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.
-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.
All numbers courtesy of War on Ice
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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%|
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.
What do Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky have in common?
They’re poised to make a splash for the Washington Capitals in their first (full) NHL seasons. Neither is a natural centerman, but both have worked to adapt to the position under coach Barry Trotz. And both are in the running for second-line center.
But who is more qualified for the position? Who will be most successful?
It’s tough to predict offensive totals for rookies like Burakovsky, who shone in the uber-inflated OHL. Scoring runs high, and he was one of the league’s strongest offensive players. That’s not to say Burakovsky won’t be successful, but he had incredible linemates during his time with the Erie Otters. In Washington, he won’t be paired with a handful of scoring machines like Connor McDavid or Dane Fox. Trotz has penciled him in as the team’s 3C, where he’ll probably spend most minutes with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera–both effective, grinding, play-driving wingers.
In the OHL, Burakovsky played left wing. The Otters’ surplus of high-quality centers helped set him up (literally) to score 41 goals in 57 games. His 46 assists were also impressive, and hopefully indicative of his. If Burakovsky centers Ward and Chimera, he’ll be aiming to help Ward and Chimera continue their positive trends in scoring. In the preseason, he’s played his new position with a variety of linemates, even on the first line. Trotz is clearly pleased with the results and all but stated that his position on the team is secure.
So how likely is Burakovsky to steal the 2C spot from Kuznetsov?
Let’s turn to the statistics side of things (my efforts to track down fancy stats in major junior have been far from successful.)
Rob Vollman, author of Hockey Abstract, estimates Kuznetsov will score well above 40 points in his upcoming season (the specifics can be found here.) Kuznetsov made his NHL debut last spring, and put up nine points in 16 games. His offensive totals and position have been hotly debated since he was drafted in 2010. At present, it appears that Trotz will employ Kuznetsov as the team’s second-line center, a position that requires superb setup skills in addition to goal-scoring ability.
While Kuznetsov has been guilty of some egregious defensive lapses, Trotz seems fairly unconcerned with these growing pains. He described himself as “patient” in evaluating the rookies’ progress, adding that “in the long run, they’re going to get better and better as they play more and more.”
Slotting two rookie centers into the opening night lineup appears to be cause for concern. Strength down the middle has been lacking for the Caps in recent seasons. But both players have versatility, albeit in different ways. Each could revert to playing wing. And if Burakovsky struggles with bottom-six minutes at the NHL level, he’s still eligible to play in Hershey. Kuznetsov has multiple, successful seasons at the pro level under his belt, and he spent some of that time as a center.
However, a strong center must be able to win faceoffs. Neither Burakovsky nor Kuznetsov has excelled in winning the draw. If Trotz is correct and patience pays off, both will blossom into faceoff-winning machines. Faceoffs in particular seem to be tricky; Eric Fehr cited them as a reason for his discomfort at the center position. But there’s always the possibility that Burakovsky makes a strong case for the 2C role midway through the season, and he gets bumped up at Kuznetsov’s expense. Stranger things have happened (see: Beagle centering Ovechkin.) For the time being, however, Kuznetsov is arguably the best guy for the job.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a lot of time fiddling around on War on Ice since it recently went live. Sometimes I come across some really surprising stuff. My latest surprise was seeing Quintin Laing’s numbers from the 2007-08 season. In 39 games, Laing posted a FF% of 62.28, the highest season FF% of any Caps player (39+ games) on record at War on Ice, which goes back as far as 2002. For more context on just how good a FF% of 62.28 is, only 4 Caps (39+ games) have had a season FF% higher than 60 since 2002.
Here they are:
In the 2007-08 season, Laing’s FF% was the best on the team by a wide margin, with Fehr finishing 2nd at 58.89. Laing did not face particularly tough competition that season, finishing 18th on the team in QoC TOI% at 28.12. However, he was given the second toughest zone starts on the team, with an offensive ZS% of 42.13.
Here’s the Caps player usage chart for the season. You can find Laing on the far left middle, just below Boyd Gordon.
