Category Archives: Washington Capitals

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.

Mikhail Grabovski: Caps loss is Isles gain (Jeremy Roenick is still wrong)

Yup, this is my second post about ex-Caps player Mikhail Grabovski in the past week. While it’s not my intention in writing this, this is further proof of how wrong Jeremy Roenick is about Grabovski.  But this post is more about the fact that the loss of Grabovski hurts the Caps, while the Isles will benefit from signing him.

On a personal level, Grabovski was the Caps player I most enjoyed watching last season. From a team level, he was a possession monster and a nice solution to the Caps problems at 2C that could have been had long-term for a reasonable salary. But I shouldn’t be the only one missing Grabovski. In fact, most everyone of his teammates should be missing him because almost every Caps player saw an improvement in their possession numbers in the minutes they played with Grabovski vs. when they played without him.

Here is a look at how every Caps forward fared while playing with Grabovski vs. while playing without him. I cut off the minimum minutes at 19:48, so as not to exclude possession anchor Aaron Volpatti. Sample-size warnings obviously apply, but you can see a trend. SA% is the % of shot attempts the Caps saw go in their favor while that player was on the ice.

Player TOI w/Grabovski SA% w/Grabovski TOI w/out Grabovski SA% w/out Grabovski Grabovski effect
Brouwer 273:16 51.6 756:55 46.4 +5.2
Fehr 271:10 55.1 641:53 46.4 +8.7
Ovechkin 235:19 50.8 888:27 48.8 +2.0
Chimera 223:53 49.8 804:11 45.6 +4.2
Ward 207:13 51.2 787:24 46.2 +5.0
Laich 123:59 48.1 508:47 47.9 +0.2
Backstrom 82:42 47.3 1070:13 49.5 -2.2
Wilson 40:53 48.8 598:32 44.8 +4.0
Erat 38:20 58.5 799:17 49.7 +8.8
Johansson 27:26 54.8 1039:55 48.2 +6.6
Beagle 19:49 46.2 609:13 44.6 +1.6
Volpatti 19:48 38.1 279:42 39.7 -1.6

-10 of the 12 Caps forwards who played 19:48+ with Grabovski this past season saw an increase in SF% with Grabovski vs without him, the only two exceptions being Backstrom and Volpatti.

-Remember when Adam Oates started the season with his obvious 2C (Grabovski) on the 3rd line and obvious 2W (Erat) on the 4th line? One wonders what the two could have done if ever given extended minutes together (something I, and many others, called for all season) given their dominating 58.5% SF in the very small sample.

-One interesting tidbit not shows here is that Backstrom, the player with the worst “Grabovski Effect,” saw his highest Goals For % with Grabovski out of all Caps forwards. Certainly just a sample size thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Here’s how are the Caps top 7 D, in terms of minutes played with Grabovski, fared with and without him last season at 5-on-5. Again, sample size warnings apply, but a clear patterns emerges.

Player TOI w/Grabovski SA% w/Grabovski TOI w/out Grabovski SA% w/out Grabovski Grabovski effect
Carlson 291:57 49.1 1029:15 46.3 +2.8
Alzner 287:30 49.9 1005:32 46.4 +3.5
Green 275:10 55.3 1003:39 50.4 +4.9
Orlov 166:52 59.9 795:41 49.0 +10.9
Schmidt 130:48 49.0 358:10 51.3 -2.3
Oleksy 119:42 50.4 316:32 44.9 +5.5
Erskine 92:14 53.3 405:21 43.9 +9.4

-Other than Nate Schmidt, every defender listed saw an improvement in their possession numbers, many of them pretty drastic improvements, when on the ice with Grabovski.

 -It’s especially interesting that the two worst puck possession players on the list, Oleksy and Erskine, both became positive possession players in their minutes with Grabovski, which were admittedly limited.

-I know it’s only 166 minutes, but the Caps were dominant when Grabovski was on the ice with Orlov.

