished 1st in FenClose (53.10%) and 2nd in FenClose rel (+3.12%). Green didn’t place in the top 5 in zone starts (4.54%) but came in 5th in quality of competition (28.62%).

Defenseman #2 Shaone Morrissonn (9 points)

This was the biggest surprise to me, by a long ways. Morrisonn finished 5th in FenClose (50.21%) but didn’t make the top 5 in FenClose rel (-1.21%). He faced the toughest zone starts (-4.17%) and the 3rd toughest quality of competition (29.03%).

Here’s a player usage chart of the 5 All-Stars.

allstarusagechart

Morrisonn was the only negative possession player relative to his teammates. However, this is counter-balanced by the fact that he faced the toughest zone starts and 3rd toughest competition among all qualified defenseman. His inclusion is still shocking to me.

Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is finally over. Let’s hear it for your Caps advanced stats All-Stars of the Ovechkin era.

What Todd Reirden could mean for Mike Green

Green_1a

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Since the departure of Alex Semin, Mike Green is the most divisive player among Caps fans. I’m a Green supporter. Yes, he has defensive lapses that are glaring and costly. Yes, his offensive production has dropped off significantly and injuries have mounted. But the Caps are a better team with Mike Green than without him. He’s a possession monster and his skating ability is top-notch. The Caps additions on the blue line this off-season have left Green’s role in question, including who will play the point on the power play.

A lot of things will go into Green’s level of success this year. Perhaps the most important change is that the new coaching staff, led by Barry Trotz, have already said they will move away from Adam Oates’ insistence that the Caps defenders not carry the puck. Allowing Green the ability to showcase his skating a bit more should help his production.

One facet that I wanted to look at is how the coaching changes could affect Green by looking at how other offensive defeseman have fared before and during their time under the guidance of Todd Reirdan, who replaces Calle Johannson in handling the coaching duties of the Caps defenseman. As I said, this is just one of many facets and by focusing on this one facet I am not suggesting that it exists in a vacuum. I’m also not suggesting that the difference in results below are simply because of a coaching change.

Todd Reirden joins the Caps coaching staff after being an assistant in Pittsburgh since 2010. In Pittsburgh, two of the supremely offensively-gifted defenders Reirden coached were Kris Letang and now Cap Matt Niskanen. Here’s how each of these players did, possession wise, before and with Reirden.

letangniskanen

 

Both players saw a significant uptick in possession under Reirden. Yes, both of these guys also happened to enter their prime under Reirden, and these are overall possession numbers, not relative. But Reirden was the defensive coach during the time both players saw a significant uptick in their possession numbers. This can’t be ignored.

Enough about possession, how about production? This is 5-on-5 only.

letangniskanenproduction

Given the rise in possession shown in the first graph, the rise in production isn’t surprising. Both Niskanen and Letang saw a rise in production across the board under Reirden’s watch. In fact, both had a higher assists/60 with Reirden than points/60 before they were coached by him.

Simply because two offensive defenders entered their prime years under Reirden and improved their results drastically doesn’t mean that a 28 year old Mike Green is certain to have a return to glory because of the new coach in charge of the defense. But, it’s certainly not going to hurt. And allowing Green the freedom to use his skating ability and creativity is also not going to hurt. While I’m not expecting Green to return to his production levels from the Boudreau years, I do expect an uptick in his production this season.

On Nick Backstrom, appreciation, and linemates

Backstrom_1

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Barry Trotz has not been shy in heaping praise upon Nick Backstrom since becoming head coach of the Caps. Trotz has also noted how under appreciated he feels Backstrom is around the league. I think Backstrom is deeply appreciated by Caps fans, generally recognized as one of the most important players on this team. But, just in case you forgot about how great Backstrom is, here’s a reminder.

backstromusage

Backstrom’s career usage chart displays a few things,none of which are surprising, but that I think are  cool to see in visual form. The first is that he’s only been a negative possession player relative to his teammates once in his career. That is was in 2008-09, and it was by less than 1/4 of a %. Other than that, the Caps, season-by-season, have always been a better possession team with Backstrom on the ice than without him. Backstrom has also faced pretty stiff competition, almost always finishing a season north of 29.2% TOI competition. That’s what we’d expect to find from a 1C who is often deployed with Alex Ovechkin.