In the 39 games he played, Laing only saw 8:45 ATOI. His close-game numbers, while still stellar, were not quite as strong. His Fenwick % of 55.25 falls to 8th best on the team. Laing’s FenClose rel is 5th at +6.04%.
It’s a shame Laing didn’t play more games for the Caps, or else his possession numbers and zone starts probably would have landed him on the Caps advanced stats All-Star team.
If Barry Trotz gets his way, the Caps will have 25 players on their roster by Friday. This target number will include eight defensemen, 15 forwards, and 2 goalies. Some cuts are more surprising than others, with waivers playing a role in Trotz’s decisions.
Last season, the Caps lacked a true fourth defenseman, and the bottom pairing was typically an amalgam of rookies. This time around, the issue is how Trotz will construct all three pairings, given the rich talent available and competition for the sixth, seventh, and eighth blueline slots.
Let’s take a look at some of the most notable cuts, all of which are defensemen.
After four seasons with the Miami RedHawks, Schilling was targeted by several NHL teams. Yet he signed with the Caps in 2012 and inked an extension this summer. He’s one of the few defensive defensemen in the Caps’ system and has played in only one NHL game. Schilling is hardly a top prospect, yet he shows promise.
The 25-year-old may be a target for a claim by another NHL club. Sending him at this point of the preseason, when NHL rosters are full and depth charts deep, may reduce the chances of a waiver claim.
Expect Schilling to spend the majority of his upcoming season in Hershey, where strong play could earn him a call-up to D.C. However, he must clear waivers to resume play with the Bears. Given the number of Schilling’s previous suitors, however, it’s unlikely that he’d make the cut later in the season, especially when teams are adjusting their defensive cores and must cope with injuries.
Copley’s strong training camp earned him two games in the Caps’ preseason. The first was the Caps’ preseason opener, a 1-0 win over the Sabres. Copley stopped all six shots he faced before his next outing, the first of the Caps’ back-to-back matchups with the Bruins. The game ended in a 2-0 loss for the Caps, and Copley allowed one of nine shots.
Before training camp, Copley was expected to compete for the starting job with the Caps’ ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays. But an injury to Eddie Pasquale, the projected backup for Philipp Grubauer, may give Copley to chance to compete for the backup job. However, it’s also possible that both goalies see time in both the AHL and ECHL throughout the season.
Though consistently ranked one of the Caps’ top prospects, Bowey was a long shot to make the roster. He didn’t survive the first round of cuts and will foreseeably spend the upcoming season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, where he’ll enter his second year of captaincy.
Bowey needs additional seasoning before he’s ready to compete for an AHL or NHL job, an assessment he believes accurate. But his strong performance at rookie camp was indicative of his development. He and Christian Djoos were regular partners on the top pairing, and he saw his share of power-play time. One highlight was a wicked pass during the Fan Fest scrimmage–one example of the types of plays Bowey hopes to make.
Since his return to Kelowna, Bowey has made his presence known. He notched three power-play assists, helping guide the Rockets to a 8-2 win. Should the Rockets bow out of the playoffs early, Bowey could see time with the Bears. He’ll turn 20 in late April, a milestone and exemption from the CHL-NHL agreement.
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography
In previous posts, I’ve discussed certain line combinations and made a case for why some make sense and others should be avoided. One of the conclusions I’ve made is that Eric Fehr should be on the first line alongside Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Another post looked at the fact that Troy Brouwer should be a winger on the 2nd line and Brooks Laich should center the 3rd line.
Barry Trotz has said that the 2nd line center job is essentially a battle between Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov and that the loser of the battle will likely be shifted to the wing. So where does the loser fit best? All sample sizes involving Kuznetsov, he of the 17 NHL games, are entirely too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, so I’m not going to focus on him for now. Instead, I want to look at Johansson.
I’m skeptical of his ability to be an effective 2C for any team that hopes to compete this season. Johansson is an alright player, but he’s yet to become the player the Caps hoped he would when they made him a 1st round pick. But even if he loses the 2C job, if Trotz sticks to what he says and puts Johnasson on the wing, it’s hard to believe he won’t be on the 2nd line (or maybe the first, but I’m going to hold out hope Fehr gets that spot). The 3rd line wingers are almost certainly Jason Chimera and Joel Ward and it’s hard to see Johansson demoted to the 4th line in favor of any of the remaining wingers.