Like I said above, sample-size warnings obviously apply here.  It should also be noted that none of these numbers include any caveats such as zone starts or quality of competition. But make no mistake about it, regardless of that, the Capitals were a better team with Grabovski on the ice, and his new Islanders teammates will start reaping the benefits in October.

All stats pulled from http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/

Follow us on Twitter

 

 

 

How are the Caps prospects affected by the Orpik/Niskanen deals?

With Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen signed, the Caps’ defense looks set for opening night. The Caps now have six NHL-caliber defensemen to defend their blueline, in addition to Orpik and Niskanen: Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Mike Green, and Dmitry Orlov. There are no gaping holes, and the only real question surrounding the defense is how the pairings will be constructed.

This obviously shakes up the depth chart and leaves little room for call-ups, so prospects will likely have to bide their time in Hershey. This isn’t a terrible fate. Spending extra time in the AHL is beneficial, unlike playing unwarranted minutes in the NHL. But injuries and other unforeseen circumstances are inevitable, so defensemen will inevitably be called up.

At present, the defense is perfectly balanced with an equal amount of right- and left-handed shots. Barry Trotz will hopefully base call-ups on overall fit instead of shooting sides, like Adam Oates did. This article will focus on the three prospects I believe are most likely to see NHL time this season, and what the Caps’ latest transactions mean for their development.

 

Connor Carrick

This time last year, Carrick was unsure if he’d be playing in the OHL or the AHL. Yet he unexpectedly cracked the opening-night roster and wound up playing 34 games in the NHL. Had the Caps been in a better place defensively, he probably wouldn’t have seen that much ice time.

As the season dragged on, Carrick looked increasingly out of place in his own zone. This concern was made worse as he got outmuscled–the opposition would take advantage of his size and use physicality to outplay him.

With the above in mind, it’s easy to forget that Carrick’s skating ability and vision are among the best of all Caps prospects. However, he doesn’t fit the mold of a bruising, shutdown defenseman–the type of player the Caps lack. The Caps have an abundance of offensive-minded defensemen in their system, so it’s hard not to wonder where Carrick fits into the equation.

Hockey’s Future is almost dismissive of Carrick’s defensive ability:

You won’t really be investing in Carrick for his defensive play. He’s competent in his own zone, but what you are looking for from him is a powerplay quarterback and an aggressive and explosive offensive defenseman.

Finding someone to play point isn’t a problem for the Caps, as they already have three viable options in Carlson, Green, and Niskanen. While Green’s role with the Caps is hazy, Carlson and Niskanen will be defensive cornerstones for years to come. Future projections shouldn’t stop Carrick from seeing some NHL minutes, though. Spending the majority of the upcoming season in Hershey will allow him to develop further, and his previous NHL experience makes him an appealing call-up possibility. Furthermore, the Caps have a plethora of quality partners available for him to skate with. Playing Carrick alongside a physical, defensive defenseman not named John Erskine would be ideal. Orpik is an obvious candidate, should Carrick be needed in D.C.

Carrick’s hockey sense might be more refined than that of his peers, but I wouldn’t pin him as a go-to call-up. Others are sounder defensively, and the Caps aren’t in desperate need of an offensive-minded blueliner. After all, if one of the core defensemen is out of action, they’re going to want someone who prioritizes defense, instead of stepping up in the offensive zone. Unless Carrick makes tremendous strides and the Caps lose an offensive-minded blueliner, he’ll likely be passed over.

 

Nate Schmidt

Schmidt recently signed a two-way, one-year contract with the Caps after seeing a decent chunk of action (29 games) in the NHL. His season was unfortunately cut short due to a knee injury, but his time with the Caps gave viewers plenty to think about. As an offensive defenseman, he scored 6 points (2G, 4A) and was a plus-four (if you’re into that sort of thing) while suiting up for the Caps.

Point totals aside, Schmidt posted impressive possession numbers. His Corsi-for came in at 50.6%, while his relative Corsi was 3.1%. Despite these numbers, he received little ice time and didn’t see NHL action after late January.