Much has been made about the fact that Alex Ovechkin will likely start the season back at LW. It’s a fairly safe assumption that Backstrom will line up at Center on a line with Ovechkin. What potential RW would benefit the most by being centered by Backstrom? And what player would Backstrom most benefit from having on his right side?

I’m making a few assumptions in my considerations. One is that Brooks Laich and Evgeny Kuznetsov are not candidates, as I expect them to fill the 3C and 2C spots, respectively. I’m also assuming that most any winger is eligible. It is safe to assume that Trotz won’t be as obsessed with handedness as Adam Oates was, right? I’ve also excluded Tom Wilson from my list of viable options to play alongside Backstrom because their sample size together is minuscule, so there’s nothing to learn from their history together. Here’s how the remaining options for Trotz stack up, measured in Corsi For with and without Backstrom. These are career numbers.

backstromwowy

A note on the sample size here. Minutes with Backstrom are as follows: Brouwer 758:32, Johansson 991:41, Ward 88:53, Fehr 391:26, Chimera 314:37.

Here’s how Backstrom fared with and without each player listed above.

Backstrompart2

 

The “with” sample sizes here are obviously the same.

Brouwer and Johansson have by far the biggest sample sizes playing with Backstrom. It’s clear that Brouwer and Backstrom are not a good match as they both see their possession numbers plummet when playing together. Johansson sees his possession numbers improve with Backstrom, but he’s dead weight to Backstrom, who sees a significant jump in possession away from Johansson. Jason Chimera also appears to be a poor fit with Backstrom.

Joel Ward’s sample size with Backstrom is quite small, but the results are decent. That being said, his skill set is one that thrives on a 3rd line and is likely not suited to play with the likes of Backstrom and Ovechkin on a regular basis.

That bring us to Eric Fehr. Fehr’s success with Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski is something we’ve already talked about here in other posts. Fehr’s possession benefits from playing with Backstrom and Backstrom’s possession drops the least when playing with Fehr out of all of the RW options. Long story short, if Eric Fehr is not playing RW alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom on opening night, I’ll consider it a mistake by Trotz.

Nicklas Backstrom is awesome, isn’t he? And boy, an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr line on opening night sure does make a lot of sense.

All stats pulled from War on Ice and Hockey Analysis 

 

Getting to know Justin Peters

The Caps off-season signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen rightfully drew a lot more attention than the signing of Justin Peters as the teams’ backup goalie. Peters comes to the Caps from the Carolina Hurricanes, who drafted him in the 2nd round (38th overall) of the 2004 entry draft. In Carolina last year, Peters went 7-9-4 with a 2.50 GAA and of 91.9 save%.

The chart below, tweeted by Rob Vollman just before free agency opened, gives some context to Peters’ box score stats. Peters faced the toughest competition (the Y-axis in the chart below, determined by the average shooting % of opponents faced vs. the league) of any goalie who hit the open market on July 1st while also receiving relatively little goal supports (x-axis) Embedded image permalink

While the ability to measure the true quality of a goalie without factors such as team-effects skewing the numbers is difficult, 5-on-5 save %, while not perfect, is generally agreed upon as the best measure. The numbers below are combined totals from the past two seasons, showing how Peters compares to, for the sake of familiarity, Braden Hotlby and Michal Neuvirth.

Name 5 on 5 shots faced 5 on 5 save%
Braden Hotlby 1976 93.0%
Michal Neuvirth 617 91.9%
Justin Peters 895 91.1%

Small sample size warnings obviously apply here. Both the lockout and the fact that none of these guys held a job as a #1 goalie for the entirety of the two seasons limited the quantity of shots they each faced. However, the quick takeaway is that Holby is the superior goalie of the 3, while Peters is a backup-quality goalie.

Peters annual cap hit of $950,000 for the two years is currently 50th among NHL goalies, certainly a very reasonable contact. I consulted capgeek.com for a list of cap hit comparables for Peters. The chart below shows how Peters compares to 4 of those goalies since the start of the 2012-13 season.

