Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2009-2010 Previews -- Forwards: Chris Clark

Chris Clark

Theme: “Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about...Well the names have all changed since you hung around...”

John Sebastian might have been singing about a former student turned teacher, but the Caps are welcoming back a healthy (we hope) captain to a team that is considerably different from the one on which he scored 30 goals the last time he played more than 70 games in a season.

From the team Chris Clark scored 30 goals for in 2006-2007, only 12 skaters (neither goaltender) remains. And Clark is likely to play a different role on this team (perhaps third line right wing) than he did on that 2006-2007 team (first line right wing). 30 goals on a team that won 28 games and finished with70 points is nice, if not especially important from the broader team perspective. Getting half of that and doing the little things he does to help a team – checking, penalty killing, providing leadership on and off the ice – that could be a critical ingredient in winning a championship.

We’re betting the latter would be more satisfying to the player.

That 30-goal season for Clark is probably going to sit in Caps fans’ minds as something of a standard for Clark if he should complete a reasonably healthy season. It isn’t likely, and here is why. In 2006-2007, Clark netted nine of his 30 goals and seven of his 24 assists on the power play. One would think it unlikely he will be getting as many chances in those situations this year, as Mike Knuble mans the top line right wing spot and probably the top power play unit.

Even the 20 goals he scored in 2005-2006 would seem to be something of a stretch, given that he’s likely to be skating with David Steckel and take-your-pick on left wing, rather than Alex Ovechkin, as he did in that first season spent with the Caps.

Then there is the matter of health. Clark has missed 114 games over the past two seasons. Even if he is reporting in the picture of health, getting 70 games in this season would seem to be a bonus. Frankly, we’d take less, if there were more (as in, “more than the Caps played the last two seasons”) in the post-season. You’re up, guys…

Fearless: Alex Ovechkin is the big hitter among forwards. Whether you think that’s a good thing is a subject for another time. However, last year Clark finished seventh among forwards in hits, despite playing in only 32 games. He has averaged at least a hit a game in each of his four seasons, including the last two abbreviated campaigns (1.3/game over his 202 games as a Capital). He’s also been pretty efficient in the turnover measure overall – 92 takeaways and 93 giveaways in 202 games (although he was on the plus side of that only in his first season in Washington), and he has 81 blocked shots in those 202 games, which is a respectable number for a winger.

Cheerless: Well, as long as your doing that stats thing, cuz, take a look at that stat named for the former football coach (not Lee Corsi, you putz…Jim Corsi). Clark only played in 32 games last year, but the difference between his 5-on-5 Corsi rating on the ice (-4.95) and his Corsi rating off the ice (13.27) was second worst on the team among forwards playing in at least 30 games. That site is really neat, ya know.

Our idiot cousin does raise a point of concern, but there are two things to note about that. First, he compiled that number playing with a lower quality of teammates than all but four forwards for the Caps. And, he was largely crippled by a wrist injury he played through, but which ultimately ended his regular season in January.

Clark’s contributions are not likely to be of the sort that make fantasy hockey fans happy. But they will appeal to old school fans. His ability to play through and around injuries is already the stuff of legend with the Caps… taking a puck in the mouth and having to have his palate rebuilt with the aid of a palate from a cadaver… his taking a puck in the ear from an Alex Ovechkin slap shot, nearly having his ear severed, and coming back after missing nine games.

There has been considerable discussion in Caps Nation about whether Clark should remain as captain. He isn’t as productive as Alex Ovechkin; he might not be the quote machine that is Brooks Laich. But we ask another question, which Cap would you be most likely to follow up a hill into battle? We don’t intend to demean Ovechkin or Laich, or any other Capital for that matter, with respect to the answer to this question. But for our money, Chris Clark is that guy we’d want at our side going into a battle. He does all the little things without announcement or complaint; you get the feeling he’d sell beers at intermission and resurface the ice with a wet mop in his bare feet if it would help get a win.

The question will be whether he is healthy. We’re confident he could contribute on the right side on any of the four lines, but whether he can get 65-70 games has to be considered a question mark given those 114 games he missed over the past two years. Nevertheless… welcome back.


65 games, 11-16-27, even

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