Like Carrick, Schmidt is known for his offense first and defense second. Sound familiar? While Schmidt is a promising defender, the Caps have unfortunately stockpiled too many blueliners in this mold: young and offensively-inclined, with no guarantee of making it to the NHL. (Granted, there’s never any certainty in that department.)

I’d love to see Schmidt get power-play minutes with the Caps, but think about it–with Green, Niskanen, and Carlson already established, what are the odds the Caps would take a chance on him? Were Schmidt a potent penalty-killer in Hershey, he’d be more valuable to the big club. After all, there’s nothing he can do that the Caps’ current blueliners can’t. However, Schmidt now has more partner options, should he be called up. Schmidt was frequently paired with Green last season, and the two saw tremendous success in terms of possession. Skating with Niskanen, a similar type of defender, might yield comparable results.

In regards to the future, the brevity of Schmidt’s new contract is concerning. The Caps’ overabundance of offensive defensemen doesn’t help Schmidt’s NHL chances, and I have to wonder if they intend to focus on other prospects and let Schmidt walk if he doesn’t have a breakthrough season of sorts. Of course, he’s only 22, and defensemen typically develop at a slower rate than forwards. The upcoming season will be pivotal for Schmidt, who’s the most likely candidate for a recall. Hopefully he’ll escape the Caps’ logjam of young defenders and earn some NHL minutes.

 

Patrick Wey

Wey’s first pro season was eventful, as he saw time in the ECHL, AHL, and NHL. His promotion to the AHL demonstrated the depth of his development, and he finished his season in Hershey with 6 points (1G, 5A) in 28 games played. Wey has always racked up penalty minutes, and this season was no exception–he took 26 penalties. The physical component of Wey’s game sets him apart from Carrick and Schmidt, as does his commitment to defense.

However, Wey’s style of play doesn’t set him up for much NHL action this season–if any. I believe he’s the least likely of the three to make the team, much less be called up. Hockey’s Future does a great job of summing up Wey and what he brings to the Caps:

Wey is another of several puck-moving defense prospects in the Capitals’ system. Long-term, he projects as a sound, two-way defenseman who can generate offense off the rush.

I don’t mean to discredit Wey, but his play doesn’t address any pressing needs the Caps might have on the blueline. While we haven’t seen Orpik and Niskanen in action, it’s hard to imagine a scenario at this point in time where Wey’s skills would be desperately needed. He’s a puck-mover like Carrick and Schmidt, so he will have to bring something unique to the table if he wants a good look from the Caps.

Way has been assessed as a two-way defender in the making, but logging serious penalty kill minutes will increase his chances of a call-up. It’s difficult to predict how he’ll mesh with the Caps’ current blueliners, but the preseason will allow for mixing and matching to take place. With the Caps’ current lineup and one year remaining on Wey’s deal, it’s unlikely that he’ll be rushed into playing in the NHL.

Buying Blackhawks-Caps 2015 Winter Classic tickets via the secondary market

Those looking to buy 2015 Winter Classic tickets through resellers like StubHub or NHL TicketExchange should focus on two things right now if they’re wondering how much they might have to pay for tickets:

  1. Where the game will be held: The venue for this game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the host Washington Capitals has not been determined but, when it comes to ticket prices, a football stadium would be preferable over a baseball stadium. As you’ll see below in data from SeatGeek, this often results in lower secondary market ticket prices since the football stadiums have a larger seating capacity. 

  2. When to buy tickets: Based on previous Winter Classics, the key to buying tickets through the secondary marketing will be to wait. History shows that if you can wait until just under a week before the Winter Classic to buy your tickets, you’ll likely pay less for them.