Player Cap Hit Shots Faced 5-on-5 Save %
Thomas Greiss $1,000,000 619 93.4%
Ray Emery $1,000,000 893 92.2%
Justin Peters $950,000 895 91.1%
Anders Lindback $925,000 935 91.0%
Dan Ellis $900,000 1,070 90.2%

Again, sample size warnings apply. Peters 5-on-5 save% falls right in the middle of the 5 goalies, just as his cap hit does.

Justin Peters is a perfectly capable backup goalie, signed to a fair and reasonable contract.  Signing him sends the right message to Braden Holtby (that the #1 job is his) while also allowing Philipp Grubauer to get plenty of playing time as the starter in Hershey.

Q&A with Nate Schmidt

Nate Schmidt

 

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Nate Schmidt was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions. This interview was conducted via email in mid-August.

Pat Holden: In an article on Collegehockey.com from 2012, you credited the workout program between your Freshman and Sophomore year at Minnestoa for helping take your game to the next level. Is that still a part of your off-season training?

Nate Schmidt: I am still working out and training here in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. I have a great strength coach in Cal Dietz, who tailors all of our programs for each of the individual athletes. It also helps when we have ice available all the time and a lot of pro alumni that skate and use it all summer. It makes for a great combination.

PH: Have you had any contact with the new coaching staffs in Washington or Hershey? What’s your reaction to the changes?

NS: I have spoken to both Coach Trotz and Coach Reirden since they were both hired this offseason. I am very excited for the opportunity that will allow me to be working with such established coaches that focus on development and creating winning cultures. As for Hershey, I have not but I did play for Coach Mann at the end of last year and there is familiarity there.

PH: Do the Orpik and Niskanen signings have any impact on your mindset heading into camp?

NS: As for the free-agent signs the summer, it just means that I have to work that much harder and that nothing is going to come easy for me this year. Both are tremendous players and are proven NHL guys, and anytime a team adds those types of players it shakes up the depth chart a little bit. But I am excited for the challenge and all I can do is work hard, and continue to develop into a more well-rounded defenseman.

PH: You’re a strong supporter of Defending the Blue Line and have donated your time to the cause. What specifically draws you to the cause? Is there anything Caps and Bears fans can do if they want to get involved?

NS: Defending the Blue Line is a first class organization ran by a first class gentleman by the name of Shane Hudella. I am a huge supporter of our troops and everything they do in order to keep us safe and allowing all of us to live safely and in pursuit of our dreams. I believe that it is the least I can do to help those who put so much on the line for us. It also is just a boatload of fun being a part of the events or just spending time with the military families as well. If any of the Caps or Bears fans want to check it out they can go online to defendingtheblueline.org to take a look!

Defending the Blue Line commercial starring Nate Schmidt!

PH: There were many of us in the Caps community calling for you to get more playing time in Washington last year, in part because your “advanced” stats, like Corsi and Fenwick, are stellar. A few teams have made hires this off-season that show “advanced” stats are being used more and more in NHL front offices. Are advanced stats something that, as a player, are on your radar?

NS: First, I appreciate the support! And as for the advanced stats from a players standpoint, it is something that is not talked about very often to be honest. Guys talk more about playmaking and puck moving ability as well as poise. Those are the ways we measure stats such as Corsi and Fenwick.

PH: Which Caps or Bears teammate would be the worst to live with?

NS: I can’t think of anyone that I really wouldn’t like to live with in the organization, I really can’t think of anyone. haha

PH: A little know fact: I beat John Carlson a few years ago in a game of NHL 12 on XBOX 360 after he tweeted his gamer profile. He played as the Caps and I won two fights against John Carlson the video character being controlled by the real John Carlson. Consider this my official announcement to anyone in the Caps organization, including you, that play the NHL games on 360 that I am undefeated vs. all Caps players and taking all comers!

NS: As for Carly’s gaming prowess, I don’t know how good of a player he is but I do feel that I would consider myself an NHL 14 contender!

(Editor’s note: Stay tuned to BrooksLaichyear for an EA Sports NHL battle between Nate and Pat later this season)

______________________________________________________________________________

I’d like to thank Nate for taking the time to do this interview. It was really generous of him. However, I will still show no mercy when I crush him in EA Sports hockey later this season.

Did Alex Ovechkin deserve the Calder in 2005-06?