As I’ve said, Kuznetsov’s sample sizes are too small to draw much from. So, if Brouwer and Johansson end up on the 2nd line together (whether MoJo is a C or W), is this a duo that’s likely to be part of an effective 2nd line? Here’s a look at their CF% together and when apart.
Brouwer and Johansson together are sub 47%. This is not a good start to the makings of an effective 2nd line. That’s not to say a change in systems or a boost in chemistry from the 3rd player on the line couldn’t help things, but this is starting behind the 8-ball, so to speak.
But what’s really interesting here is that Johansson’s CF% isn’t good with or without Brouwer (Brouwer’s overall CF% w/out Johansson is solid). In his career, over 3411 minutes of play, Marcus Johansson is only a 47.6% CF player. Johansson has played 191 or more minutes with 20 different players during his NHL career. He has a CF% of 50 or greater with just one of these players, Nick Backstrom. Only 1 of these players, Jay Beagle, has seen an increase in CF% with Johansson than without him. In general (as in, 95% of the time in our sample) Johansson is a sub-50% CF player and drags down his teammate’s possession numbers.
But, a closer look is cause for some hope when it comes to Johansson’s possession. Here’s his career FenClose rel numbers by season.
So, after being a negative possession player, relative to his team in his first two seasons, Johansson has been a positive possession player in the two seasons since. This won’t necessarily show up as a +50% CF since Johansson was a positive possession player on relatively weak possession teams. This isn’t a knock on Johansson, in fact it’s a credit to him for doing more with less, so to speak.
What to expect moving forward
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Johansson is only entering his age-24 season (determined by the player’s age on Feb 1st of that season). Since 1998, 4 other players have played at least as many career minutes as Johansson (4327) with his point total (139) or less by the end of their age 23 season. Taking a look at these players in their age-24 seasons can help us see if it’s realistic to expect any sort of jump in production from Johansson this year or if he is what he is at this point, so to speak. Here’s each player’s goals, assists, and points per 60 minutes entering their age-24 season, which Johansson is about to enter.
Johansson has been the most productive player/60 minutes of play among those who met the criteria. It should be noted that all players on this list are former first round picks. Further, all of these players except Brown are listed as Centers. But what about production when these players enter their age-24 season? Can it tell us anything about what to expect from Johansson this year?
|Through age-23 season||0.55||0.83||1.38|
While the goals and assists were distributed a little differently, the overall production is within .02 P/60, an insignificant difference. So, those expecting a drastic uptick in production from Johansson will likely be disappointed.
But, his improved relative possession play over the past two seasons is encouraging. Can this result in better possession from him and Brouwer a a duo? I’m not sure, but my guess is that we’re going to find out, whether Johansson plays as the C or W on the line.
To recap this and other posts, here are the conclusions I’ve reached about the Caps lines so far:
Johansson (as W or C)-?-Brouwer
I’ll have some thoughts on the 4th line next week.
War on Ice, Hockey Analysis, and Hockey Reference all used as resources for this article
Barry Trotz has said not to read too much into his lines for the first 3 preseason games. He has also dropped a few hints as to what the regular season lines may look like. He has said Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin will play together, as will Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. He has also said that the 2nd line center battle is between Maruc Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, with the loser likely being shifted to the wing. This is music to my ears. What this hopefully means is that the loser will shift to wing and not the 3C slot because Brooks Laich will be the 3C. This would eliminate an issue that Trotz has that revolves around the fact that there is not room for Laich and Troy Brouwer in the top-6 because, as I’ll spell out below, it will result in non-optimal line combinations.
I’ve already written about the fact that I think Eric Fehr should be the winger to play with Backstrom and Ovechkin. But for my purpose here, I’ll back up and explain why Laich and Brouwer can’t both fit in the Caps top-6.
First, here’s a look at Brooks Laich’s CF% with and without Backstrom and Ovechkin.
Laich’s possession game suffers when playing with Ovechkin. His possession game improves slightly when with Backstrom. Now, let’s look at how Ovechkin and Backstrom do with and without Laich.