Here’s some data and insight from Jason Weingold at SeatGeek that dives deeper on this:

  • “The Washington Capitals will be participating in the Winter Classic for the second time, and will be hosting the game for the first time. While the location is yet to be announced, prevailing speculation says that the game will take place at Nationals Park over FedEx Field, which does not bode well for fans hoping to score cheap tickets. Nationals Park can hold 41,418 fans — less than half of FedEx Field’s capacity of 85,000 – which means there would be less supply and higher prices on the resale market. For the last Winter Classic held at a baseball stadium (Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia in 2012), the average price paid for a seat on the secondary market was $471, nearly double the combined average ticket price of the 2011 and 2014 games held at football stadiums ($245). [Author's note: See the next bullet point from SeatGeek for how last year's game in Michigan had a big effect on this].”
  • “An average ticket for the 2011 Winter Classic featuring the Penguins and Capitals at Heinz Field (capacity of 68,111) cost fans an average of $409 on the secondary market, and there were a total of about 11,000 tickets resold. The 2012 game pit the Rangers against the Flyers at Citizens Bank Park (seats 46,967) in Philadelphia, and the average price of a ticket rose 15% to $471; there were also more tickets resold — an estimated total of 13,000. The next Winter Classic in 2014 featured a long-anticipated matchup between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at the Big House, Michigan Stadium, which welcomed a record 105,491 fans, and that increased supply of tickets (an estimated 24,000 were resold on secondary markets) brought the average resale price down to $172 per seat.”
  • “The NHL has also experimented with other outdoor games in the past. The 2013-2014 season featured five other outdoor games: the Heritage Classic in Canada and four games in the United States collectively called the “Stadium Series.” The first Stadium Series game took place at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, where the average ticket cost $190. The Rangers then played twice at Yankee Stadium — first against the Devils (average ticket price of $231) and second against the Islanders ($141). The fourth game was between the Penguins and Blackhawks at Soldier Field in Chicago (average ticket price of $248). The 2011 Heritage Classic featured the Flames and Canadiens at McMahon Stadium in Calgary (average ticket price of $253), and the 2014 game set the Canucks against the Senators at BC Place in Vancouver (average ticket price of $153).”
  • “The 2015 Winter Classic should end up being a record-breaking home game for the Capitals in terms of demand. Since 2010, the most in-demand regular season home game for the Caps was on Feb. 6, 2011 against Pittsburgh, when fans spent an average of $166 per ticket on the secondary market. Even in the playoffs, the highest average ticket price we’ve recorded for a Caps game at the Verizon Center is $221 for Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers.”
  • “The Capitals have only hosted the Blackhawks once since we began collecting pricing data, and that came on April 11 earlier this year. The average ticket to that game at the Verizon Center cost $122 on the resale market.”
  • “By taking a look at pricing trends for the past three Winter Classic games, we’ve found that the best time to buy a ticket has been a little less than a week before the game. In 2011, the average ticket price bottomed out at $343 five days before the game, having fallen 24% in 17 days from a peak of $450. Prices for the 2012 game followed a similar pattern, dipping to a low of $391 six days before the drop of the puck (down 22% from $500 with two weeks to go before the game). Last season, the average price fell continuously throughout December, dropping 57% from $239 with 30 days to go before the game to just $103 per ticket the night before.”

Thanks to Jason and SeatGeek for pulling that all together. They also provided the chart below, which illustrates how waiting until just under a week before the game is often the best approach for finding the lowest secondary ticket market prices for a Winter Classic.

 
Winter Classic resale ticket prices
 

Who should play the point on the Caps power play?

When the Caps signed Matt Niskanen to a 7 year, $40.25 million contract, new coach Barry Trotz was given another intriguing option to play the point on the power play. Niskaenen is an offensively-gifted defenseman, finishing 12th among all defesemen in scoring last season with 46 points (10 goals 36 assists). While it remains to be seen if Trotz will use 2 defenders on the PP or skate one defender with Alex Ovechkin playing the other point, the Caps coach has 3 formidable PP options from his defensive corps in Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green.

One consideration when deciding how to divvy up ice-time, as pointed out by Peter from RMNB, is that Carlson plays a significant amount of time on the penalty kill. We don’t yet know how the coaching and personnel changes in Washington will impact PK deployment, but last season Carlson saw the ice for 65.2% of the time the Caps were on the PK, while Green played 8.6% and Niskanen saw 13.8% in Pittsburgh.