Alex Ovechkin won the Calder trophy for NHL rookie of the year following the 2005-06 season. Ovechkin totaled 52 goals and 54 assist in 81 games. His 106 points is the 3rd highest total ever for a rookie. 2005-06 was also Sidney Crosby’s rookie season. Crosby had 39 goals and 63 assists. According to Wikipedia, the only other time two rookies have had over 100 points in the same season was in 1992-93 (Teemu Selanne and Joe Juneau).

The voting for the Calder was not specially close, as Ovechkin received 125 of the 129 possible first place votes. He also received 4 second place votes. Crosby received 4 first place votes, 95 second place votes, as well as a number of third and fourth place votes. Scoring 52 goals as a rookie is going to grab the attention of voters. Ovechkin’s highlight reel goals and physical style of play was also credited for helping him win the award nearly unanimously.

Advanced stats are more prevalent than ever before in the NHL, and are certainly more of a thought than they were in 2005-06. While there’s no doubt many voters still pay them no mind, I want to take a look at how the Ovechkin’s and Crosby’s rookie seasons match-up from an advanced stats perspective.

First, here’s a look at a player usage chart.

crosbyovechkin

 

This is for all 5-on-5 situation. So, Crosby (57.256) faced easier zone starts than Ovechkin (52.68%), but also faced (slightly) tougher competition (28.78% to 28.56%). The wide gap on the Y-axis is actually quite small if you look at the scale. Both players had somewhat sheltered zone starts, as would be expected as rookies. The bubble color is set to FenRel% which resulted in no noticeable color for either player because, as you’ll see shortly, these two had similar FenClose numbers in their rookie season. Not pictured here is that both players also had very similar strength of teammates, as measured by TOI teammate %. Ovechkin’s was 30.45%, Crosby 30.48%.

Back to looking at possession through FenRel %. This is another stat where there’s not a very meaningful difference between the two. Ovechkin’s FenRel % was 7.88 and Crosby’s was 7.44. Looking at close game situations also doesn’t give either guy much of an edge. Ovechkin’s close game Fenwick was 53.16%, Crosby 50.95%. When looking relative to their teammates, the numbers are 9.19% and 9.93%, respectively.

Advanced stats don’t do much to distinguish either player during their rookie campaigns. They both had good possession numbers, especially relative to their teammates. Both guys received zone starts that were a bit sheltered, Crosby a bit more than Ovechkin. And lastly, they played with and against very similar levels of competition. Sorry Sidney, I won’t be calling for a re-vote based off of advanced stats.

All data pulled from War on Ice

War on Ice is awesome: Advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2009-10 season

As we’ve already highlighted here on the blog, advanced stats have gotten a lot of publicity this summer. A large part of this was due to NHL front offices making hires that were aimed at forming analytic departments. One of those hires, by the Toronto Maple Leafs, was Darryl Metcalf, the founder of ExtraSkater.com. Extra Skater was the go-to advanced stats resource for many people, myself included, but was shut down when Metcalf was hired by the Leafs. One site that has popped up in Extra Skater’s place is War on Ice. I’ve tweeted some of the stuff that makes War on Ice such a cool site, even eclipsing Extra Skater in terms of depth and quality. While Extra Skater had stats from the present day dating back to the 2010-11 season, War on Ice has stats starting with the 2002-03 season. Much like I did when Extra Skater added stats from the ’10-11 season, I wanted to highlight some interesting stats on War on Ice from seasons that were not available on Extra Skater. This post will take a look at advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2009-10 season. This post will far from exhaust all there is to say about the information available on War on Ice from the 2009-10 Caps. Instead, this post is both an effort to point out some interesting highlights, as well as show off some of the stuff that makes War on Ice so great.

For those who don’t remember, 2009-10 was the season that the Caps dominated the league and were then Halak’d out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadians in the first round of the playoffs. The Caps were dynamic. 6 players had over 20 goals. Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games. As a lifelong sports fan, this team was the most exciting team I’ve rooted for, regardless of the sport.

To start, here’s a look at 2009-10 via just one of the seemingly endlessly customized chart options on War on Ice. This is a chart looking at all 30 NHL teams. The X-Axis is Fenwick %. The Y-Axis is team goal +/- and the color bubble variance is PDO. The bubble size variance is time on ice, fairly trivial for this chart. This is at 5-on-5 in close game situations.