This chart is about all I need to see that Laich shouldn’t be in the running for playing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom. He’s dead weight to them. He drags their possession numbers down drastically. Yes, Laich’s possession numbers see a slight improvement when playing with Backstrom, but this is more than offset by the much larger dip in possession Backstrom sees with Laich relative to without him.
So what about Troy Brouwer? Maybe he can play alongside the Caps dynamic duo.
Brouwer’s possession play suffers when playing with the Caps two best players. This doesn’t bode well for him being a viable option as the RW to play alongside them come opening night. But, for the sake of thoroughness, let’s see what playing with Brouwer does to Backstrom’s and Ovechkin’s possession.
I think these two charts show that playing Brouwer with Ovechkin and Backstrom is a possession disaster, which would make it pretty tough for this line to be successful.
So, if neither Laich nor Brouwer are a fit to play RW on the Caps top line, one possibility is that they will play on the 2nd line together. As has been well-documented by many of those around the Caps Blogosphere, these two together are a DISASTER. In case you’re not convinced, here’s another fancy chart.
Laich and Brouwer are not a good combination on a line together. Neither fits on the top line. That leaves room for one of them in the top-6 on the second line. Laich’s versatility and the Caps lack of depth at Center make him the clear candidate to be used as the 3C instead of in the top-6. This puts Brouwer playing wing on the 2nd line.
To reiterate, putting only one of these two in the top-6 makes sense on multiple levels:
-It keeps either player from dragging down the Ovechkin/Backstrom duo.
-It keeps the two from playing together, which is a disaster.
-Placing Laich at 3C helps shore up the Caps lack of depth down the middle.
All stats from Hockey Analysis
Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography
There have been no shortage of opinions offered on the Caps off-season signing of Brooks Orpik, including here at BrooksLaichyear. I’ve been clear that I think this is the wrong player at the wrong price. Others have said the deal will be fine for 2 or 3 years, and will only look bad for the last couple of years as Orpik inches closer to 40. Is this really true? What can we expect from Orpik as a 34 year old, which is the age he will be on opening night? To get a feel for how defensemen perform as Orpik’s age, I looked at all defensemen in the last 5 years who played 1500+ minutes in their age 33 season to see how their production fared the following season. Including Orpik, there are 14 defenseman who qualified.
To start, we’ll look at possession. Here are the 14 defensemen (Orpik included with age-33 numbers only, obviously) and how their FenClose Rel in their age-33 season compared to their age-34 season.
This is a little bit of a mess to make sense of, so here’s the average 33 & 34 numbers.
The group of defenders were about 3.5% worse, possession-wise, relative to their teammates, in their age-34 season compared to age-33. If Brooks Orpik were to see a 3.5% relative decease in his possession, he will have a FenClose Rel of about -10.5% next season. Ouch. It should be noted that 5 of the 13 defensemen did see an improvement in their possession in their age-34 season. But overall the possession numbers don’t bode well for Orpik.
So, how about minutes? Have players in their age-34 season been able to handle the same workload as the previous season?
This chart is a bit easier to look at than the possession one but a chart displaying the averages will still make the numbers easier to assess.
While history may tell us to worry a bit about Orpik’s possession, it appears that he can likely still handle the same amount of minutes, albeit not as well.
But what about the type of minutes? Based off of recent comparable players, is Orpik likely to receive minutes against similar competition?
While there were some individual differences in competition level faced, on a whole the difference was very slight. Players faced about the same competition in the two seasons, with a slight edge going to age-33 seasons.
Players faced slightly tougher relative zone starts in their age-33 season compared to their age-34, but the difference isn’t much.
Possession is the one area where there was a noteworthy difference between players in their age-33 season vs. their age-34. What this tells us is that players are less effective at 34 than at 33 but their deployment and usage are not yet being adjusted to their less effective play.
No doubt, Orpik will be a steadier presence on the Caps blue line than the revolving door of defenders we saw last year. And yes, this deal will handcuff the team even more later in the deal than now. But age has already started negatively impacting Brooks Orpik, age 34, in year 1 of a 5 year deal.
All stats from War on Ice. Search done on Hockey Reference