Glossary for chart

FF% rel-The % of unblocked shot attempts the player’s team saw with him on the ice, relative to with him off the ice

SA per 2:00-The number of total shot attempts (SA) for a team with the player on the ice, per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00-Estimated number of passes by a player that led directly to a shot attempt, per 2:00

All of the numbers are PP only. Per 2:00 was obviously chosen to represent the time of a standard PP.

Player FF% rel SA per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00

Carlson

+6.3% 3.91

0.83

Green -8.3% 3.35

1.08

Niskanen +0.8% 3.54

0.31

-The Caps perform significantly better, FF%-wise, with Carlson on the ice during the PP while the Caps saw a significant drop in FF% with Green on the ice during the PP.  This is interesting, considering Green was the Caps best possession player in 5-on-5 close game situations. The Pens PP generated slightly more unblocked shot attempts with Niskanen on the ice.

-The differentials in SA per 2:00 may look insignificant but they add up quite a bit when given proper context. The Caps averaged 3.54 PP per game, so the difference between Carlson (13.8) vs Green (11.9) amounts to just about 2 additional SA per game in a hypothetical world where they each separately play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-Green has a significant advantage in setup passes per 2:00.  Discussing his numbers relative to Niskanen’s here is probably apples to oranges, since they played on different PP. There are all kinds of factors, such as set plays and who they are funneled through, that could impact this rather than passing ability and vision. For example, one possible reason Green’s numbers are so high is that he was often funneling the puck to shooting machine Alex Ovechkin for his patented PP one-timer. However, when comparing teammates, Green (3.82) would produce nearly one more setup pass per game than Carlson (2.93) were each to play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-One interesting tidbit not shown in the chart is that opponents’ average shorthanded shot distance with Carlson on the ice was 52.7 feet compared to 34.6 feet with Green on the ice. That’s the difference between 7.3 feet inside the blueline vs. 5.4 feet inside the top of the faceoff circle.  While not proof in and of itself, those numbers could serve as a launching point for someone who wants to show that Green is prone to take risks that can backfire (I’m skeptical of that theory).

Player

Individual SA per 2:00

Carlson

0.99

Green

0.91

Niskanen

0.91

-Carlson generates .08 more SA per 2 minutes of PP time than Green and Niskanen (Like above, reading too much into Niskanen’s numbers at face value vs. Green and/or Carlson is probably a bit faulty since they played on different PP). Last season, the Caps average 3.54 PP per game. Over the course of a season, at 3.54 PP attempts per game,  Carlson would generate 23.2 more PP SA than Green or Niskanen, were they each to play 100% of their team’s PP minutes (this also assumes, for the sake of simplicity, that each PP attempt is 2 minutes) . The Caps scored on 8.3% of their PP SA this past season. This would mean that, through his SA alone, Carlson would generate 1.93 more PP goals per season, in a hypothetical world where all 3 players assume the Caps average PP goals per shot attempt % from last season (8.3%) and the Caps average 3.54 PP per game for a season.

From all of this data, it appears that John Carlson should be first choice to play the point on the PP in 2014-15 for the Caps. The team generates more unblocked and overall shot attempts with him on the ice, and he personally takes  more shot attempts than Green or Niskanen. However, should Trotz choose to manage Carlson’s PP time in order to keep him fresher for PK and 5-on-5 play, and depending on what position Ovechkin plays on the PP, both Green and Niskanen offer Trotz viable options.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment below or send a tweet. Follow us on Twitter here.

S/T to ExtraSkater.com for being such a great resource for this article (and in general). 

Advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2010-11 season

Advanced stats for the 2010-11 season are now available on ExtraSkater.com. I highly recommend visiting Extra Skater to see the stats for yourself, but below, after a quick refresher on the season, are some Caps highlights I pulled from a glance at the new stats on Extra Skater.