200910team

The further right, the better the team was, as measured by puck possession. A blue bubble would indicate good fortunate, with red representing poor fortunate.

-The Caps were good, according to Fenwick, but not elite. They finished 12th in FenClose as a team. The Caps FenClose % of 51.19 is their 3rd best since 2002.

-The Caps have the darkest blue circle, meaning they led the league in PDO at an absurd 103.60.

-My quick takeaway from this chart is that the Caps, at 5-on-5, were a good team that was also very fortunate, which resulted in the huge goal differential.

-War on Ice tracks PDO back to 2002, and the 103.60 is by far the highest season PDO the Caps have had in the time frame. The next highest is 101.78 (2002-03)

The next chart is a look at the Caps defenders. The X-axis is FenRel % and the Y-axis is TOI Competition %. The bubble size and color are set to TOI/G. I’m not sure what variable to use as the 4th that will contribute to the substance of this chart, so I TOI is left as a repeat. I’m open to suggestions!

200910CapsD

A few takeaways from this chart:

-Tom Poti and Joe Corvo played a lot of minutes. They were tough minutes and they handled them really well.

-Karl Alzner played against weak competition and he struggled.

-Why was Brian Pothier getting more minutes than Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina?

Here are some other interesting details. First, the Caps top 5 FenClose Rel from 2009-10

Player Games FenClose Rel
Ovechkin 71 5.59
Backstrom 81 4.64
Poti 69 4.31
Gordon 35 3.83
Steckel 78 3.45

 

And the 5 worst

Player Games FenClose Rel
Alzner 21 -7.04%
Chimera 77 -4.89%
Perreault 21 -4.86%
Sloan 39 -4.78%
Fleischmann 68 -4.02%

 

These charts are pretty self-explanatory. Ovechkin and Backstrom, those two guys are pretty good, eh?

Let us not forget that 2009-10 was the year that Jeff Schultz led the league in +/-.  Now, when arguing with someone about how flawed of a stat +/- is, you can give them Schultz’s exact PDO in the ’09-10 season. Schultz’s PDO was 105.75, which was somehow only good enough for 4th on the Caps that season, behind Carlson (105.89), Fehr (105.87), and Ovechkin (105.81). If only considering players who played in 41+ games, Henrik Sedin finished first in the NHL in PDO at 106.71. The next 3 players league-wide were Caps! Carlson only appeared in 22 games, so the top 4 in the NHL is rounded out by Fehr, Ovechkin, and Schultz.

This look at the 2009-10 season is just scratching the surface of the data available on War on Ice. Go ahead and head over there yourself but be prepared to get lost for days!

 

Revisiting the 2011-12 Capitals

Two kinds of disappointment for two very different reasons. I’m referring, of course, to when the Washington Capitals’ 2010-11 and 2013-14 seasons came to their respective ends. Though no one knew it at the time, April 2011 ushered in the Caps’ descent from near-greatness. Three years later, the Caps were practically at rock bottom, with their Cup-contending window all but slammed shut. A handful of things separated the two teams: offensive firepower, a division title, and Alex Ovechkin’s goal total, to name a few. But they both shared the heartbreak and humiliation we call upon easily come playoff time.

Now that I’ve reopened old wounds, let’s take a look at the key differences between the 2010-11 Capitals and their 2013-14 counterparts. 2010-11 was supposed to be a huge year for the Caps: despite a shocking upset, they were going to bounce back to playoff glory. They were no longer clear-cut favorites to hoist Lord Stanley, but a deep playoff run was expected. Anything less was failure.

Fast-forward to October 2013, after seasons of further disappointment, and we wondered if the Caps’ lockout-shortened success could be replicated long-term (specifically, the part where they went 11-1-1 in the month of April.) Armed with a proper training camp and 48 games worth of regular-season experience, Adam Oates had supposedly worked out the kinks in his system. But the memory of being shut out on home ice by the hated Rangers was still fresh in our minds, and we wanted results. Initially, the Caps didn’t disappoint–much–when they narrowly lost an exciting season opener to the reigning champs, Chicago. But it was quickly evident that they needed more than a top-four defenseman to rise above the ranks of the Metropolitan Division.

This October, we approach the Caps’ 41st season in the NHL and without a Stanley Cup. Have they finally turned a corner? Firing coaches is no longer enough to quiet the masses; George McPhee got the ax in the offseason, too. New GM Brian MacLellan promised change, and we got it: the ailing defense was finally addressed, although the Brooks Orpik deal has been endlessly vilified with good reason. Lest we forget, the Caps still lack a true second-line center (how many seasons will it take before we lock one up long-term?)

On the coaching front, Barry Trotz has been well-received. He’s made clear that he’ll coach in the style best suited to his players–not necessarily with a defense-first mentality. This alone is promising; the Caps have a coach who will properly utilize their roster. Then again, Trotz is another coach with another system ready to be implemented. How long will it take to adjust? Will the power play remain lethal? Will the Corsi-for surpass 50%? Will the puzzle pieces click to form a contending team?

The same questions were asked this time in 2011 (well, maybe not the Corsi.) That season ended in typical agonizing fashion, although the memory of Joel Ward’s series-winning goal against the big, bad Bruins remains a franchise highlight. This time around, will things be different? Well, there’s a new coach in place, and the front office underwent a makeover. Ovechkin is still enigmatic in the eyes of the mainstream media, but his scoring ability is untouchable. The defense got an upgrade. Goalie guru Mitch Korn came along for the ride. All that’s left is watching these adjustments play out.

However, they’re meaningless until the Caps go from ninth in the Eastern Conference to first, or somewhere in that ballpark. As we know well, regular season success doesn’t translate into the postseason–and the playoffs seem light years away. It’s August, and we need something to get us going until October. On paper, we can find plenty of reasons to be hopeful. The players themselves have provided feel-good quotes that make us want to see these new Capitals in action. Brooks Laich even says they “need to win this year.” He’s right. DC needs a Cup; it’s long overdue.

So will the Caps make a Cup Final appearance? Will they hoist thirty-five pounds of gleaming perfection this June? There are no guarantees and much is unproven, but Laich’s sentiments make the possibility just a bit more real. They must become the norm for the players. We, the fans, would do well to reacquaint ourselves with hope and resilience. We should consider that maybe optimism isn’t the enemy, that maybe it’s more than the monotony of the offseason getting to us. Maybe cliches do hold an iota of truth. Maybe this will finally be our year.

 

Caps reportedly interested in Paul Bissonnette

As reported by Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post, the Caps are reportedly interested in signing free agent winger Paul Bissonnette. Considering the Caps already have a crowded situation at wing, and the fact that Bissonnette is more known for his Twitter account than his production as an NHL player, I immediately questioned the reason for the Caps potential interest. Bissonnette has played in 202 NHL games and has totaled 7 goals, 15 assists, and 340 PIM during that time. He has averaged 5:18 TOI in those 202 games.

However, Bissonnette, as pointed out in The Post article linked to above, has tried to change his style of play as the enforcer role in the NHL has begun to fade. This past year Bissonnette fought 3 times, a career low. But does it make sense for the Caps, a team with just over $1 million in cap space and depth at wing, to pursue a player with such marginal production? Well, it depends. Given the Caps crowd at wing, it would seem signing another winger would have to come with a corresponding move. Aaron Volpatti would be the obvious candidate to be moved out, as I discussed on Twitter with Katie Brown of District Sports Page when she brought up the scenario.

While switching out Volpatti for Bissonnette is far from an impact move, it would be a beneficial one, as the chart below shows (2013-14 stats).

Player TOI FF% FF REL
Bissonnette 184.8 55.1 +4.4%
Volpatti 299.4 39.7 -9.2%

 

So, the Coyotes were actually a better possession team, by 4.4%, with Bissonnette on the ice than without him. The Caps fared 9.9% worse when Volpatti was on the ice. In fact, since posting a -2.3% FF Rel in 2010-11, Bissonnette has been a positive relative possession player in each of the past 3 seasons.

So, if the Caps want to bring in Bissonnette and move out Volpatti, without having much impact on the cap situation, I can get behind the idea. While their reported interest in him surprises me, I was also surprised to find Bissonnette’s possession numbers to be so favorable, which could benefit the Caps 4th line.

 

Examining the Caps’ possible line combinations

Barry Trotz’s projected lines are still a mystery, but his Q&A with Dan Rosen shed light on possible combinations. Trotz revealed who he’d like to keep on the wing and try at center, in addition to his vision for the Caps’ fourth line. With this new information in mind, here’s a look at mixing and matching certain players.

 

Who will play alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom?

While Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have two of the top line’s three slots locked up, questions still abound. Will Trotz play Ovechkin as a right or left wing? Once that’s decided, who will complete the trio?

Marcus Johansson typically played with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but Trotz plans to try him at center. Should Johansson perform well, it’s unlikely that we’ll see him playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom–he’s a viable candidate for second-line center, and it’s possible that Trotz will move Ovechkin back to left wing to account for the Caps’ surplus of right wings.

Should Ovechkin line up on the left, Troy Brouwer seems like the Caps’ go-to guy. He’s seen plenty of ice time as a second-liner, so making the transition to top-line minutes is feasible. However, the majority of his production came on the power play–a problem that plagued Ovechkin and Backstrom. Furthermore, Brouwer’s Corsi-for with Backstrom was 49.5%.

So, is Brouwer really the best fit to play right wing on the top line? Given the excess of right wings in the Caps’ system, I say no. Throw in Trotz’s belief that Tom Wilson should play top-nine minutes, and it’s almost difficult to see where Brouwer fits into the equation. He could very well be a trade candidate. Second-line center, anyone?

This leaves Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, and Wilson. Trotz expressed his desire to keep Ward on a line with Jason Chimera, so Fehr and Wilson are probably the most likely options. Wilson isn’t a likely choice, given his relative inexperience. On the other hand, playing Fehr and Ovechkin saw time together as wings and boasted a Corsi-for of 50.9%.  Fehr and Backstrom are an even more promising combination, as their career Corsi-for clocks in at 54.4%. (Last season’s 47.6% was a bump in what’s been an otherwise smooth road.) Statistics aside, Fehr is a creative player and good skater. He can get the puck to his teammates and capitalize on chances himself. Should Ovechkin return to left wing, I’d like to see Fehr as one of his linemates.

 

What if Ovechkin remains a right wing?

Of course, the above scenarios assume that Trotz doesn’t keep Ovechkin at right wing. An opening still remains, so who fills it? We can rule Johansson out for aforementioned reasons, thus leaving Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brooks Laich. Note: even if Andre Burakovsky cracks the lineup, I’m skeptical of how he’ll handle top-line minutes during his rookie season. As I said earlier, Trotz would be foolish to split up Ward and Chimera. However, he stated his intentions to try Kuznetsov and Laich (assuming he’s healthy) down the middle. Both are promising options.

However, someone will be the odd man out, and in turn, likely play an important role on the second line. The need for a 2C is no secret, and Johansson could trump Kuznetsov and Laich in that department. If he can’t find his scoring touch as a winger, he might be more successful at setting up plays than finishing them. He also has previous experience playing center and tallied 36 assists last seasons, second only to Backstrom.

If Trotz wants to use Kuznetsov to supplement the top line’s offense, he’s narrowed the search down to Laich and Johansson. Since there are no guarantees of Laich’s health, Johansson might be the better option–it’s hard to find good centermen, and the Caps need consistency down the middle. Johansson’s also in the last year of his contract, and his role with the Caps is still uncertain. If he succeeds as a 2C, he’s made a strong case for a contract extension.

 

Where do Burakovsky and Wilson fit?

Two players I haven’t discussed in detail are Burakovsky and Wilson. Trotz has made known his plans for each: Burakovsky is a possibility down the middle, while Wilson should see top-nine minutes. The former will, at the very least, begin his season in Hershey. If he sees NHL ice time, I’d prefer it to be at his natural position, left wing. If the Caps wish to mold Burakovsky into a center, Hershey is the best place to make that happen. A player of his talents shouldn’t be stuck on a checking line.

That statement also applies to Wilson, who saw minimal ice time last season. Since Chimera and Ward will likely comprise two-thirds of the third line, that leaves an opening for Wilson on the second line (granted, Brouwer would have to be playing on the top line or with a different team for that to happen.) Wilson cannot spend another season trapped on the fourth line, and it appears as though Trotz will give him the chance to step up offensively with increased minutes and tougher competition.

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