With a record of 48-23-11, the Caps were not only Southeast Division champs, but finished first in the Eastern Conference, with 107 points. The Caps discarded the Rangers 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the #5 seed Tampa Bay Lightening in the second round. This was also the season during which the Caps, under Bruce Boudreau, shifted to a more defensive-oriented system. The Caps defeated the Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 Winter Classic and were featured on the HBO series 24/7.

 

download

 

download (1)

 

download (3)

-The Caps finished 15th in Fenclose%, tied with the Kings at 50.4. The two teams have gone in opposite directions since, with the Caps (47.5%) finishing 25th in 2013-14 and the Kings (56.7%) finishing first.

-Nicklas Backstorm led all qualifying (41+ games played) Caps in FenClose rel at +5.0%, followed by Alex Ovechkin at +3.9% and Alex Semin at +3.5%. The top Caps defender was John Carlson at  +1.9%.

-Alex Semin’s PDO of 107.7 ranked highest on the team, aided by his teammates’ on-ice shooting % of 10.5%, 1.8% higher than any other Caps player.

-Marcus Johansson had the highest ZS% at 58.1%, while Boyd Gordon faced the toughest zone starts, with a ZS% of 41.8%

-As would be expected, the Caps top forward line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble faced tougher competition than any of their teammates. Carlson and Karl Alzner faced the toughest competition of any Caps defenders.

-To the surprise of absolutely no one, Mike Knuble had the shortest average shot distance (24.7 feet).

-Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 82.4% of the Caps PP minutes during the season (this past season Ovechkin saw the ice during 93.2% of the Caps PP minutes).

This was after a quick look at the stats. If you look through Extra Skater and find any interesting tidbits, leave them in the comments below or give us a shout on Twitter.

Taking a closer look at Brooks Orpik, Part 2

In my last post, I took a look at how Brooks Orpik’s possession stats compared to defensemen around the NHL who faced similar minutes in terms of quality of competition and zone starts during the 2013-14 season. The contract Orpik signed with the Caps on July 1st has been met with a lot of criticism, and I am certainly among those who don’t like the deal for the Caps.

However, some context can help us better evaluate the Orpik contract. Below I’ll take a look at how Orpik fared compared to the top 5 Caps defenders in terms of games played in the 2013-14 season.

Key

FF%-FF% (Fenwick For %) is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice. Think of it like +/- but for shots. Instead of 0 being even, like with +/-, the 50% mark is even. It is a metric used to measure puck possession. 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

As noted in my last post, Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone during close-game situations and also faced tougher competition than any other Penguin defender. Here is how he stacks up against the Caps defenders last year.  The players are in order of FF%, best to worst, but I’ve also noted their ranks in QOC TOI% and ZS% (ranked toughest to easiest).

Player ZS% QOC TOI% FF%
Orlov 50.1% (3rd) 28.0% (5th) 52.5% (1st)
Green 53.2% (6th) 28.5% (4th) 52.0% (2nd)
Orpik 48.2% (1st) 29.3% (3rd) 47.6% (3rd)
Alzner 49.1% (2nd) 29.4% (2nd) 47.3% (4th)
Carlson 51.3% (4th) 29.6% (1st) 46.3% (5th)
Erskine 52.8% (5th) 27.7% (6th) 45.1% (6th)

-Orpik was a better possession player last season than Alzner and Carlson, who are generally considered to be the Caps top-pair defenders that play the toughest minutes among Caps defenders. Orpik did this while having a tougher ZS% than either of the Caps defenders. Carlson faced the toughest competition of the three with Orpik finishing 3rd barely behind Alzner. One important thing to remember in terms of FF% is that the Penguins were a better FF% team than the Caps, so Orpik has an advantage there. FenClose rel % is a stat that can be better to compare possession stats of players on different teams, but I chose not to include it in this post, for the sake of simplicity.

-Orpik ranks 3rd in FF%, but it’s a distant 3rd. Green and Orlov are significantly better possession players than the other 4 defenders listed.  Green and Orlov did face far easier ZS’s than Orpik, which isn’t particularly surprising since they are thought of as more offensively-minded defenseman. Green and Orlov also faced weaker opponents than Orpik.

So, while I still don’t like the Orpik contract, there is no debating the Caps have improved their defense this off-season. Hopefully the last two posts have provided some insight into what exactly to expect from him moving forward with the Caps.

 

 

 

Taking a closer look at Brooks Orpik, Part 1

In my recent post about the Caps signings in free agency, I was critical of the deal to which the Caps signed Brooks Orpik. However, in that post I also mentioned that Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone, as well as faced the toughest competition among all Penguins defenseman last season. So, while Orpik’s puck possession numbers are troubling, the zone starts and quality of competition are important to keep in mind. Make no mistake, I still think this is a terrible contract for the Caps. However, I thought it might be helpful to look at other defenseman around the league who faced zone starts and/or competition similar to Orpik’s this past season. The one difference to the ZS% from my last post is that I am going to look at it only in close-game situations, which is explained more below.

Key

FF%-FF% (Fenwick For %) is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice. Think of it like +/-, but for shots. Instead of 0 being even like with +/-, the 50% mark is even. It is a metric used to measure puck possession. 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%-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

The first chart looks at how Orpik fared compared to players with a similar close-game ZS%. The ranking is among all defenseman who played 62 or more games during the 2013-14 season.

Rank Player ZS% QOC TOI% FF%
52 Vlasic 48.0% 29.1% 58.2%
53 Goligoski 48.2% 29.3% 52.8%
54 Orpik 48.2% 29.3% 47.6%
55 Edler 48.4% 28.9% 52.6%
56 Gudbranson 48.6% 28.2% 52.0%

Notes about the chart:

-Every player on this chart performed significantly better than Orpik in terms of puck possession. In fact, Orpik is the only defender on the chart to be a negative puck possession player. In other words, he’s the only defender from the chart that saw his team get out shot when he was on the ice in close-game situations.

-Only Goligoski faced competition as tough as Orpik. Goligoski also has the same ZS% as Orpik, but had a FF% 5.2% better than Orpik’s.  To put that in perspective at a team level (admittedly, not a totally relevant comparison), a 5.2% difference in puck possession is the difference, in the 2013-14 season, between Chicago (55.2%) and the Coyotes (50.0%).

-Relative to their teams, the Stars performed 1.3% better in terms of FF% when Goligoski was on the ice. The Pens FF% was 3.8% worse with Orpik on the ice compared to when he was on the bench.

The second chart looks at how Orpik fared compared to players who faced a similar level of competition. The ranking is among all defenseman who played 62 or more games during the 2013-14 season.

Rank Player QOC TOI% ZS% FF%
23 Lovejoy 29.4 48.6% 49.5%
24 Timonen 29.4 57.4% 52.5%
25 Orpik 29.3 48.2% 47.6%
26 Goligoski 29.3 48.2% 52.8%
27 Sekera 29.3 49.4% 50.1%

Notes from the chart:

-The ZS% is fairly similar for 4 of the 5 players, Timonen being the exception.

-Once again, Orpik has the worst possession numbers of the 5 players. He does have some company on the wrong side of 50% this time, in the form of Ben Lovejoy. But even relative to Lovejoy, Orpik finds himself a worse possession player by 1.9%.  To put that in perspective at a team level (admittedly, not a totally relevant comparison), 1.9% was the difference, in the 2013-14 season, in possession between the Stars (51.9%) and the Coyotes (50.0%).

It is certainly important to keep in mind that Orpik faced very stiff competition and ZS%, especially relative to the rest of the Penguins’ defenders.  However, when compared to players given similar assignments around the league, Orpik’s possession numbers are still pretty weak.  My next post will look at how Orpik stacks up compared to others Caps D from last season.

Thanks to ExtraSkater.com for most of the data used in this post. 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: